John Bavicchi, professor emeritus in the Composition Department, passed away last Sunday, December 9, at the age of 90. Ken Pullig, Berklee’s former chair of jazz composition, shares his memories here; feel free to leave yours in the comments.
John Bavicchi, born in Dedham on April 25, 1922, passed away in his sleep on Sunday, December 9th. John had studied Engineering and Administration at MIT and Civil Engineering at Cornell. He served in the CBs in the Pacific theater during World War II. After the war he received a Bachelor of Music from NEC and then studied composition with Walter Piston as part of Master classes in the Harvard Graduate School. He came to Berklee in 1964 and started the Composition department with Bill Maloof.
John’s approach to teaching composition was to have his students write a piece each week for the students in the class and to have it played each week. We had great players in these classes I took with John when I was a student of his in the early 70’s. The instrumentation was often strange but the music was generally quite good and the particular topics he would have us address each week were thoroughly understood by the time the semester ended. Rather than trying to have us copy styles, he stressed the “nuts and bolts” of the personal creative process. I really prospered under his inspirational encouragement. This “write and play what you write” pedagogy was the basis of Berklee’s unique approach and John carried it over into the teaching of “classical” composition.
Being a friend of John went well past discussing and appreciating the techniques associated with composition and conducting. He was a an avid New England Patriots fan from the very first season. Every year he would photocopy and assemble a 20-30 page booklet of all the scouting reports (appearing in various sports publications) relevant to those players drafted by the Patriots and give it to those friends he thought would be interested . He had season tickets near the 50-yard line and up to a few years ago, went to every home game. Going to a game with John involved both a pre-game and post-game tailgating cookout. I seem to remember rum being involved! I’ve played darts with John for nearly thirty years. We had a regular foursome that met once a month in his basement bar. Through the years it has gotten a bit tamer, but in the early years the games and related imbibing were ferocious. I will always remember these “dartbag” evenings. It was way beyond fun!
Going out to dinner with John and Bev was the ultimate epicurean experience. Every major restaurant knew them well. John was a big tipper, not to show off, but as a gesture of appreciating a great meal and excellent service. We always had a great time and I learned about great wines and exotic dishes. I always knew how to have a good time but I learned how to have an elegant experience from John. Through the years, John, Bev, Barb and I frequented the Ritz, Chez Jean, and Cafe Budapest among many other great restaurants. I was always the “designated driver”. Luckily, we were never stopped.
He was my teacher, then a colleague, and always a great friend. I will never forget him.