Berklee Today

Lead Sheet

Farewell, Friend
By President Emeritus Lee Eliot Berk

  Arif Mardin (left) with Lee Eliot Berk
Arif Mardin (left) with Lee Eliot Berk

I first met Arif Mardin in Turkey in the late 1950s, almost half a century ago. I was a high-school student on a summer trip with my parents, Larry and Alma Berk. Quincy Jones had written to my father about Arif and so we put Istanbul on our travel itinerary. Arif welcomed us to Turkey and brought us to a late-night outdoor jazz venue where a big band was performing some of his music. He introduced us to the players, who were very interested in Berklee. The school was already publishing its Jazz in the Classroom recordings and score sets, an educational innovation at the time, and my father had brought several samples of the music and the education taking place at Berklee.

Arif's family lived well in Turkey. In fact, Arif took us out on the Bosphorous Sea on the family's yacht. I will always remember our experiences with him on that trip. Arif had a passion for jazz and a desire to be a part of it. To achieve this dream, he left a comfortable lifestyle in Turkey with his devoted wife, Latife. When they left Turkey for the United States, they were not allowed to remove currency or other assets to come to Berklee. Once in Boston, they lived the same lifestyle as many of our music students today who struggle to make ends meet.

Happily, Arif's talents shone through at Berklee, and he was able to connect with the many established and emerging jazz figures who were at Berklee or passing through during the early 1960s. Visitors included Duke Ellington, Willis Conover (Voice of America host), concert promoter George Wein, fellow students Toshiko Akiyoshi and Sadao Watanabe, and numerous others. He made the transition to New York, where he found favor with Ahmet Ertegun, cofounder of Atlantic Records. Arif's many accomplishments at Atlantic and other labels are now part of American musical history.

Throughout the years, Arif maintained a close relationship with Berklee, serving as a trustee and overseer of the college and helping in ways too numerous to mention. It was an incredible day for all of us when his son Joe Mardin also graduated from Berklee and went on to musical collaborations with his father as well as numerous independent productions.

Whenever one looks back at the history of Berklee, Arif will stand as one of the seminal music figures whose story will remain an inspiration to generations of our students from all over the world. We treasure him all the more for how closely he held Berklee to his heart. For his family, for music, and for education, no one could have done more.

Arif Mardin '61 was a Grammy Award-winning producer for such artists as Aretha Franklin, the Bee Gees, Bette Midler, Chaka Khan, Dianne Reeves, Nora Jones, and many others. He passed away on June 25 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 74. A memorial tribute to Mardin will be held at Alice Tully Hall in New York City on March 6, 2007.

Presidential Scholars of 2006 Named

After a long series of interviews and auditions held throughout the country, Berklee recently selected and enrolled its second group of presidential scholars. Among this year's top five are vocalist Nadia Washington, vocalist/bassist Katie Thiroux, pianist/composer Neara Russell, trumpeter Emile Martinez, and saxophonist Alex Han.

Washington is a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas. She has received awards from Down Beat magazine and the NAACP and has sung with the Grammy Jazz Choir as well as Dave Brubeck, Herb Alpert, Nicholas Payton, and Destiny's Child.

From Chatsworth, California, Thiroux is an accomplished upright bassist and singer. She has been selected three times to perform with the Grammy Jazz Choir and won numerous awards; including the Los Angeles Jazz Society's Shelly Manne Memorial New Talent Award. She has performed at jazz festivals in Reno, Monterey, Newport Beach, and at the IAJE Convention.

Russell, of Spring Green, Wisconsin, is a well-rounded composer who has written art songs as well as rock tunes and music for woodwind ensembles, choir, and community theater productions. She performed earlier this year on the NPR syndicated radio show From the Top. She recorded a collection of her songs with soprano Wendy Rowe on the CD Food for the Gods.

Trumpeter Martinez of North Hollywood, California, has played at such venues as Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall, and the Hollywood Bowl. He has received awards from the Reno Jazz Festival, the Essentially Ellington competition, and the NAACP ACT-SO competition. He is a graduate of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.

From Scottsdale, Arizona, Han is a saxophone prodigy who was profiled in the New York Times at age 12 and released his first CD at 14. He has won the Yamaha Young Performing Artists Competition, the ASCAP Foundation's Young Jazz Composer Award, and is an endorser for Rico Reeds. Han has performed widely in the United States as well as Switzerland, Holland, and Uruguay.

Berklee's Presidential Scholarship Program provides highly gifted and financially challenged students with a renewable full-tuition scholarship that includes room and board.