Saxophonist Joe Lovano is Berklee's First Endowed Chair

 

Joe Lovano—Grammy winner, Berklee College of Music alumnus, tenor saxophone titan—is changing his name. It's not something he's doing out of political protest or religious epiphany, and he won't insist on being referred to as The Artist Formerly Known As Joe. But as of September 2001, the Berklee community will know him by his new name: Professor Lovano.

Lovano joins the Berklee faculty full time as the Gary Burton Chair in Jazz Performance, an endowed post in tribute to Berklee Executive Vice President Gary Burton, a five-time Grammy Award-winning vibraphonist. Lovano will keep busy overseeing college ensembles, giving lectures, working with students privately, and taking on faculty development projects. But while it's important to have a plan, who would value the license to spontaneously create more than a master improviser?

"Coming in on a position like this where I'm not following anyone will give me the freedom to shape the classes the way they can take shape," says Lovano, who for much of the 1980s served as an adjunct faculty member at New York University, The New School, and William Patterson University. "I want to take advantage of that and not come up with a preconceived class that I'm just going to lay out."

 

 

President Lee Eliot Berk, Burton's longtime colleague, agrees and says that it's only fitting that so prominent an honor be bestowed upon Burton.

"Gary is not only a legendary jazz figure," Berk says, "He is a Berklee alumnus, one who has had more than 25 years of professional association with the college as a faculty member, dean, and as executive vice president. There is no one who has given as much to jazz and to jazz education as Gary."

The Burton chair is Berklee's first endowed faculty chair, a welcome milestone, but one that caught its inspiration a little off guard.
"A donor e-mailed me just before it was final to ask me if I minded," says Burton. "It made me feel a little weird since I'm still serving at the college, but I was so flattered that he would think of doing this that despite my slight embarrassment at the idea, I said sure, go ahead. Then the issue became, how will this work?"

Or, put another way, with whom will this work? The recruit would, of course, have to be a superior instrumentalist and performer, with prestige worthy of one of the college's highest-ranking faculty positions. He or she would also have to be confident enough to stand in front of a classroom and versatile enough to work with all levels of students. Some teaching experience would be nice, as would a fully functional sense of humor. And wouldn't it be great if this person graduated from Berklee? Burton consulted with Berklee faculty members and administrators, and it wasn't long before they realized that their list of requirements read like a recipe for Joe Lovano.

"The top of the list for almost everybody was Joe Lovano," says Burton, "which was an ideal choice by my thinking as well...his playing sounds refreshingly different than tenor players of the day. He is one of the warmest, most interactive people....He's a calm, patient man who talks about jazz and his music with anyone, and it's made him a wonderful teacher."

And, make no mistake, Lovano isn't turning to full-time pedagogy to crown a career winding down. He received his aforementioned Grammy (Best Large Ensemble Album for 52nd Street Themes) only months ago at the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards, and he had been nominated on five previous occasions since 1994. He was named Tenor Player of the Year in Down Beat magazine's 2000 Readers and Critics Polls, and was the magazine's Jazz Artist of the Year for 1995 and 1996. Clearly, Lovano is a certified star, but one that refuses to stop rising.

"For the past five years or so, Lovano's been one of the most prolific players and composers out there," says Woodwind Department Chair Bill Pierce. "He's been able to stay in the vanguard, and that's difficult to maintain."

 

Lovano is no stranger to Berklee students, having himself been one in the early '70s. This relationship has been reinforced over the years with Lovano's stints as a visiting clinician and his acceptance of an honorary doctorate of music from the college. Performance Division Dean Matt Marvuglio says there's no underestimating the value of such rapport, for empathy and inspiration.

"Joe can see what his students will be going through," Marvuglio says, "almost see what their dreams are, what they're up against....Students always have to make the choice: ‘Well, I want to be a great musician. How do I go about doing that?' Some choose to go to Berklee, so it's great to see role models like Lovano out there, the same kinds of musicians who made the same choice the students did—and it turned out great." Lovano, though flattered, shies away from the role model label. But if it helps a young musician develop, he'll gladly wear it.

"When people respond to you as player and composer, I guess you're a role model of some kind," Lovano says. "I don't think about that, though. I try to live a life that grows, that's continually developing. And I think, as a role model, if I could encourage people to always reevaluate themselves and step into tomorrow with a new attitude, that would make me happy."

Lovano won't be arriving on campus with only teaching on his mind. For him, a life that grows is one in which he's always learning and creating, and he says there are few places more devoted to both than Berklee.

"The opportunity to share ideas and to continue my development at Berklee, at that level, was too beautiful to pass up," Lovano says. "I'll be able to enrich my experience as a player, not only within the community of students, but with the great faculty, too. They've got some great, creative musicians."

When he returns to Boston, Lovano will be reunited with a role model of his own: Gary Burton. Burton began teaching the same year Lovano matriculated at Berklee, and the young tenor player eagerly joined one of Burton's ensembles. Though the two musicians play radically different instruments, Lovano picked up ideas from Burton that he's retained throughout his career, particularly as a music educator.

"Gary taught me to express myself as a player to my students," Lovano says, "and to bring in music and have them experience things I'm actually doing. All the tunes we played in his ensemble that I remember were tunes that he had been recording with Keith Jarrett or Chick Corea or someone. He brought in tunes he was developing. He wasn't having us play what everybody else was playing. He was bringing in music that had something to do with who he was as a musician. It definitely helped me when I started to do workshops and have ensembles of my own."

It's difficult for an instructor, especially one as wary of generalizing as Lovano, to set down goals for a course. But if he has one mission during his tenure at Berklee, he'd like to help his students better express themselves through their instruments.

"A lot of young players sound a lot more generic," Lovano says. "When you hear them play the saxophone, you hear the saxophone, not the player....That's a heavy challenge right there, to get people to develop their own sounds and own approach instead of just the techniques of playing an instrument. There's a lot more musicians, but in a way, a lot fewer personalities...and that's one thing I'm really going to try to deal with."

Burton, naturally, would like to see other artists of Lovano's stature join the Berklee faculty, and he hopes that the college's first endowed chair is the first of many others.

"We want this to set the tone for future chair appointments," says Burton. "I'm hoping we'll be able to make some more appointments in honor of important figures in Berklee's history. And that will allow us to cover other areas of Berklee's interest whether it's pop music, technology, and so on."

But for now, the college is awaiting the fall arrival of Lovano—that is, Professor Lovano.