Berklee Today

A Welcome to the Class of 2008 and a Salute to Saxophone Great Michael Brecker

  Michael Brecker
  Michael Brecker (center) acknowledges applause from the audience along with President Roger Brown (right) and trustee Alan Reese after receiving Berklee's honorary doctorate at the September 3 convocation.
  All photos: Farnsworth Blalock photos

On the eve of the Labor Day weekend, Berklee was in full swing for the 2004 Entering Student Convocation. Gathered to welcome 921 entering students were Berklee President Roger Brown, as well as trustees, the college's academic deans, members of the faculty and administration, and Grammy?winning saxophonist Michael Brecker.

The evening kicked off with the strains of Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," in a Dixieland rendition by the band Made in the Shade. In a departure from previous years, the band was led down the aisles of the Berklee Peformance Center toward the stage by the college's new cat mascot Mingus. In his introductory remarks, Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students Lawrence Bethune related to the crowd that previously the students had voted to name Berklee's mascot Mingus in honor of the late, great bassist Charles Mingus. Bethune decided to contact Mingus's wife, Sue Mingus, to get her input before making the name official. Sue Mingus not only approved but agreed to come to the convocation and address the audience.

Berklee's new mascot Mingus  
Berklee's new mascot Mingus receives a welcome from Sue Mingus, wife of the late Charles Mingus, legendary jazz bassist and composer.  

"I am very proud to be here," said Sue Mingus. "It's not every day that you have a hip cat and a Berklee mascot named after a family member. I think that I can say that Charles would be very pleased himself. He was a cat lover-not only the musical variety, but the mouse-chasing kind too. He had a cat named Nightlife that he loved."

She went on to mention four Berklee alumni who play with the Mingus Big Band and the Charles Mingus Orchestra. She closed by telling the young musicians, "I hope that many more of you will come join us once you have graduated."

  Tenor saxophonist Michael Tucker
  Tenor saxophonist Michael Tucker paid tribute to Michael Brecker on his song "African Skies."

After an address by student speaker Michael Andre Zawitowski, President Roger Brown, presiding at the first convocation since becoming president, introduced the evening's honoree Michael Brecker. Brown stated, "Most agree that 11-time Grammy?winning saxophonist and composer Michael Brecker is among the most influential saxophonists playing today. Over the course of the past 34 years, Michael Brecker has recorded his own Grammy-winning albums and added his magic to the recordings and concerts of many pop and jazz legends."

Brown quoted several musicians who sent in tributes for the saxophone giant. Fellow saxophone luminary Joe Lovano said, "Michael's deep musical passion, knowledge, and flawless technique have been a driving force in the music world for decades." Record producer Rob Mounsey called Brecker "one of the great voices of the tenor saxophone of this or any other era." Former Miles Davis sideman and guitarist Mike Stern said, "I've been very fortunate to play with many great musicians in my career, but I think I've learned more from Michael Brecker than any of the others."

Maeve Gilchrist sang and played a jazz rendition of the Scottish song "Lassie, Lie Near Me."  

After accepting the degree, Brecker told the crowd, "I'm very honored to receive this distinction. It's a little-known fact that I actually attended Berklee for five weeks during the summer of 1967. That five-week program was one of the best I've ever had. I worked very hard, studied hard, and had a chance to play a lot of great music in a safe, sequestered environment. I want to encourage all of you to not only get to know each other but to play as much music together as you can."

Following the formalities, the curtain was raised and the concert began. As always, the Yo Team, consisting of Rob Rose, Ken Zambello, Donna McElroy, Tom Stein, Richard Evans, and Brian Evans, pulled together 28 of Berklee's top student musicians and 10 charts for a top-notch show. The show opened with a hard-grooving send-up of "Some Skunk Funk," a Brecker Brothers Band classic from the group's 1975 debut. Next, vocalist Jeremy Ragsdale turned in a memorable performance and scat solo on the Freddie Green/Jon Hendricks tune "Down for Double." Sarah Johnson gave an emotional reading of "Your Daddy's Son" from the musical Ragtime. Andrew Douglass shifted gears for a rocking version of "Lighthouse" by the band Live, giving guitarists Nir Felder and Jonathan Hurley a chance to crank it up. Tenor saxophonist Mike Tucker rendered a fitting homage to Brecker on "African Skies," a 1995 Grammy winner for Brecker. Celtic harpist/singer Maeve Gilchrist gave the traditional Jacobite song "Lassie, Lie Near Me" a jazz lilt. Evan Baughman belted out the Doobie Brothers' "Take Me in Your Arms" and Kamaria Ousley sang "You Put a Move on My Heart." The show ended with an upbeat version of the Beatles' classic, "With a Little Help from My Friends," with all singers trading lines.

  All singers on deck
  All singers on deck. (From the left): vocalists Evan Baughman, Andrew Douglass, Kamaria Ousley, Jeremy Ragsdale, and Sarah Johnson team up to sing "With a Little Help from My Friends" for the concert finale.