Berklee Today

Gadd, Laboriel, and Rushen Welcome 815 New Students at Fall Convocation

  (From the left): Convocation honorees Abraham Laboriel, Patrice Rushen, and Steve Gadd with Berklee President Roger Brown
  All photos by Phil Farnsworth

On September 9, members of Berkee's administration, the Board of Trustees, and honorees Patrice Rushen, Abraham Laboriel '72, and Steve Gadd welcomed 815 entering students to campus.

President Roger Brown took the opportunity to tell the students about kaizen, the Japanese principle of incremental improvement. "It's the art of getting just a little better every day," Brown said. "If you improve just 1 percent each day for the four years that you are at Berklee, you'd end up being 2,038,007 times better. Where you start is irrelevant; it's where you go that matters."

Brown took a few moments to announce the Wes Wehmiller Memorial Endowed Scholarship that the family and friends of the late bassist Wes Wehmiller '92 have set up. During his career,Wehmiller had played with a number of well-known musicians (including Duran Duran) before succumbing to thyroid cancer in January of this year. The scholarship will be made to a continuing student who is a bassist.

Trio bows  
(From the left): Gadd, Rushen, and Laboriel take in the applause after they sat in to play two selections during the convocation concert.  

Next, President Brown presented honorary degrees to famed performers Gadd, Laboriel, and Rushen. Introducing legendary studio drummer Steve Gadd, Brown stated, "The list of major artists with whom he's worked reads like a who's who of contemporary music." Noting that Gadd turned 60 last April, Brown commented, "Steve shows no signs of slowing down. He still maintains a very intense schedule in the studio and on the road devoting a good portion of his time to working with Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, and James Taylor."

Accepting the degree, Gadd told the crowd that the honor was even more special because he was sharing the moment with Rushen and Laboriel with whom he has worked a lot. Of his success, Gadd said, "I love music, and found one thing that I could do and just kept on doing it. I believe that if I could do this, you all can too. Welcome aboard."

Speaking of bassist Abraham Laboriel, Brown mentioned his work in the Los Angeles studios playing on more than 3,000 albums with such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Chaka Khan, Elton John, Quincy Jones, Peter Cetera, Ruben Blades, and others. In his acceptance remarks, Laboriel then told the students, "Music is not a competitive sport, it is a communal activity. So love one another, and give rise to music that is worth making."

  Justin Rafiki Raines
  Bassist Justin "Rafiki" Raines plays a bass solo.

The third honoree was keyboardist, composer, producer, and music director Patrice Rushen. Brown called her one of those special musicians who comes along rarely. Rushen has made important contributions to jazz, pop, and r&b records, movie soundtracks, televisions shows, and classical performances. "Her entry into the music industry in the seventies, when few female musicians were working in the recording, television, and movie studios, brought down barriers for other gifted women," said Brown.

Rushen gave the students encouragement, "For many of you, this is your first time being away from home being around people who eat, drink, and breathe music. Learn from it, and know how privileged you are to be here. Do something with that privilege, and contribute as you can to the world through your music."

Next, 24 student musicians under the direction of the six-member Yo Team production staff presented an hour-long concert tribute to the honorees. Among the many highlights was a funky rendition of Chick Corea's "Light Years" that featured instrumental trades between alto saxophonist Nir Naman and guitarist Roy Kariok. Vocalist Evan Baughman delivered a heartfelt blues waltz rendition of "I Never Loved a Man." Celtic harpist and singer Maeve Gilchrist sang "Reaching Me," a song she penned based on an old Scottish melody. Justin "Rafiki" Raines played a long Laborielesque solo bass intro to Patrice Rushen's hit song "Forget Me Nots" before singer Nadine Ford and the band launched into the medium-tempo dance tune.

Singers Major "Choirboy" Johnson, Nadine Ford, Ryan Christopher, and Evan Baughman closed the show.  

Drummer Anthony Steele followed Jones's lead with a long drum solo intro before setting up the groove on Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," one of Gadd's trademark tracks. The three honorees, plus Matteo Laboriel '03, joined some of the student instrumentalists onstage for the senior Laboriel's tune "Anunciaco." After thunderous applause, they played "Bye Bye Blackbird" as a trio before turning the stage back to the student band. A last-minute addition to the program was Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927," sung by faculty guest Dennis Montgomery III.

The concert closed with a second Paul Simon song, "Late in the Evening," also made famous by Gadd's drum work. All student singers and instrumentalists were onstage for the grand finale and applause when the curtain closed and a new school year opened.