The first recipient of the Gary Burton Chair in Jazz Performance, renowned saxophonist and composer Joe Lovano has been teaching at Berklee since 2001. When the Berklee Global Jazz Institute began, he was thrilled to join the faculty and work with the same group of people consistently; it was a teaching style he already followed in his other classes as much as possible. Working with others in such an intense and close-knit way remains one of his favorite aspects of the program today. “You can get really deep into some music,” Lovano says. “It’s amazing.”
Do you have a favorite experience from working with the BGJI?
Every time I [teach], it’s a beautiful experience. During yesterday’s forum, Danilo [Pérez] and I got together and we really talked about the blues and the expression of who you are and where you’re from, and the class was fantastic. Every time we get together, we deal with issues that are happening for us as well as try to teach. I don’t look at it as teaching, I look at it as sharing the blessings, you know? And when you share the blessings like that, and have open discussions and you’re playing and speaking from experience, that’s what’s so beautiful. So every time, I think, yeah, that felt good. I play a lot with my students. I don’t just have them play for me and give them a critique. I play for them, we play together, and they have to teach themselves how to play. They know what to do, when they’re in the heat of the music, when people who are really into it and involved are doing it; when you make music with people like that, you know what to do. That’s the context that I like it to be in—to play together, to experience what that’s about—because they’re going to be out on the scene. And you have to create your world in jazz, and all of the master players throughout history had to do that, and we would never know about anyone if it wasn’t for a lot of love and passion that they used to express themselves.
Can you talk a little bit about the quality of musicianship that you’ve seen among the students?
Every player of this music has their own history and their own story, and to be able to execute your ideas and develop in this beautiful, joyous world of music that we live in, it’s an ongoing journey. I’ve had some amazing, exceptional young players who today are really making names for themselves. With time and development—and you're playing with others and you’re influenced by people around you—you experience music, things happen. Within the BGJI, there have been many young players over the last four years that’ve moved to New York, and I’ve had the chance to see them and hear them. To have a career in music you have to have a lot of love, a lot of passion, and your experiences just keep going. So the experiences these players are having—traveling and playing in different cultures and countries, and addressing classes about who they are and where they’re coming from—that’s a beautiful thing. It’s inspiring for me. I’m learning all the time. You’re always a student in music.
How do you feel about the social change and international aspects of the BGJI?
Berklee has been a very international school since its inception, really. There have been all these trained players coming i to Berklee from around the world. What makes it so nice is that we’re attracting even more diverse players from all around the world, and we’re putting groups together with them, and there’s an opportunity for them to travel and to play and learn from different cultures around the world themselves. They also have to address deciding who they are, where they’re from, and what the music means to them in different places. I’ve been to Panama for the festival there where we were doing some work with kids, and when our students have the chance to actually present a real focused class of their own, that’s something that’s really great. Last year, they went to Paris, they went to some countries in Africa; when our students come back, they have to give us a description of what they did, so it’s really nice. In that way, we’re really sharing the blessings.