Burt Bacharach: Class Act

Danielle Dreilinger
April 10, 2009
Burt Bacharach steps up, unscheduled, to perform his hit song "Alfie."
Bacharach is one of alumna Paula Cole's "favorite composers," says coproducer Ken Zambello.
Denise Hudson, student soloist, takes the lead on "One Less Bell to Answer."
Student Aubrey Logan performs "Promises, Promises" from the Broadway musical of the same name.
Faculty member Didi Stewart sings "A House Is Not a Home."
Cole sings backed by a 44-piece orchestra.
Bacharach is the college's latest honorary doctor of music.
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

Maybe, in troubling times, what the world needs now is more Burt Bacharach. The popular songwriter cloaks sophisticated chord progressions and time signatures in melodies that feel as easy as a breeze.

That's why Berklee paid tribute to him at this year's Great American Songbook concert on March 1.

It was "a logical choice," said professor/coproducer Ken Zambello. He called Bacharach "a significant American composer."

As with many behind-the-scenes artists, students today "probably know the songs more than they would know about him," Zambello said—though his appearance in the second Austin Powers movie raised his profile. Still, "the songs are certainly very much still on singers' lips." 

Particularly for alumna Paula Cole '90. Bacharach is "one of her favorite composers," Zambello said.

Berklee did it up right at the concert with 11 singers and a 44-piece orchestra. Students Aubrey Logan and Denise Hudson gave their voices to "Promises, Promises" and "One Less Bell to Answer," respectively. Cole sang six songs, alternately belting and caressing.

Make that five songs. After receiving an honorary doctorate from Berklee president Roger H. Brown, the special guest didn't want to return to the audience. Though Bacharach wasn't scheduled to perform, he stepped in for Cole to play and sing his introspective 1966 hit "Alfie"—showing the audience what it's all about.