Berklee Today

Helping Hands

From the left: Bill Cosby and President Lee Eliot Berk speak during a press conference at the Zildjian-sponsored American Drummers Achievement Awards event on September 13.
Photo by Farnsworth Blaylock Photos

On Saturday, September 13, the Berklee Performance Center was the site of Zildjian's American Drummers Achievement Awards. The star-studded event brought together some of America's best-known drummers to honor the accomplishments of drummer extraordinaire Steve Gadd and pay tribute to the late Armand Zildjian, former president and CEO of the Avedis Zildjian Company, on the company's 380th anniversary. Among the performers were pop icons James Taylor and Paul Simon, drummers Vinnie Colaiuta '75 and Rick Marotta, bassist Jimmy Johnson, guitarist Michael Landau, keyboardist Larry Goldings, saxophonist Tom Scott, and vocalist/bassist Will Lee. The proceeds from the sold-out event will establish the Steve Gadd Scholarship and Armand Zildjian Percussion Scholarship at Berklee. Each scholarship will be awarded annually to a financially and academically deserving outstanding percussion student.

After introductions by members of the Zildjian family, Berklee President Lee Eliot Berk spoke of the long relationship the college enjoyed with Armand Zildjian, who was a member of the college's board of trustees and board of overseers as well as a 1988 honorary doctoral degree recipient. Mrs. Armand Zildjian then introduced a video chronicling the life of her late husband, who passed away in December 2002.

Bill Cosby, the evening's host, took the stage next to begin the tribute to Steve Gadd, who was seated in the audience. On hand for the tribute were legendary jazz drummers Louie Bellson, Roy Haynes, and Elvin Jones. Bellson shared his personal thoughts on the contributions of Gadd as an intro to a video detailing Gadd's career from his early appearances on the Mickey Mouse Club television show in the 1950s to his groundbreaking work with Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Chick Corea, and Eric Clapton, to name a few.

The band of top studio musicians Scott, Landau, Goldings, Marotta, and Johnson backed Will Lee in a rollicking version of "Watching the River Flow" and then played a Tom Scott instrumental. Paul Simon came out next to sing his hit "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" with Gadd playing the drum part that has become one of his musical trademarks.

At an intermission press conference, Bill Cosby and President Berk spoke about the evening's honorees. Cosby, a drummer himself, was asked whether he had ever played his drums for Gadd. "I don't want guys like him around when I play!" joked Cosby. Berk spoke of Gadd's importance to contemporary American music and stated that Zildjian's relationship with Berklee has been "one of the most significant in the college's history." Each stressed the importance of the event in raising funds to give deserving drummers the opportunity to attend Berklee.

In the second half of the show, Vinnie Colaiuta joined the band onstage to play Chick Corea's "Nite Sprite" and a funky instrumental titled "Subway" that Gadd had recorded with the band Stuff. Marotta and Colaiuta played a drum duet version of Gadd's "Duke's Lullaby" before making the American Drummers Achievement Award presentation to Gadd. James Taylor and his band then came out (with Gadd on drums) to close the night with renditions of Taylor's songs "October Road" and "Country Road." Taylor told the audience, "This year has been one of the best of my life, and no small part of that is due to my good fortune of having Steve Gadd in my band."

Cosby thanked the audience for their generosity (tickets to the event ran as high as $300 per seat). "Somewhere in the world a young musician who comes from a lower economic status than you will get to attend Berklee because of this night," said Cosby. "Thank you for supporting this great event."