The Legacy of a Friend and Colleague

By Professor Steve Wilkes

Ginny Fordham ’80 and Steve Wilkes cut the ribbon for the practice room they named in honor of the late faculty member Ed Uribe. Back row from the left: Faculty members Skip Hadden, John Ramsay, and Lucas Moisson ’08 look on.

Former Percussion Department professor Ed Uribe, who passed away in November of 2015, was the primary force in the genesis of Berklee’s hand-drumming and Latin percussion program. Today, the department offers a multitude of courses and instruction from several respected hand-drumming instructors, and Uribe’s influence echoes in much of the curriculum—especially in the area of Latin percussion.

Uribe started his Berklee career as a student and drum set principal in 1979 and graduated in 1982. He began teaching in the Percussion Department in the spring of 1983. Almost immediately, he made an impact on the students and faculty, and on the curriculum. Under the leadership of then-chair Dean Anderson, the department was growing into the influential educational body it is today. Uribe brought vision, new ideas, and a game-changing energy to the mix and quickly became one of the most in-demand teachers at the college.

The department’s current chair John Ramsay, and professor Skip Hadden began teaching at Berklee during the same period as Uribe. Of those early days, Ramsay says, “Ed was our go-to guy for anything that had to do with Afro-Cuban or Brazilian drumming.” “To say that Ed was a renaissance man would be to limit him,” Hadden says. “He was also instrumental in the mid-1980’s in the emerging area of electronic drums and percussion. He constructed the programs and classes at Berklee and they became worthy additions to the curriculum.”

Despite the percussion department’s many course offerings for mallets, orchestral percussion, and drum set before Uribe’s tenure, there was a void in the area of hand-drumming and Latin percussion studies. Almost single-handedly he started to change that. As a Spanish-American growing up in the Mission District of San Francisco, he was always acutely aware of Latin music. At Berklee, he developed a genuine interest in the historical origins and specific rhythmic patterns of the indigenous music of Cuba and Brazil.

During the private lessons he taught, Uribe created a niche with Latin grooves that quickly grew into instrumental labs and courses, and, later, hand percussion becoming a principal instrument at Berklee.

Uribe’s Latin and hand-drumming efforts culminated in two books: The Essence of Brazilian Percussion and Drum Set, and The Essence of Afro-Cuban Percussion and Drum Set.

As both a friend and colleague of Uribe’s, I can remember the interest that many of us in the department took in the evolution of his books. We knew he was working on something big, but had no idea just how comprehensive—even encyclopedic—these books would become. It’s safe to say that almost every teacher in our department got copies to use in his or her own teaching.

Uribe left the college in 1999 to start his own production and publishing business, but, the department’s faculty members continue to use his books to this day. For those like me whose strengths and specialties lie in other musical and drumming styles, Uribe’s books are simply indispensable.

If you need to be completely persuaded of the lasting effect one person and teacher can have on a student, department, or entire college, just walk into Berklee’s Uchida building and head down to the percussion facilities in the basement. As you stroll down the corridor you’ll see students practicing, teachers chatting, and you’ll probably hear the powerful sounds of congas or timbales emanating from the classrooms. You might hear someone on cowbell playing an insistent 2/3 rhumba clave or the gentle, half-note throb of surdos, the large bass drums that lay down the bed for a samba groove. Maybe you’ll see some drummers in room 18, jamming on a 6/8 Afro-Cuban pattern. These things are the fruits of the educational legacy of Ed Uribe.