Berklee Today

Honorees Steven Tyler and Dianne Reeves Rock and Swing Berklee's Class of 2003

President Lee Eliot Berk (left) with 2003 commencement honorees
Dianne Reeves and Steven Tyler
All photos by Farnsworth Blalock

Commencement weekend 2003 was one for the history books. Things couldn't have gone better for the 57 student singers and instrumentalists presenting the May 9 tribute concert for honorees Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and jazz singer Dianne Reeves. The concert opened with an instrumental overture that blended melodies from several Aerosmith tunes before vocalists Mike Teoli, Melissa Johnson, and Alicia Champion (in that order) sang "Sweet Emotion," "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)," and "Jaded." The style shifted to jazz when Christy Bluhm, Andromeda Turre, and Dee Lavender respectively rendered "Hello, Haven't I Seen You Before?" "Comes Love," and "Nine," entries from the Dianne Reeves songbook.

The music seesawed back and forth between rock and jazz with many musical surprises. Among the more striking arrangements was a poignant duo version of "I Remember Sky" by pianist Ruslan Sirota and vocalist Christy Bluhm. Another was a rollicking bluegrass rendition of Aerosmith song "Last Child" expertly sung and picked by the student group Blue Light Special featuring John Graney (mandolin/vocals), Warren Hood (fiddle/vocals), Andrew Webster (guitar/vocals), and Jared Engel (acoustic bass).

At the show's midpoint, emcee Rob Rose introduced the honorees
seated in the audience. Caught up in the moment, Dianne Reeves joined
the student musicians onstage and asked them for a blues in G. Reeves
made up the lyrics as she improvised the melody and rhymed her feelings
about the tribute and its performers. Six vocalists joined Reeves
onstage and traded scat choruses with her. Afterward, the audience
leapt to its feet for a standing ovation. After Rose introduced
him, Steven Tyler also took to the stage to sing his hit "Dream
On." Ear-to-ear grins on the faces of the musicians—string
players, rhythm section, horns, and background singers—reflected
their amazement at what was happening. As the song concluded, the
audience again erupted with a deafening standing ovation.

Aerosmith vocalist Steven Tyler belted out "Dream On" during
the May 9 commencement concert

The concert continued with Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun" and
"Cryin,'" the Dianne Reeves song "Better Days," and Gershwin's Fascinatin'
Rhythm" before closing with a high-octane version of Aerosmith's
"Livin' on the Edge" that brought all of the student performers
out for bows. After the applause faded and the hall lights went
on, Reeves and Tyler again made their way to the stage to offer
congratulations, handshakes, and hugs, to the students, and pose
for a myriad of flashing cameras.

Saturday morning, dressed in academic robes and caps, the honorees, trustees, college administrators, faculty members, and 695 graduates filed into Boston's Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center for the baccalaureate ceremony.

Following greetings by Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs Harry Chalmiers and Board of Trustees Chair Allan T. McLean, Stephen Neale '03 gave the student commencement speech. The audience of nearly 3,000 then watched a humorous video salute to the class of 2003 that was filmed by nine graduating seniors.

Vocalist Dianne Reeves told the graduates to strive for balance
in their lives. "Your personal life will always inform your

Next, President Lee Eliot Berk awarded the honorary doctor of music
degrees, first to Reeves and then to Tyler. Berk cited Reeves's
Grammy wins as well as other career high points and characterized
her as a singer devoted "to the legacy of jazz." He also introduced
Arif Mardin '61, who produced Reeves's forthcoming CD A Little Moonlight
and had flown in for the ceremony.

Taking the mic, Reeves thanked the college for the honor and advised the students, "Don't be afraid of the edge. Last night I was so inspired by the performances of all of the students. The edge is your friend. See, when you have your tools in order, you can go to that edge and jump off and just fly. Everybody was flyin' last night!"

Introducing Tyler, Berk referred to him as someone who has had "one of the most spectacular careers in American popular music." He cited Aerosmith's four Grammys, sales of more than 100 million records, and their impact on rock and roll.

After receiveing the degree, Tyler said, "Thank you very much. To those of you who were there last night, I wanna thank you all for letting me be the lead singer of the greatest, no, the second-greatest rock band to come out of Boston. It was a beautiful thing!"
Tyler continued, "Berklee is a refuge for everyone who thinks in rhyme, walks in rhythm, and dreams of melody. Shakespeare called [music] the food of love. Thomas Carlyle called it the speech of angels, and John Lee Hooker called it a healer. So I suppose that makes this a well-fed, heavenly place of healing. Long may you serve the cosmic spirit. And my thanks to you, the class of 2003."