Who Is Berklee's Greatest Alum?

John Mirisola
September 3, 2019

Boston Magazine weighs in.

Photo by Kelly Davidson

Who is Berklee’s greatest alum? It’s an age-old question, and, of course, an unanswerable one. “There are just too many types of musicians and industry professionals that have passed through Berklee to come up with an easy answer,” says Boston Magazine’s Matthew Reed Baker, who, nevertheless, takes his best shot at the topic in the latest installment of his “One Last Question” series.

There is no shortage of exemplary candidates, Reed explains, from “film and TV composers as varied as Alf Clausen of the The Simpsons and Miami Vice’s Jan Hammer” to ”rock superstars like members of Aerosmith and Imagine Dragons, as well as rock virtuosos such as Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent) and the members of Dream Theater.” And that’s not even touching upon the school’s seismic impact in the jazz community, he says. “Think: saxman Branford Marsalis and axeman Bill Frisell, but also folks like pianist Danilo Pérez and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, both of whom are here in Boston teaching the next generations.”

The writer finally arrives at one alumnus from the school’s formative years, who would go on to shape the sound of modern popular music in a staggering array of contexts and roles over the next fifty years: Quincy Jones ’51, Reed contends, is Berklee's greatest alum. He ticks off just a handful of Jones’ most notable accomplishments—“Lionel Hampton’s trumpeter, Frank Sinatra’s arranger, a platinum-selling recording artist, a Hollywood film and TV composer, a record-label owner, and, most famously, the producer of countless colossal hits such as Lesley Gore’s ‘It’s My Party’ and Michael Jackson’s Thriller…I get breathless trying to summarize how many genres and disciplines he has excelled at to become one of popular music’s most vital titans.”

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