Berklee College of Music 2014 Commencement Concert Recap

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Year after year, Berklee brings the biggest and brightest names in the music industry to its Commencement Concert and Ceremony to receive honorary doctorates, to perform, and to be honored by student performances and tributes to their musical legacy. On May 9th, 2014, nothing was different; hundreds packed into Boston University’s Agganis Arena for Berklee College of Music’s largest performance of the year, the 2014 Berklee Commencement Concert. With a stage fit for a successful touring artist, select graduating students were chosen to perform the music of Berklee’s 2014 Honorary Doctorate recipients: Jimmy Page, Valerie Simpson, Geri Allen, and Thara Memory. Alongside many special guests and a huge ensemble to back them up, the performers and musicians put on a show to be remembered for graduating students, their parents, and other special guests.

Considering the size of the production, both the performers and production team required substantial preparation, which was capped off by one last rehearsal on the eve of the show. Valerie Simpson and Geri Allen were present for most of the night, working out their stage routine with the student band. They kept the large group of Berklee musicians on their toes, by throwing in some last-minute changes in form and structure, creating some outstanding organic moments for the night after.

The show opened with an outstanding introduction: a medley comprised of the visiting artists’ songs led into the first song, “The Boss,” by Ashford and Simpson, sung by Mark Joseph, Nigel Tay, Jennifer Hoyt, and Arielle Fears. The audience cheered with excitement for the first number, which led into the next tune, “Good Times Bad Times,which landed with a bang. As one of Led Zeppelin’s most popular songs began, the crowd roared as Sam Fischer and Dave Vives took to the stage and rocked out on a duet. The concert continued with another ode to Jimmy Page, featuring Jana Sustersic singing a high-energy arrangement of Zeppelin’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Brook Stephenson and Sam DeRosa then took to the stage to perform a groovy rendition of “Satisfaction Guaranteed,followed by a tribute video for Thara Memory.

After the video, Thara stepped on stage with Berklee College of Music’s Rainbow Band to help conduct “Blues For Warren” and “The Black Spaniard.” The tribute to Thara Memory continued with Timeless Portraits and Dream’s performance of Eleni. The night wove its way back into some familiar tunes by Valerie Simpson, like “Solid,” sung by Mark Joseph and Grace Gibson, and “Is It Still Good to You,” performed by Nigel Tay and Iva Kostic. Following another amped performance by Dave Vives, with Felipe Campos singing “The Ocean,” the night switched gears to a wonderful string of classic r&b tunes, performed by the orchestra and some outstanding vocalists. Arrangements of “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” and “You’re All I Need To Get By,” among others, were performed spot-on by the ensemble, as well as the featured soloists, including Tevin Price, Tre’von Griffith, and Sam Fischer.

After the tribute video for jazz pianist Geri Allen, Allen herself came on stage and performed a remarkable piece called “Our Lady,” accompanied by a solo tap dancer. The two played off of each other to create many different moods and contrasting emotions throughout the piece, which was an absolute hit with the audience! After the tribute videos for Jimmy Page and Valerie Simpson, Simpson was introduced, walked over to the piano, and performed one of her most popular songs ever, “I’m Every Woman.” Following a virtuosic and free introduction, featuring Simpson’s piano and vocals, the tune smashed into an energetic disco groove, at which time Simpson stepped out from behind the piano and worked the stage like a pro. For Simpson’s next song, Geri Allen and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington joined to play one of the most famous soul tunes ever written, “I Don’t Need No Doctor.” The crowd stood and cheered for the songwriting legend as Ethan Thompson and Jennifer Hoyt performed another one of Simpson’s most famous songs, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

The night then took its last twist: a medley of “Stairway To Heaven,” sung by Kevin Flood, and “Over The Hills and Far Away,” performed by Dorian Maverick. The crowd stood in applause as the last encore of the night began with Ashford and Simpson’s “Reach Out And Touch Somebody’s Hand.” All of the performers were invited to the stage, as well as all of the visiting artists, where they all received an amazing roar from the audience. This commencement concert, without a doubt, was an unforgettable experience for those involved, as well as those in attendance.

Below is Dave Vives’ energetic, authentic performance of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”.

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          February 10, 2018