Student Profile: Charles Turner III
Coming from the performing-arts–specialty Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, vocalist Charles Turner III already had experience trying to make his mark in a big pond. But it was the study abroad program at Berklee that really widened his horizons and gave him the perspective that he needed to find his place in the world.
What was it like going to Freiburg with the study abroad program?
That was a life-changing experience. I went to Florence, I went to Venice, I went to Milan, I went to Berlin, I went to Munich, I went to Paris, I went to Brussels. This was my first time out of the country, so it was just jam-packed. I went to Spain—I recorded with Alejandro Carrasco. I did a jam session at the Unterfahrt, the main jazz club in Munich, with a friend. All of this was inspired by me taking the leap to study abroad. It was all part of my master plan. I figured since I was going to be out there, Switzerland's not too far away, I'm going to apply to the Montreux Jazz Festival [Voice Competition].
What was nice about it was stepping back for a semester. I spent a lot of time just meditating, because my third semester was tough. It was when I had that "Berklee breakdown" that sometimes we all have, because there are so many other great singers at the school, and I wasn't singing as much as I wanted to. When I went to Freiburg I stepped back from that. It's not about competition; it's just about my personal growth. I think that's something that we forget sometimes.
What are some performances you've given while at Berklee?
I've been fortunate enough to do bigger venues. I went to the Montreux Jazz Festival twice—last year I was a semifinalist, and this year I came in third. Last year I also had a performance in Spain. In December I did a competition in Brussels at the Music Village Jazz Festival. I came in second place and won the public prize, so I'm going back there in November to perform at their club. Also, in May 2008, voice instructor Christiane Karam and I did a performance at Carnegie Hall with Bobby McFerrin. That was 20 different artists, and lots of different genres, put together. In 2007 I did the Marcus Miller gig, and I was fortunate enough recently to do Love and Hunger, the Billie Holiday play with Dee Dee Bridgewater.
What was it like performing at Montreux and these other huge events?
The whole concept that Berklee is 23% international students is so intriguing to me, and that's what's really interesting about going to these festivals—meeting so many different people from so many backgrounds, different musical cultures, all coming together. That's been the prize. Just to see, traveling, the appreciation for music across the world, and how nothing else really ties us together like music does. . . . I know it's a cliché—the universal language—but it really is. This year, after Montreux, I went to London to record some music with a friend that I met in Brussels. All these things come together.
How has Berklee supported you?
In December I had to go to Brussels the week of finals, so I had to do everything early. With the traveling, it is a little bit tough, but fortunately, they're really flexible. Not too flexible—I've still got to get my classes done—but they've been really encouraging.
The International Programs Office at Berklee has been my savior. They were another factor that I was missing that third semester. I went to them and said, "I really want to be a student ambassador." They helped me get to Montreux, and they also supported me for Brussels as well. You'd be surprised at how many people are interested in Berklee at these festivals. When I was at Montreux there were two people who had applied for Berklee who were on the fence, and I was there to tell them it's a good choice. And me being a good musician and conducting myself well, it gave them more confidence.
What are your plans after graduation?
I think next year is going to be New York, but I'm not just going to go. I have friends that I met through the Carnegie Hall thing who are going to introduce me to clubs and help me get my foot in the door, so that I'm not going to be a complete fish out of water once I get there. That's a mistake that I think a lot of people make. I know it's going to be tough. I need to start making a CD and start promoting myself. I feel like I'm really prepared now. I feel like I've been an ambitious person these last four years; I'm setting myself up for success. I feel like this might be the time where I really need to take a chance, take a risk, and be a little more vulnerable. I'm excited to see what comes next.
Charles's Top Five Artists
- Eddie Jefferson
- Ella Fitzgerald
- Betty Carter
- Nancy Wilson
- Jon Hendricks