Berklee Blogs

First-hand accounts of the Berklee experience

BGJI: Learning and Growing Through New Experiences

Berklee Global Jazz InstituteThe Berklee Global Jazz Institute (BGJI) is a performance program designed to foster creativity and musicianship through various musical disciplines, with pianist and composer Danilo Pérez as its artistic director. The BGJI provides a comprehensive contemporary music environment where students are given opportunities to explore their creativity to the highest level possible, advance the power of music as a tool for the betterment of society, and connect musical creative thinking with the natural environment.


Credit: Erick Salmon

Witness Matlou

My musical journey has been full of surprises, and a lot of them being meeting great people who’ve helped open doors for me. Especially to higher levels of learning. Looking back where I came from, it looked highly impossible, that a kid who grew up in the townships of Tembisa (Johannesburg- South Africa). Would end up here at Berklee College of Music. Among some of the best your musicians from around the world. Also a college with some of the best teachers in the world.

It’s such a great honor to be one of the few students at Berklee College of Music, who have auditioned and been admitted to be part of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, a program founded by a Grammy winning artist, pianist,composer, band leader and UNESCO’s artist for peace Danilo Perez.

What attracted me to the institute.

What attracted me the most to the institute, and made me wanna stay, is the level of seriousness and commitment the professors have with the students. I do not see them as teachers, but as people in my community or family who care about me, and how I present myself in the world. What is different about the Berklee Global Jazz professors is that, they are out there in the world of action, rather than dealing with music only in academic seclusions. They are people whom I feel like I’ve had a connection with before I came to Boston. Because I’ve heard most of them on recordings. Being around Danilo Perez, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Ben Street and Terry Lyne Carrington, is like I’m in a dream, because this are some of the busiest artists in the world. But they do make the time to come to the institute to impart their knowledge, experiences and wisdom to us, and taking the responsibility of shaping the future of Jazz. This humbles me, because it is a good example of giving back to the community and sharing with others, what you are blessed with.

Berklee Global Jazz Education


Credit: Lucy Pignataro

I’ve found the teaching method of the Berklee Global Jazz institute, being that of the student to the master relationship. Like way back in time, when young musicians learned from a mentor, or an older musician who is most experience in the craft. Like when young musicians like Thelonious Monk and Billy Taylor gathering around Willie “The Lion” Smith. Where Monk was empowered to do his own thing, “and that his own thing was worth doing”. Arriving in the Berklee Global Jazz institute I was reminded again of being a kid and learning to speak, and someone being there to say, “no that’s not how you say that word and this is how to say it”. Being made aware of my weaknesses and being given guidance on how to tackle them. This encourages self study, through self observation. I always say to other students, when they ask me what I’m learning from Danilo Perez, that “he’s teaching me how to teach myself”.

In the Berklee Global Jazz Institute I am encouraged to not only work on becoming a better musicians, but to also the human aspect of it. To become a better human being. Much in the same way that we need tools that will help us succeed in the music, we also need tools that will help us become better citizens of the world, and to function effectively in the world. Listening is valued a lot in playing music, and is a great principle that in the Global Jazz institute, we are encouraged to apply in real life, as it will help one to better understand situations around him or her, before making decisions.

Danilo Perez’s believes and visions.

Danilo Perez has made a big impact on me, with his believe that ” Music is no different from life”. By bringing human values and real life experiences into the music. That notes are as much important as words, and can be used to deliver a message. The best early education I’ve received in my life at home about behavior, discipline, patience, the value of sharing, respect and relation to others. Are finally being put to work later in my life to help me understand that, “Music is Life”. This encouraged me to not run away from life experiences, because the same problems I will face again in the music. Whether it is lack of compromise or selfishness. Its easy to recognize someone who lacks compromise, when they are playing in a band. If they can not learn to compromise in the music, it will reflect in life and If they can’t do it in life, It’ll be hard to demonstrate it in the music.

How my understanding of music has changed.


Picture by Pamela Espeland

Danilo Perez teaches us that “with great talent comes a huge responsibility”. Perhaps the purpose of us having a talent, is to carry the responsibility of making a change in our society. Music being a great tool for social change, we as artists may carry something important that may save the human race. If we can be honest enough to realize that, we are not responsible for what we usually take pride in, and that melodies we think we write, maybe have been given to us. As messages and those messages needs to be delivered as they are. The purpose of us being give the first experience to hear them, being to share them with the world. Ideas we have to, to help invent new things, may not be our own, but be given to us. My musical adventure has made me aware of so many unanswered questions in the world.

In the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, I’ve learned that we can positively affect our society. By giving back to the community. This practice in the Institute, includes community outreach programs. Where we perform at nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals, prisons and children’s hospitals. To bring to those people joy and positive energy, also for us to experience their world. Knowing that it could be us, or someone in our families in their situations. All it takes is a single decision, age or medical condition.

Working with other students in the Berklee Global Jazz Institute.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the great young musicians from around the world, from Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East. What is great about this is that, all of them come with strong musical backgrounds from their countries, and we all learn from one another. We compose music together, present to our professors and sometimes compose in class with our professors. This has been a great experience and a good symbol of unity and working together. Recognizing and appreciating our differences, has encouraged the highest level of creativity.

Traveling and learning on the road.

I’ve had the opportunity to travel internationally with the Berklee Global Jazz institute to Paris, Panama, Chile and West Africa. Some of the national places include Dizzy’s Jazz club at Lincoln Center- NYC. Princeton University and the Monterey Jazz Festival.

What I take with me from the Berklee Global Jazz institute to the world


Credit: Luisa Harris

Being on the road with Marco Pignataro and Danilo Perez, I’ve learned the lessons of preparation, punctuality and most of the necessary skills when performing and being on the road. I would like to share with other young musicians the education I’ve received in the institute, as it is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I’ll share my experiences through teaching, performance and in my compositions. The message of hope and peace.



Lets Fight Procrastination!


Performance Venues At Berklee

1 Comment

  1. Adam Gibbons

    I love reading Witenss’s quote about his time at the BGJI: “I always say to other students, when they ask me what I’m learning from Danilo Perez, that “he’s teaching me how to teach myself”. That is a concept so central to my own positive growth and self-realization, and it is affirming for me to hear others talk about how that concept has operated so productively in their lives.

    Also, this was an eye-opener for me, a life-long musician (struggling to be even mediocre yet genuine): “Music is no different from life,” Danilo Perez told Witness, “By bringing human values and real life experiences into the music. That notes are as much important as words, and can be used to deliver a message.” What this means for me is that music is as present and accessible to me (to any of us) as life and just as concrete and complex and meaningful as relationships, conversations, art, or a written article, but just with a different medium. As meaningful and concrete as crayons, paper, a board meeting, a party of conversations, the development of a friendship, the difficulty of learning to drive, or the pain of making mistakes and trying to recover.

    Great article, Witness. So great to hear about your journey!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © 2024 Berklee College of Music