Berklee Establishes John Abercrombie Scholarship

The tuition-based scholarship will enable jazz musicians to pursue their creative and career goals.

November 9, 2022
John Abercrombie

John Abercrombie

Berklee College of Music has established an annual scholarship in honor of alumnus John Abercrombie ’67 and his lifetime of contributions to the art of jazz guitar. Created in partnership with the John Abercrombie Jazz Scholarship Fund Charitable Trust (JAJSF), the new grant seeks to identify financially and academically deserving Berklee students that have the potential to make a significant contribution to society through music, with a preference given to guitar principals majoring in performance or jazz composition. One student, selected by the Guitar Department, will receive a $2,000 tuition credit each spring between 2023 and 2027.

“John loved to learn, and he was devoted to encouraging a new generation of exceptional musicians throughout the world,” said Gary Lefkowitz, cofounder and trustee of the JAJSF. “He was also a relentless explorer and innovator that broadened the musical boundaries of jazz guitar, and we want to recognize and encourage those musicians at Berklee that are pursuing a similar path by forming this new partnership with his alma mater.”

Inspired by musicians Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Bill Haley, Abercrombie began playing the guitar at age 14, which then led to his discovery of jazz guitarists Barney Kessel and Wes Montgomery. After graduating from Berklee in the late 1960s, Abercrombie went to New York, where he quickly became one of the city’s most in-demand session players, recording with pianist and composer Gil Evans, saxophonist Leandro “Gato” Barbieri, and pianist and record producer Barry Miles, among others.

In 1975, ECM Records released Abercrombie’s debut solo album, Timeless, which eventually led to a 40-year affiliation with the label. He appeared on more than 40 albums on ECM as a leader, coleader, or sideman. On Timeless, he was joined by organist Jan Hammer and drummer Jack DeJohnette, who would later become a longtime collaborator. He also recorded in the trio Gateway with DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland. At the end of the ’70s, Abercrombie formed his first quartet, recording three albums—Arcade, Abercrombie Quartet, and M—with pianist Richie Beirach, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Peter Donald. The quartet was the first of many groups that he performed in and led over the course of his long career.

Abercrombie's style evolved constantly, and his albums were among the first to blend jazz with rock, folk, and world music. “John Abercrombie innovated jazz harmony, composition and improvisation. His recordings for ECM are touchstones of jazz guitar and will influence generations to come,” said Sheryl Bailey, assistant chair of Berklee's Guitar Department. “We're proud to list him as an alumnus and are proud to offer this scholarship in his name.”

The John Abercrombie Jazz Scholarship Fund was launched at a memorial tribute concert in 2018, a year after Abercrombie’s passing. The performance featured an all-star cast of friends and collaborators, including Adam Nussbaum, Bill Frisell ’77 ’17H, Jack DeJohnette, Joe Lovano, Joey Baron, John Scofield B.M. ’73 ’97H, Marc Copland, Eliane Elias, and Peter Erskine, among others.

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