Dear members of the Berklee community,
This week Berklee lost a longtime colleague, mentor, collaborator, and educator, John Marasco, who passed away after a long illness on September 11, 2018, at the age of 65. John was a faculty member in the Guitar Department for more than 30 years, and his loss is felt deeply by all who knew him throughout his long career as a musician and a teacher.
John graduated from Berklee in 1984, and that same year he began teaching in the Guitar Department. In addition to private lessons, John taught various classes, including Guitarmony 1 and 2, Guitar Styles Skills Lab, Guitar Chord Soloing, and Walking Bass Line and Chords for Guitars. A lifelong student of his instrument, John viewed his classes as a way not only to teach techniques and skills but to continue to grow in his own musicianship. He was constantly composing new material to use for exercises and demonstrations in class.
“He taught thousands of students—some who became faculty—and mentored many of our teachers, often with his lefty guitar in hand,” reflected Kim Perlak, assistant chair of the Guitar Department. “John was one of the first faculty members to really welcome me into our department, and I know I am not alone in this experience. He had a way of opening up with a story about his own experience to offer advice and support. He could knock on the door or sit down across from me in a difficult moment, and leave later with us both laughing or hugging or both.”
John retired last year after 34 years of service to Berklee but remained a regular presence in the Guitar Department, playing gigs with fellow faculty and joining in at department gatherings. “Just three weeks ago,” Perlak says, “he took me aside during one of our get-togethers and, with his arm around my shoulder, reminded me to appreciate the things that are truly important. Because, he said, he had.”
Beyond his life as a teacher and musician, John was a loving and beloved husband to his wife, Connie, for 32 years.
John was born in Niagara Falls, New York, and started playing guitar when he was eight years old. By the ’70s, prior to coming to Berklee, he had moved to Los Angeles and spent several years touring as a guitarist with Peter Allen, John Valenti, Louis St. Louis, and Alexis Smith, among other artists. For four years he performed and recorded with the Lettermen, earning two of his early recording credits for Love Is… and Lettermen Live with New Japan Philharmonic. During this period, John’s playing also brought him before television audiences in the United States, Canada, and Japan. He performed on the Merv Griffin Show and the Mike Douglas Show multiple times during the ’70s and ’80s, and appeared as a musical actor on various TV programs, including Wonder Woman.
“I’m a jazz musician first and continue to work at becoming better at this challenging style,” John once said, “but I love many other ways the guitar is played, and I can learn from them as well. I try to be like a sponge and absorb whatever I can.”
John was, in fact, a tremendously versatile guitarist who learned from, and played in, a wide variety of musical settings, from solo performances to symphony orchestras. He regularly played in theatrical productions, with credits in A Chorus Line, Chess, Little Shop of Horrors, the Will Rogers Follies, Good News, and Showboat. He was also a founding member of the Berklee faculty guitar ensemble, the BeBop Guitars, with whom he recorded two albums, The BeBop Guitars and More and Freshly Painted Blues, and never missed a gig.
John’s colleagues remember him as a passionate, consistent, and convivial collaborator and friend. “He approached everything with great fervor. It showed in his music, his teaching, his friendships,” remembered Larry Baione, Guitar Department professor and chair emeritus. “If you had a guitar in your hands, John would stop by and play a duet with you. He must have played with every guitar faculty in the Guitar Department.”
“John Marasco was a great guitar player, a great teacher, and a great friend,” said John Baboian, Guitar Department professor, who shared an office with John for a decade in 1140 Boylston Street. “After he retired in May, I left his name on the door nameplate. I was going to remove it last Thursday because he was no longer teaching, but I decided to leave it up a while longer. Now I’m going to leave it up for a long time.”
On Monday, several of John’s friends from the Guitar Department joined him at his bedside, guitars in hand, and for two hours played their favorite songs for him. He passed away peacefully the following day.
“John was a beautiful musician and person who loved people, and they loved him back,” reflected Curtis Shumate, associate professor in the Guitar Department. “He was a good and loyal friend, and my life was better for knowing him.”
We invite you to share stories and memories about John in the comments section below.
Vice President for Academic Affairs/Vice Provost
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