Berklee Today

L.A. Newsbriefs
By Peter Gordon, Director
Berklee Center in Los Angeles

Peter Gordon '78
Photo by Lester Cohen

It often comes as little surprise when awards and nominations for industry honors include numerous Berklee alumni. In fact, it's hard to imagine any other music college having as many success stories within its alumni community. The field of music education, however, is not one that we usually think of in terms of Berklee's alumni prominence.

Recently, I have become aware of a number of alumni who are having a real impact on the Southern California music-education scene. In most cases, these folks didn't necessarily arrive on the West Coast with this career in mind, but they have subsequently found their niche.

Soon after arriving in Los Angeles, songwriting major Christoph Bull '89 recognized the demand for quality organists. Drawing upon his early training on classical organ, he soon established himself as one of the top organists in the city. He subsequently attracted the attention of University of California, Los Angeles, and in September 2002 joined their faculty as head of their Organ Department, teaching students at the undergraduate, master's, and doctoral levels. He also maintains a busy performance schedule with organ recitals and local showcases for his pop and jazz compositions.

Berklee Trustee and L.A. Alumni Chapter President Leeanne Summers '88, David Van Slyke '82, Peter Gordon, Gavin Lurssen '91, and Acting Chair of Berklee's Music Production and Engineering Department Rob Jaczko at the recent Audio Engineering Society Convention, where Van Slyke and Lurssen were honored

Jason Goldman '98 originally arrived in Los Angeles with an invitation to study at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Jason is not only a wonderful saxophone player but also a gifted composer. He recently assumed the position of jazz band director at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, a magnet school that attracts some the city's best young musicians. I heard this band at a recent jazz band festival and Jason's leadership and compositions contributed to a highly polished performance. He also maintains an active performance career and his debut album, The Jason Goldman Nonet: The Definitive Standard, was just released. For more information, visit his site at

David Kowal '75 was a freelance composer/producer with successes in the jingle, television, and film-music fields before he was given the opportunity to join the faculty at Harvard-Westlake School, an elite private school in Los Angeles. David now leads their jazz band program. He also introduces his students to the latest applications in music technology.

At a very young age, Christopher Hollyday '96 was a standout saxophone performer. He experienced success and was touring even before he went to Berklee. He eventually graduated from Berklee with a double major in Arranging and Music Education, and relocated to north San Diego County. There, he has built several school jazz programs from the ground up and currently teaches in three schools, at the elementary, middle, and high-school levels. Last year, his high-school jazz ensemble won first place at the Fullerton College Jazz Festival.

I recently noticed eight Berklee names mentioned among the faculty members at the University of California Jazz Studies program. Clearly, many of our alumni are finding their calling in some prominent educational settings.

The Annual Los Angeles Alumni Brunch at the Roof Garden of the Sheraton Universal Hotel, was held on January 19. With its remarkable views, the setting was memorable, as was the event itself. This year's Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to renowned drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. '93. His recent career credits include tours and recording with Paul McCartney, Sting, k.d. lang and Vanessa Carlton. Not a bad beginning!

In the world of film and TV, music editor Shie Rozow '97 worked on the recent hit movies Chicago and About Schmidt. Eric Speier '87 is scoring the Fox Channel's new, midseason, live-action, prime-time comedy called The Pitts. The first season episodes are due to air soon. He also just finished an animated pilot for Viacom and Imagine Entertainment, which will air on Fox.

Songs written by Curt Sobel '78 and Gary Schreiner have been licensed to a number of recent films. One track has been placed in Auto Focus, one in Simone, and seven in I'll Be There. Sobel is now scoring a movie called Tiptoes, which stars Gary Oldman and Matthew McConaughey.

On the performance front, pianist Cengiz Yaltkaya '75, appeared at the Havana International Jazz Festival in December with the Eldad Tarmu Ensemble. The ensemble appeared at the invitation of legendary Cuban pianist "Chucho" Valdes. Saxophonist Matt Zebley '93 has been performing with the Anthony Wilson Nonet when his touring schedule with the Brian Setzer Orchestra allows.

That's it for now. Peter Gordon