Faculty Profile: Larry Baione ’71

“A Lucky So and So”
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Larry Baione ’71, who has chaired the guitar department for 30 of his 44 years at Berklee, says becoming a guitarist was the luck of the draw. When he was a child in Brooklyn, NY, his parents wanted him and his twin sister Laura, to learn to play instruments. “They took us to Frank’s Music Studio in Brooklyn,” Baione recalls. “Frank’s only taught two instruments: accordion and guitar. My parents didn’t want us to both play the same instrument, so they let Laura pick first.” She picked the accordion, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The family moved to Enfield, CT, when Baione was 12, and he continued taking guitar lessons. He had become interested in jazz through hearing his father’s Django Reinhardt records and later tuned into Dizzy Gillespie and Tonight Show Orchestra guitarist Tony Mottola. When it came time to choose a college, Baione saw an ad for a DownBeat magazine scholarship to Berklee. He submitted an audition tape, won the scholarship, and entered Berklee in 1967.

He majored in music education and studied guitar with department chair Bill Leavitt. During Baione’s undergraduate years, America was in the midst of the Vietnam War and young men were being drafted. “During my second year, the government issued draft numbers,” Baione says. “My roommates had numbers in the 300s, but my number was seven.”

Having a low number made it clear that Baione would enter military service after his graduation, so when an army recruiter knocked on Bill Leavitt’s office door during his lesson, Baione tuned in. “The recruiter said they were looking for a guitarist for the Army band,” Baione says. “I played for him, and later auditioned in Washington, DC, and was accepted into the army band.” Baione played with the Strolling Strings, in jazz combos, and in a blues-jazz big band. “I was playing with great musicians and the gigs were nice,” Baione remembers. “We played at White House dinners and other events. Nixon was president then, and I got out of the Army the day he resigned. I used to tell everyone that he left because I wouldn’t be playing at the White House anymore.”

In 1974, when his three-year hitch in the army was finished, Baione started looking for a job. He reached out to Leavitt who said he needed guitar teachers. Baione joined the guitar faculty and two years later, became the assistant chair, working with Leavitt in a post he held for nine years. He then became the department’s co-chair for two years with Mike Ihde before he was named full chair in 1988. Rick Peckham became assistant chair to Baione in 1991. Peckham returned to teaching 24 years later, and Kim Perlak became the department’s new assistant chair in 2015. “I’ve learned a lot from working with each of them,” Baione says. “These years were a time of tremendous growth and change in the guitar department.”

Musical styles changed as did the backgrounds of the entering students. Some came to Berklee with lots of playing experience and no formal training. For others, it was the reverse. Baione and his faculty members had to find a way to meet the students at their level and help them reach their goals.

“When Bill Leavitt was the chair, he felt that everyone should be a good reader, play a lot of styles well, and be able to play a [theater] show,” Baione says. “These days, if someone wants a blues player for a session, they don’t want a person who reads well and plays blues on the side. They want a real blues player, a specialist. Now, we have a lot of faculty members who are specialists in their style, but they are also well-rounded musicians.”

Baione says that a big part of his job as chair has been meeting with students and pairing them with the right teachers. “We may have 200 students entering in a fall semester, and Kim and I talk with each one of them,” Baione says. “It’s both tiring and energizing. These kids really want to make music.”

When Baione began teaching, the curriculum focused on the rudiments of the guitar and pick-style playing. “Now there are a lot of style labs where students can learn blues, heavy metal, flamenco, country, bluegrass, jazz-rock, funk, almost any style,” he says. “Berklee’s guitar department wants to honor the past and go forward. We don’t want to skip over things.” He feels strongly that anyone learning a specific style should understand how it evolved.

Outside of his work in the department and continually striving to improve his own guitar playing, Baione took the unusual step of learning a new instrument; the cello. “I’ve been working hard at that and it has been good for me,” he says. “Becoming a beginner again has made me a better teacher and chair. I appreciate the work it takes to learn an instrument.”

During his years of service, Baione created a legacy in curricular materials. Berklee Press published a DVD version of Bill Leavitt’s Modern Method for Guitar Volume I, in which Baione demonstrates all musical examples. He also penned the guitar volume of Berklee Practice Method: Get Your Band Together. In the fall of 2018, Baione will leave daily operations of the guitar department and become chair emeritus. He will continue to teach private lessons and online courses.

“I’ve been pretty lucky to have had a steady job as a guitarist for 43 years,” Baione says. “I’m grateful to be at such a great school and great department.” At a recent academic leadership meeting for deans and department chairs, Baione summed up these sentiments tunefully by performing solo guitar versions of Duke Ellington songs. Among them was “I’m Just a Lucky So and So.”