BOHP_2008-02-01 - Larry Monroe Part 2 -1
FB: Well here we are on February first, 2008 and Larry Monroe and I have already been talking for 45 minutes and hit on a dozen different great subjects. But we met last year in June here and I guess you could call that Ole Home week and today it's away week because we're talking less about Larry's career at Berklee and then moving it across both ponds and in a couple of other directions, South of the equator and all points to be determined on the Berklee, in the Berklee pantheon or world view. LM: Absoltely. FB: Larry, welcome back. LM: Thank you Fred. FB: And we're going to find out how Berklee became, turned from Schillinger House to a trade school for ex big band players and has now made some serious end roads into a world player as music schools go. It's been a long road from Tokyo to Valencia. LM: RIght, we were speaking earlier that the routes, the seeds of Berklee's international strategy and perception in the international world of what Berklee is, go back to the earliest days of Berklee. I think the first scholarship went to Toshi Akioshi, the great Japanese pianist. The first, we were talking about this, there's some archical photos of Berklee kicking around of Laurence Berk and a faculty member out at Logan at the bottom of the steps coming down from an old DC7 or something, welcoming international students. This was back in 51, 52, right out of the chute they were international. Larry Berk himself was an inveterate traveler, loved going everywhere in the world and everywhere he went, tried to find a jazz club or a big band and listen to music. And he would come back and say oh I was just in Warsaw, I heard this kid, we got to get him here and so on. And so we'd wind up sooner or later with a George Miraz. He went to Prague and six months later we had a George Miraz. So it was always there and in the mid 80's, and I was in mid career, 1985, I'd been working at Berklee 16 years or something. And I was running, what ultimately became the performance division. And we had a big chunk of international students, probably in those days as maybe as 30% that were coming anyways and we were advertising a little bit, but word of mouth was always the key thing with Berklee. And we were approached by a Japanese publisher in Tokyo who was publishing Berklee guitar books, piano books and so on in Japan. And one of our first and most prominent international students from Japan was the great alto saxophonist Sada Watanabi. So Watanabi had gone to the publisher and said, you know, I'd love to bring Berklee to Tokyo, the school that shaped my career should come here. So I don't rememeber who paid for what or when but we agreed to do it and Gary Burton who was then whatever capacity, he was the executive vice president, he was my boss in those days. Handiman says well, let me poke around, I'll talk to promoters and my agent and see if we can do this. So we lined up two or three gigs at some festivals, it was in mid summer, summer of 85. And a recording session so I said, lets put together a band so we put together a three horn band with people like Bill Pierce and Greg Hopkins and Bruce Gurts, Tommy Campbell and people like that. And we went off to, I guess it was Jeff Stout that first year, and we went off to... We had some faculty composers write some three horn charts with a expanded rhythm section including Gary and so on. And so we headed off to Japan thinking we would be primarily performing in four or five concerts and festivals around Tokyo. And we stopped by this Sony facility, there's some studios right there in metropolitan Tokyo. And we'd do a few clinics, but primarily we were there to perform and show the Berklee flag. So we arrived there, went to a reception in the studio and realized the clinics, they had recruited about 120 students who were there for a five day event and we thought we'd see them for an hour or two and then be on our way. So we had little to no choice, so much of invention is there's expediencies that have nothing to do with philosophy and inspiration. And so we went, we spent all night long sitting in this hotel room, calling the front desk for more hotel stationary, sketching out a curriculum, an audition test because we had to find out if any of these kids could play at the levels that we wanted to teach and so on. And somewhere about five in the morning, we had it all cranked out by hand, Lincolness on the back on envelopes right. FB: Kind of a pedigogical kick in the pants wasn't it? LM: Absolutely, so much for process. And went to the studio that morning and by noon had auditioned them all individually as instrument and placed them and we had a five day program. They had a theory and improv class in the morning or harmony and improv I should say. I think we had a little ear training class in there and then a lecture about jazz history I think and then in the afternoon, ensembles. FB: Well that kind of instant implementation was not foreign to the Berk program. LM: No, it was essentially... In fact I remember saying, we're sitting there and I said, you know, I don't where, he said it, I said it, but I remember clearly that the first night the phrase was, we'll give them the whitman sampler box of Berklee, illuding to the chocolate company of course who always had a box of sample of all their product. So we did that, we said well this is Berklee, let's give them a little taste of Berklee and maybe some. And we called Boston and said, how bout we give them, the best ten, some scholarships to Boston and so on. And president Lee Berk was there with us so he said yeah, that sounds good, we got to do what we got to do and we'll make it work. All the time thinking, if we can just get through this week we will never face this again. And so we got through the week, it was a big success, big final concert and we some good talented youngsters who we brought back to Boston subsequent years. And, went home and within months we were approached by the Umbria Jazz Festival which is one of Europe's largest festivals in Italy in the region of Umbria as you know, in Italy. And they had got wind of it. They were doing some little, they have a huge festival and they needed, because it was municipal money goes into the festival, they needed to do something in the public interest. So they had been doing a series of lectures using sidemen from the well known groups that were performing at the festival. It wasn't working out, these were essentially guys that were playing till three in the morning and then getting up around two and coming over and playing some drum solos for the drummers while the piano player talked about voicings. They weren't educators and they weren't really up for it, it was kind of an add on pay to their work there. So it was successful, but it wasn't working well. A lot of student complaints and so on. So they asked, I remember them saying we heard about what you did in Japan, would you consider coming and doing that with us? And we kicked it around, we said okay, we'll try one. And we went over there and we did a two week version of the one week we had done in Japan and we've been there ever since. I can't remember if this will be our 23rd or 24th year at the Umbria festival. But I have to tell you, the whitman sampler box plan is essentially what we still do. And we kept saying, we'll have to really improve on this sooner or later, but everywhere we went, the kids loved it, we got good results from it, it's heavily performance oriented. And so a kid who's a good player, but maybe he's completely intuitive, kind of fumbles around in the harmony class, but he had the afternoon and the instrumental classes and we had jam sessions and of course the festival is a great lure. And then after that, we did the same kind of programs, not always with jazz festivals but I think, I can't remember. We did one in Argentina, we did one in Greece, we did one in the Canary Islands, one in Madrid, back to Japan in both Tokyo and Hammamatsu. A number of years in Japan doing it. I'm missing some, we did these things all over the world. And it became our outreach and the philosophy behind it was we'll go to them, it will be a recruiting tool, our faculty will learn something. We had a large contingent of Japanese students and it was clear, and to anyone who has taught students from all over the world, the way students function, the way they learned in primary educaiton is different from say Japan then it is say from Italy. In Japan, students don't ask questions, it's considered disrespectful. There is very little discourse in the classroom. Of course American teachers love to lay it out and then answer questions for an hour and teach that way. In Italy, you could say two two are plus four and two hands will go up and say, well that's maybe what the Americans think but we don't think... you'll get instantaneous feedback which is, in Western civilization, most teachers like that. They plan about a 15 minute lecture and then do 45 minutes of answering questions. And we grade the students here based on their classroom participation of course. In Japan we found out quickly that, it was like talking to an oil painting. No matter what you said, you know, there's this great reverance for the teacher and there's no question of it. Afterwords, maybe privately a Japanese student will come up and ask a question, but not in the context of the class. And so, we're learning things. By doing thes programs all around the world, we'll learn about the kids, we'll learn about the music environments they come from, we'll bring that back to Berklee and we'll be able to service them better in Boston. And we'll meet some great kids and give them a few scholarship dollars and we'll see what we can do. So it became, we were actually doing that internationally before we were doing much nationally. And somwhere in there, we decided it was such a good idea, we started out own program. We began in Santa Fe in probably 1987, 88 and then we moved it to the Los Angeles area. It's been in one suburb or another in LA for many, many years. And to do the same thing, to recruit nationally in the manner we were doing it internationally. And that led to, now we were getting calls, somewhere, I think the first one was late 80's, we started getting calls from music schools who say, can you come and do one of those things here? It was becoming too many of them. We were doing five, six or seven a year. It's a problem because you're taking students away from Boston. So if they need to do something in November, I got to take 10 faculty out of here because you take one for every instrument and then some classroom teachers. FB: Yeah the summer thing doesn't always work. LW: Summers are okay, we got a looser schedule, less students here, but it was getting cumbersome. So, a couple of schools, founded by our alums, three what we call founding schools. One is in Athens, one is in Telavive... FB: These the BIN's? LW: Yeah and what became known as the Berklee International Network. But we had these three schools who we had established, we had done some clinics for them and now we were kind of making annual visits and having loose agreements and we finally decided, Lee Berk said to me, you think there are a lot of these schools? And by that he meant small schools, pretty much where Berklee was 30, 40 years ago. Struggling economically in environments where jazz is not the central music. You can imagine what budgets are like in an embattled little country like Israel, how much money is spent on American art forms. So these were private schools struggling in environments in Spain and Greece. They have university, state universities where you go for free and a private school has to really battle to stay alive. So we thought, let's see what we can do to help them. What if we formed an international network of a few of these schools and find some more around the world. And we'll have a little, these schools will function, we'll share with them our curriculum, out ideas. Some of them align their curriculums so thoroughly that you can study for example, at Nakkas Conservatory in Athens for two years and then transfer all those credits to Boston and get a degree in two years. And of course this helps our recruiting and stimulates their growth and so on. FB: I've probably seen a couple of these kids taking college writing, the Greek guys. With good English and brisk minds. LW: Right. And of course to this day we'd say that some of the best young jazz talent we ever have here comes from the school in Israel. So we were getting more students that way. We built, in the late 80's and 90's, when the demographics in America were such that there were less domestic students, all colleges saw dip in enrollment. Our enrollment grew because we aggresively went into the international world and recruited. The missing Americans we filled in with Europeans and Asians and South Americans and so on. FB: I remember as an outsider in the 80's, getting a invitation to the opening day when they would have 50 or 60 different countries represented, parents would come over. Amazing. LW: So we continued to grow as other schools faltered. And at one point, we had almost 40% international students here. And it tabled out now in the mid 20's and that's probably where it belongs and stays. And what we found is that when you interview all students, we first always thought it was the Americans, turns out it was all students, if you ask them to say, what's one of the most important aspects of Berklee that you like most about the school. Invariably in the top five responses is, it's the international environment. It's being able to go to class with kids from all over the world, and meeting them and networking for the future. So we began to see the international kids are not just talented kids who pay tuition and blend in, they have an important impact. We always think as Americans, we'll bring them over here and show them the real stuff. It's a very xenophobic point of view that we've learned and gotten dismissed at Berklee. We're bringing international students and colliding them with American students in the best sense and both are learning. They're contributing mightly to the quality of this school and they're learning things here that they take back and so there are little pockets of Berklee-like schools all over the planet. They go home and they try to form their own Berklee.