Ray Santisi, a cherished member of Berklee’s Piano Department, passed away unexpectedly Tuesday night. Ray was an accomplished pianist who strived for authenticity and spontaneity in his music, and encouraged his students to do the same. Piano Department faculty and staff remembered their colleague this week:
Dear Berklee Community,
The Piano Department is saddened and shocked to have to report the passing of our beloved elder-statesman of jazz piano at Berklee, Ray Santisi. Ray has been teaching piano here for the past 57 years and has had an enormous impact on the lives of many of the present Berklee faculty and students from around the world who have studied with him and knew him over the years. Those who didn’t study with him probably played with him. Ray passed away unexpectedly Tuesday night after having had successful cardiac surgery last week. We’re all stunned by the news as we fully expected him to recuperate.
Please comfort any of your students who may be shocked and saddened by this news.
Below find information about his wake and funeral service.
The Piano Department
Watch an interview with Ray Santisi from the Berklee Library’s Oral History Project.
Please share your memories of Ray in the comment section below.
Monday, November 3, 2:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Gormley Funeral Home
2055 Centre Street
West Roxbury, MA 02132
Tuesday, November 4, 10:00 a.m.
1545 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02120
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Ray’s book, “Berklee Jazz Piano,” took him about five years to write. Or maybe it was fifty years, depending on you how look at it. When I jumped in, as editor number 4, I remember being struck by his vast piles of exercises, compositions, and notes, covering his pianos, and stacked up all around his office. It was such an incredible volume of materials that he had close at hand, ready to give his students. The major challenge for him was paring the towering heaps down to a few essential exercises that anyone could find useful.
The way we finally got into a productive writing groove was for him to sit down with me, like a mentor with a student, and just explain his thoughts, one on one, and answer all my questions. I learned so much from working with him. He had such a natural facility with jazz theory and application, and of course, a rare and deep musicality. It was easy to see why his students were so devoted to him.
My most memorable experience of working with Ray was witnessing him play. He had a unique, magical touch on the piano. There were a couple times that I was able to observe him play something right after one of his students played the same thing, in close succession, and the different sounds and unexpected warmth he could get draw out of the piano was truly remarkable—like it was a different instrument, when he touched it.
When Stephany Tiernan’s book, “Contemporary Piano Technique,” came out, Ray really loved that it existed, and he was so impressed with it. He made a comment to me that I found interesting. He said that he wished he’d worked harder on developing better technique at the beginning, like what was described in her book. It struck me, though, that such a master would feel that way about his own playing.
Last story: Many years ago, when my then fiancé and I were planning our wedding, I had her put in a call to him (anonymously, so he wouldn’t feel put on the spot with me, as a colleague), and ask about the possibility of him playing our reception. He was only gigging with a band at the time, and we weren’t looking for that exact configuration, so it didn’t work out. It was just one, short phone call. Anyhow, six months went by, and the morning of our wedding, we had a voicemail. He said, “Hello, this is Ray Santisi. Um… am I supposed to be somewhere today?”
Such a character, and such a gifted and gracious person. I feel so fortunate that I had the opportunity to get to know him a little bit.
Ray was one of the coolest humans ever. Turtleneck and loafers, he always looked great. I’d sometimes get a nod from him while passing in the hallway that felt, even after 20 years here, almost like being knighted.
Craig Eugene Campbell
I have been playing for 50 years. Classically trained from age 5. Jazz education was hard to come by in the Midwest in the 70’s. There were jazz methods but, none of them were complete. Going to Berklee was just a dream. So you listened to records and tried to put it together. If you were lucky, in your travels you would meet someone to help clear up your confusion. I did meet a few that gave me great advice. But Ray’s book “Berklee Jazz Piano” cleared up EVERYTHING. I never met Ray. But his book is the final frontier of jazz improvisation. It filled the holes missing from my education and unlocked everything I had been searching for. This book took me from good player to monster player.
I sincerely thank you and am deeply grieved for your loss. Everyone’s loss.
Craig Eugene Campbell