John Ramsay

Chair

"I began in 1962 as a self-taught rock drummer. I played for 10 years professionally before I began to study formally with Alan Dawson at the ripe old age of 22. I've played with everything from rock bands, trios, and big bands to symphony orchestras. Many of our students can relate to this experience of being self-taught and having gaps in their ability. I hope by my example they can see how one can maximize their opportunities to survive in the music business by studying and working hard. I draw on my experience of having played in every kind of conceivable performing situation from hotels and nightclubs to international jazz festivals and concerts. I spent two years with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, initially as the second drummer in the Jazz Messengers Big Band and then as Blakey's road manager, touring the world. I know firsthand the obstacles and pitfalls that many musicians face; by sharing these experiences, I hope that I can help students confront these challenges with some insight."

"My teaching style is an amalgam of over 40 years of playing and studying music. Much of my teaching is derived from the direct influence of my principal teacher, Alan Dawson, and my piano teacher, Charlie Banacos. It wasn't only the substance of what they taught but the way in which they taught, honest and firm yet supportive. If you hadn't practiced enough (and they always knew!) you would not go on to the next step. My teaching style is also built on the premise that students rise to the level of expectation."

"I hope that students come away from my classes knowing that music is a lifelong endeavor and that there are no short cuts to mastery of an instrument. I also want them to realize that there is more to life than just music and that through music they can discover their own humanity—when they play music it is merely a representation of who they are. Too often, we musicians become myopic on our journey and forget to feed our souls with all of the other things in life that enrich us. During my first lesson with my students I ask them what they would like to get out of their lesson, what would they like to learn. Last year, after having taught at Berklee for 25 years, I asked one of my students this question. After thinking for a moment, this student said, 'How to have a happy life.' How refreshing and how utterly important!"

Career Highlights

  • Alumnus, University of Massachusetts
  • Performances with Art Blakey, Gregory Hines, Wynton Marsalis, James Williams, Wallace Roney, James Moody, and others
  • Recordings with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Andy McGhee, Kenny Barron, and Cecil McBee
  • Author of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and The Drummer's Vocabulary as Taught by Alan Dawson, published by Warner Brothers