Slideshow: Bill Frisell, Gary Burton Join in on Salute to Composer Michael Gibbs
On October 19, virtuosic Grammy-winning musicians Gary Burton '62 '89H and Bill Frisell '77 joined forces with Berklee students and faculty for a musical salute to influential composer Michael Gibbs '63 as part of the Signature Series at Berklee. Gibbs, who studied at Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory (now a merged institution) before becoming one of Berklee's most revered faculty members in the 1970s, is perhaps best known for his compositional contributions to enduring jazz fusion albums such as Burton's In the Public Interest and Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra. He has also composed several film scores, including the score to the Robin Williams's film Being Human, and his composition "Sweet Rain" became the title track to Stan Getz's classic 1967 release.
For jazz aficionados, the evening provided a rare opportunity to witness Grammy-winning stars such as Burton and Frisell perform together on stage with the Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra, which rose to the occasion under the direction of Professor Greg Hopkins. It may be the last such opportunity in the case of Burton, who recently announced his retirement, before coming out of retirement to make a special appearance at the Gibbs tribute concert.
Both Gibbs and Frisell received honorary Doctor of Music degrees from Berklee and sat in on several numbers during the concert, which showcased a handful of Gibbs compositions, as well as Frisell's "Throughout." (Gibbs and Frisell recently collaborated on the 2015 Cuneiform Records release Play a Bill Frisell Set List, which featured the guitarist taking on Gibbs's arrangements alongside the NDR Bigband.) The audience included Susan and Lee Berk, former president of Berklee College of Music; the couple first met in 1975 at a performance by Gibbs's Only Chrome-Waterfall Orchestra. Lee Berk described the music that night as "so compositionally rich" that "it stimulated a mutual interest between Susan and I which has clearly endured 42 years later."
During the Signature Series concert, Berklee Provost Larry Simpson read a statement from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh declaring October 19, 2017 Michael Gibbs Day in Boston. The proclamation noted that Gibbs has "inspired countless emerging musicians in Boston while he served as a member of Berklee College of Music’s faculty." Among those in attendance whom Gibbs inspired was Sirabhorn "Ti" Muntarbhorn '80, who conceived of the event to honor Gibbs's work for the occasion of his 80th birthday.