Berklee Today

Berklee Beat:
Berklee Honors Elvin Jones and Al Kooper, and Welcomes 950 New Students at Fall 2001 Convocation

President Lee Eliot Berk (center) with convocation honorees Al Kooper (left) and Elvin Jones

Photo by Justin Allardyce Knight

The seemingly odd bedfellows of pomp and circumstance and genuine excitement were present at Berklee's September 7 convocation that welcomed the class of 2005 to campus. Dixieland band Made in the Shade led the ceremonially robed honorees (Elvin Jones and Al Kooper), as well as college academic and administrative leaders down the aisles of the Berklee Performance Center. It was the first clue to the incoming students that what lay ahead would be no dry academic exercise.

Berklee's Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students Lawrence Bethune explained,"Tonight, we'll exercise your brain with this brief, rather serious, traditional welcoming ritual, and then we'll let the power of music do the real talking. We hope you accept tonight as a sincere expression of how happy we are that you are joining the Berklee family.”

Honorary degree recipient Elvin Jones told the crowd, "Music is a universe that needs to be explored to the fullest.”

Bethune then introduced those seated on the dais, including Elvin Jones and Al Kooper. He also introduced the evening's student speaker Caroline Boehmer who shared observations gleaned from her years at Berklee. "If you came here without any idea of what you want to do, you will find your place. You will find that part of music that draws ribbons of passion and excitement out of you. If you came knowing exactly what you want to do, then you will find more than you ever imagined you would find in one place. You will learn to challenge yourself, and it will be one of the most valuable lessons you ever learn.”

President Lee Eliot Berk provided background on each of the evening's honorees before bestowing the honorary doctoral degrees upon them. Speaking of Jones, Berk said, "In the world of music, there are leaders and followers, innovators and imitators. Elvin Jones is both a leader and an innovator and one of the most influential drummers in the history of jazz.” He detailed Jones's immense contributions to jazz drumming during his years in John Coltrane's group and his more recent work.

As Jones accepted, the audience again gave him a thunderous standing ovation. Clearly moved, Jones, simply stated, "I don't know what to say.” After gathering his thoughts, he told the students, "Music is a universe that needs to be explored to the fullest. I wish you the best in your endeavors.”

Vocalist Carrie Turner brought a bit of country to the concert with her rendition of the Dixie Chicks tune "Let 'Er Rip.”

Introducing Kooper, President Berk listed some of his many musical achievements. "Al Kooper played a vital role in bringing some of the most noteworthy roots-based rock music and musicians of the sixties and seventies to a vast audience. His work as a songwriter, session player, and producer places him among the true giants of American popular music.”

After receiving the degree, Kooper expressed his thanks and told the audience, "When it came time for me to go to college, I had already received a certain amount of notoriety in music, but I wanted to learn more about what I had chosen to do with my life. I couldn't find the education that I needed. Back then, Berklee had a very jazz- oriented curriculum which was over my head at the time. When I came here to teach in 1997, I found the curriculum that I had been looking for. I guess I was born too early, but you were not.”

The 21-piece Berklee Jazz-Rock Ensemble then launched into the Meters's funky instrumental "Cissy Strut” and Chaka Khan's "Every Little Thing” featuring vocalist Chrissy Poland. A quintet called the Berklee Elvin Jones
Tribute Band dug into "Lonnie's Lament” and "Liberia,” Coltrane tunes that Jones recorded with him.

The program also spotlighted a pair of songs by Kooper, including "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know.” Soul shouter Alisa Miles tore it up, bringing the audience (including Kooper) to their feet. Carrie Turner changed the pace with an energetic send-up of the Dixie Chicks tune "Let 'Er Rip.” The closer, "You Are My Friend,” brought all of the performers back to the stage before the curtain closed and the new academic year formally began.