After 75 Years of Jazz History, Berkee Is Still on the Vanguard

Listen to songs by Berklee faculty who, in just the last five years, have received jazz's most prestigious honors.

November 3, 2021

When Lawrence Berk started Berklee in 1945 (then called Schillinger House), he did so with the radical idea that musicians could be trained by studying and making contemporary music. At the time, that meant jazz, and Berklee quickly gained prestige for its contributions to the genre, as it grew from big band to bebop to fusion and beyond.

Fast-forward more than 75 years: “contemporary music” has evolved dramatically, and so has Berklee, adapting alongside the industry to meet its moment, whether that meant offering rock guitar programming during the rock revolution of the 1960s, adding a music synthesis major amid the electronic music boom in the 1980s, or more recently, the introduction of a scoring program for video games and interactive media.

But jazz itself, and Berklee’s interconnection with it, continues to evolve as well, and members of our community are consistently named among the genre's most iconic and visionary artists.

Recent alums have represented jazz in the broader culture: Miguel Zenón B.M. ’98 received a MacArthur Fellowship (aka the "genius" grant) in 2008, and Esperanza Spalding B.M. ’05 won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011—the first time the accolade had ever been awarded to a jazz artist.

Berklee personnel have also been well represented over the years in two of the genre’s most prestigious designations: the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters Fellowship, a $25,000 award widely considered to be jazz's highest honor, and the Doris Duke Artist Award, the largest national prize in the performing arts, with $275,000 in mostly unrestricted funds. Bill Frisell ’77 and Rudresh Mahanthappa B.M. ’92 have been named Doris Duke awardees, and our list of NEA Jazz Masters includes Gary Burton, Quincy Jones, Donald Harrison, and Branford Marsalis.

In recent years, we have seen an especially strong showing on the part of our faculty in both of these accolades. In 2017, Joanne Brackeen, professor in the Piano Department, was named an NEA Jazz Master, adding to a decorated career that has spanned over half a century. Terri Lyne Carrington, artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice (JGJ), earned the NEA honor earlier in 2021, after winning a Doris Duke Artist Award in 2019. Also in 2021, Kris Davis, associate director of JGJ, and Danilo Pérez, artistic director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute (BGJI), were both named Doris Duke Artists. 

In addition to these top honors, the four artists have also garnered a collective nine Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards, all in the last five years alone. Few other schools, if any, can claim such levels of achievement in the genre.

Studying jazz at Berklee means having access to the icons and torchbearers of the genre. To help celebrate these recent achievements, we know of no better way than to dive deep into the music that these modern legends have given the world.

Take a listen to career-spanning tunes from each of these four faculty members:

Track List

Photo of Terri Lyne Carrington

Terri Lyne Carrington (2021 NEA Jazz Master; 2019 Doris Duke Artist Award)

1. "Skeptic Alert," from Real Life Story (1989)

2. "Transformation," from The Mosaic Project (2012)

  • 2012 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album

3. "Dreams," from Beautiful Life, by Diane Reeves (2014)

  • Produced by Carrington
  • 2015 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album

4. "Trapped in the American Dream," from Waiting Game (2019)

Danilo Pérez

Danilo Pérez (2021 Doris Duke Artist Award)

5. "Suite for the Americas, Part 2," from Motherland (2000)

6. "Galactic Panama," from Providencia (2010)

  • Album features alto saxophone by fellow alum and Doris Duke Artist Rudresh Mahanthappa

7. "African Wave," from Children of the Light (2015)

  • Album features bassist and fellow BGJI faculty member John Patitucci

8. "Prometheus Unbound," from Emanon by the Wayne Shorter Quartet (2018)

  • Features Pérez on piano
  • 2019 Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Photo of Joanne Brackeen

Joanne Brackeen (2017 NEA Jazz Master)

9. "Sixate," from Snooze (1975)

  • First album as a leader (would go on to release 20 albums as leader)

10. "Doralice," from Getz / Gilberto ’76 by Stan Getz and João Gilberto (1976)

  • Features Brackeen on piano

11. "Echoes," from Tring-a-Ling (1977)

12. "High Tea for Stephany," from Popsicle Illusion (2000)

Photo of Kris Davis

Kris Davis (2021 Doris Duke Artist Award)

13. "Lifespan," from Lifespan (2003)

14. "Ghost Machine," from Paradoxical Frog (2009)

15. "Prairie Eyes (feat. Bill Frisell)," from Duopoly (2016)

  • Features guitar from alum and fellow Doris Duke Artist Bill Frisell

16. "Corn Crake," from Diatom Ribbons (2019)

  • Features drums by Carrington

Listen to Davis discuss the making of "Corn Crake" on Sounds of Berklee:

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