Berklee Today

Michel Camilo Is Fourth Herb Alpert Visiting Professor

Michel Camilo coaches student bassist Esperanza Spalding at
a rehearsal for Camilo's Berklee Performance Center concert.
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

Pianist and composer Michel Camilo spent the second week of April at Berklee as the fourth Herb Alpert Visiting Professor. During his stay, Camilo gave a series of clinics on piano and improvisation, and a general clinic in which he covered a range of topics. His visit's highlight was a Berklee Performance Center concert, where he performed with student and faculty musicians.

Ensemble Department Chair Ron Savage, who selected the student musicians to
work with Camilo and organized the rehearsals, said, "Michel's residency
was much more than we expected. Everyone knew he was a virtuoso
musician, but he also revealed that he is an incredible teacher
with a deep knowledge of jazz, blues, and, of course, the Latin
styles for which he is best known. He came here really ready to
share everything he could with our students."

Camilo's residency began with a piano clinic in which he discussed,
among other things, the influence that artists such as pianist Ahmad
Jamal have had on his playing. Later that evening, he directed the
first of three rehearsals with the student ensemble that accompanied
him for a concert that was the finale of his visit. Savage characterized
these rehearsals as opportunities that Camilo used to teach every
student with a question for him. "We were expecting that he would
want a closed session with the musicians who were there to learn
his music for the concert," said Savage. "But he opened up the doors
and let all the students outside come in too. Each rehearsal became
a masterclass, and he took everyone's questions."

Michel Camilo (left) critiques Berklee's Contemporary Jazz Ensemble
in a workshop that was broadcast live via satellite to the Philippos
Nakas Conservatory in Athens, Greece. Photo by Nick Balkin

During Camilo's stay, another notable event was a broadcast of
a coaching session Camilo conducted with the student group slated
to be the opening act for Camilo's concert the next night. Camilo
gave pointers on methods the group could use to polish their performance.
The entire event was performed before a Berklee audience and broadcast
live via satellite to students at the Philippos Nakas Conservatory
in Athens, Greece.

The concert finale featured Camilo in a trio setting with bassist Oscar Stagnaro and drummer Mark Walker, with a program consisting of selections that Camilo had composed or arranged. The student ensemble joined him to play his arrangement of "St. Thomas," which was more of an extended jazz composition based on the Sonny Rollins tune rather than an arrangement. Camilo also invited student bassist Esperanza Spalding to take her place in his trio for one selection.

"Since he left," said Savage, "the students haven't stopped talking about his visit. He shared a lot with them in a short while."

Dominican Republic-born Michel Camilo is a renowned pianist and composer and a mainstay in the Latin-music world. He has performed and conducted his music throughout the world. Camilo has composed classical as well as jazz works and has scored numerous films. His Spain CD (on Sony) was named Best Latin Jazz Album at the 2000 Latin Grammy Awards program.

Camilo will return for two future visits. The Herb Alpert Visiting Professor series was established by famed trumpeter and A&M Records label founder Herb Alpert.