Berklee In The ’60’s
My ego was fairly delicate during my Berklee years, ’65 to ’68. We were in school with the likes of Keith Jarrett, Ernie Watts, Jon Abercrombie, Alan Broadbent… the intimidation potential around those guys was off the scale. i know, I lived in the apartment above Keith Jarrett for six months and heard him practicing nearly every night while I was doing my homework upstairs.
I probably thought i might get a small token of his brilliance through nightly osmosis. As we now know, I didn’t. There were brilliant musicians in all my classes… hell, one of my roommates, Keith Green, played trumpet and trombone, was a good arranger and ended up writing for and conducting the Barnum and Bailey Blue Circus for years. Berklee was intimidating if you weren’t one of the hot players. One of my pals, Mike Hughes, graduated and instantly became the musical director of the Boston Production of “Hair.”
Pat and Joe LaBarbera
Another friend, Pat LaBarbera, left school (as many others did) before graduation to go with Buddy Rich’s band. He also played with Woody Herman and Louis Bellson. You see, back then Berklee was the go-to for good well-schooled, young musicians that bands and orchestras all over the country needed from time to time. Pat’s younger brother, Joe, a drummer, also came through Berklee long enough to get a gig with Bill Evans and stay with him until Bill’s death in 1980.
Alan , from New Zealand, was another contemporary who made it big in the jazz world, AND movie music world, as player, arranger and conductor. He currently conducts Diana Krall’s concert performances. In Boston, I often subbed for him at his Irish Pub gig. Twice a month he’d fly down to New York and get a piano lesson with Lennie Tristano. On those nights I’d play this crazy Irish Pub that, for some reason, liked jazz piano in the evenings. Alan once told me he had a lesson with Lennie when he never saw him… Lennie was in the bathtub in the bathroom and was shouting out things for Alan to do at the piano in the living room! That had to be bizarre, but not after you heard some of the other Lennie Tristano stories!
In 1969 Alan joined the Woody Herman band. After moving to L.A. he was invited into the studio scene as a pianist for the great Nelson Riddle, David Rose and Johnny Mandel. In the early 90s he was asked to be a part of Natalie Cole’s famous “Unforgettable” cd, at which time he toured as her pianist and, a little while later, as her conductor. At this time he wrote an orchestral arrangement for her second video with her dad, “When I Fall In Love”, which won him his first Grammy Award for “best orchestral arrangement accompanying a vocal”.
Shortly after, he became a member of Charlie Haden’s Quartet West, touring the festivals of Europe, UK and the USA. It was while with this group that he won his second Grammy, an orchestral accompaniment written for Shirley Horn of Leonard Bernstein’s “Lonely Town”. This is how some Berklee students made their mark in the music world from those classes of the ’60’s.
Another Berklee student, Alf Clausen, was a fairly rare entity at Berklee, in that he actually graduated, was a quiet french horn student at Berklee who none of us paid any attention to. French Horn was not a jazz instrument and Alf usually wore a sports jacket to school, dramatically unlike the rest of us. But Alf, also unlike many of us who didn’t graduate from Berklee and had successful careers anyway, graduated and landed the job of composing the music for the animation “The Simpsons” for 27 years, along with writing the music for 30 films and TV shows. And we barely noticed Alf at Berklee. We were surrounded by brilliance there, whether we knew it or not. Hell, some of our professors back then were already jazz legends – Herb Pomeroy, Phil Wilson, Charlie Mariano, John LaPorta, Ray Santisi. Alan Dawson.
So Berklee was a fantastic school back then? Oh yes… even a fairly lowly player like me was playing for a singer on the Merv Griffin show (then in New York) less than a year after I left Berklee. Then we auditioned for the Carson show, and I played my singer’s (Jimmy Helms) audition for the road version of the play, “Golden Boy.” I arranged the horns and strings for Jimmy’s first album, and, like I said, that was barely a year out of Berklee. Yes, the school really did give us our career back then, all we had to do is run with what we’d learned.
The Montana Crew
There were at least five Montana musicians at Berklee at the same time – George Groesbeck, Jon Lodge, Jack Walrath, Dale Frank, and me. Of the five of us, Jack did the best at making it in the jazz world after Berklee. He played trumpet with Charles Mingus for years, and was a successful composer. Jack would have been the only one of us who played in Berklee’s Recording Band… the best of Berklee’s players of that particular year, who played on the school’s yearly big band album release.
George Groesbeck, a fine jazz pianist, moved back to Butte after several years, got his teaching degree and was very successful as a music professor in the Butte school system, while continuing to play piano, (and occasionally bass) around Butte, and Montana.
Jon Lodge, a trumpet player, finished school and worked for the Berklee Press for several years, after which he moved back to Billings and launched a very successful career in Printing, managing a printing company in Billings that served the entire North West. Jon is also a well-known visual artist, shown in art galleries around the country.
Dale Frank, also a trumpet player, was a bit older than the rest of us, and got to Berklee first. He recommended it to me, and I recommended it to George. I used to joke with George that he “sent me back there to see if the water was warm, and when I survived the first year, he came to Boston and joined me.” Dale Frank told me about Berklee in Missoula in ’64, and I owe him a huge thanks for that! I’ve written to him on his website, but never got an answer. Dale has had a successful career in the L.A. area as a composer, band leader and studio owner.
My career finally settled in Atlanta, where I was a composer/arranger for Doppler Studios for 15 years. I owned and operated my own small recording studio for 33 years, and my notable events would be playing a short concert series with Henry Mancini, recording over 80 pieces of music for WTBS in London with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The only keyboard performance you could hear me on nationally was the opening music to the tv show, WKRP In Cincinnati. A comparatively modest career, for sure. But when you find five guys from Montana who loved jazz enough to pursue it clear back to Boston, then build successful careers out of the experience, you have to give us credit. We are a fairly rare breed! And Berklee truly was the launching pad for each of us!