Dianne Reeves and Steven Tyler to Be Honored at Berklee Commencement

Sarah Murphy
April 14, 2003

Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves and legendary rock frontman Steven Tyler will receive honorary doctor of music degrees at Berklee College of Music's 2003 Commencement on Saturday, May 10. Reeves and Tyler will address the more than 600 graduates and approximately 3,000 invited guests at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Boston.

On Commencement eve at the Berklee Performance Center, as is the Berklee tradition, students will present a tribute concert, performing tunes closely associated with the honorees' storied careers. The 2003 Commencement Concert is closed to the public, but will be broadcast live on the Internet, and can be viewed at www.berklee.edu, beginning at 7:15 p.m. EDT.

Dianne Reeves

Two-time Grammy-winning vocalist Reeves has received this accolade from jazz journalist A. Scott Galloway, and we reprint it here, because we couldn't say it any better: "Dianne Reeves is jazz's replenishing empress. With her solar-powered contralto, expansive range, impeccable pitch and evocative writings, she has returned jazz to mother nature, reconnecting it with its earthen roots. A woman of strength and grace, she is an artist unencumbered by the shackles of categorization."

Reeves' interest in music is rooted in her Denver childhood. An uncle, Charles Burrell, was a bassist with the Colorado Symphony; her cousin, George Duke, is a celebrated pianist, composer, and arranger. As a child, she studied piano, and credits this as the source of her rich harmonic awareness.

At age 16, Reeves put her talents on display when she sang with her high school band at a National Association of Jazz Educators convention in Chicago. Clark Terry H'88 (signifies Berklee honorary doctorate), the first in a long line of Reeves' illustrious mentors, heard her, and asked her to sing with his all-star group. Other mentors have included Sergio Mendes, Harry Belafonte, and the late Joe Williams H'88, who said of Reeves, "Dianne is the legitimate extension of all the good things that have gone before-she can get into a song and give you the feeling of what it is all about."

Dr. Herb Wong signed Reeves to his Palo Alto label, where he recorded her first two albums. In 1987, she became the first vocalist signed to the newly reborn Blue Note label, for which she has since recorded numerous albums, including those that have brought her two Grammy statuettes.

In 2002, Reeves enjoyed a banner year, winning a remarkable array of special appearances and accolades. Her most recent studio album, The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan, won a Grammy. This was her second consecutive Grammy; her In The Moment - Live in Concert brought her a 2001 statuette. She performed at the closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games; released a career-spanning retrospective on Blue Note, The Best of Dianne Reeves; received the Ella Fitzgerald Award at the Montreal Jazz Festival, and the Django D'or and Billie Holliday awards in France; and, she was appointed the Creative Chair for Jazz of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

This last post has her overseeing the jazz programming at both the world-famous Hollywood Bowl, as well as the new, Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. As such, she is one of the few female artistic directors in jazz, guiding the music at an institution of this size and importance.

This past December, Reeves entered Right Track Studios in New York with legendary producer Arif Mardin '61, H'85 to record her new album, A Little Moonlight, an intimate collection of ten standards, which will be released in August. Mardin, who just brought home several more Grammys of his own for his recent work with Norah Jones, enthused, "I like the simmering effect Dianne brings to a song. At times, she is like a diver springing off the board - jumping and hanging in the air, then rising even further, while achieving one more, perfectly executed twist." Reeves will be touring the world in support of A Little Moonlight throughout the year.

Steven Tyler

One of rock's all-time most charismatic and entertaining frontmen - that's Aerosmith's Steven Tyler. Born Steven Tallarico in 1948 in New York City, he began playing drums at an early age. His father was a high school music teacher, trained at Juilliard, whose piano practice was one of the few things that would reliably calm the already highly charged Steven. His father's readings of Debussy, Liszt, and Chopin, heard while the boy sat beneath his father's Steinway, truly began his lifetime love affair with music.

An adolescence of perceived hyperactivity—and real trouble in school—found a creative outlet in rock and roll, and drumming. Asked not to return to high school for his senior year, Tyler was soon spending much of his time playing drums in a band called the Strangeurs. In time, he moved from the drumkit and took his rightful place at the mic, when he discovered the Beatles, and the blues-rock of the Yardbirds.

After moving to Boston at the end of the 1960's, Tyler met his compatriots in what would become Aerosmith - guitarist Joe Perry, bassist Tom Hamilton, drummer Joey Kramer '71, and guitarist Ray Tabano, who was later replaced by Brad Whitford '71. The future supergroup played its first gig at Nipmuc Regional High School, in Mendon, Mass. in 1970.

Over the next few years, the band became a regional sensation, combining the bluesy grit of the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones with the power of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. And the newly renamed Steven Tyler proved to have a flair for the outrageous, with a rock and roll gypsy look that included long scarves, dangling from his mic stand.

By 1973, Aerosmith had signed with Columbia Records and issued their self-titled debut, which included the incipient classic "Dream On." Constant touring and massive word of mouth built the band a hardcore following, and with it, sustained radio play. As the albums mounted: Get Your Wings in 1974; Toys in the Attic in 1975; and 1976's Rocks, the band became a sensation, selling out arenas and scoring big with both hit albums and singles.

But with fame and relentless touring came hardcore drug abuse by the band, and resultant infighting. Their recorded output became more and more unfocused, and by the end of the decade Perry, and then Whitford, had quit the band to go solo. Tyler, focused largely on his own increasing drug habit, soldiered on with replacement band members, and Aerosmith, nearing bankruptcy, rode the fame elevator back down, from playing stadiums, to arenas, to theaters.

In 1983, Tyler and Perry patched up their differences, leading to a reunion of Aerosmith's original members, and arresting the band's descent. Over the next few years, the group all became clean and sober, and promptly reclaimed their position as a preeminent rock and roll band, with sold-out arena tours and enormously successful albums like Permanent Vacation and Pump. In the process, Tyler cemented his position as one of the most influential frontmen in rock history, and Aerosmith continues to sell huge numbers of albums and pack stadiums around the world. The band had its first-ever No. 1 single, "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing," in 1998, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Berklee College of Music was founded on the revolutionary principle that the best way to prepare students for careers in music was through the study and practice of contemporary music. For over half a century, the college has evolved constantly to reflect the state of the art of music and the music business. With over a dozen performance and nonperformance majors, a diverse and talented student body representing 70 plus countries, and a music industry "who's who" of alumni, Berklee is the world's premier learning lab for the music of today—and tomorrow.