Dear Members of the Berklee Community,
It is with deep sadness that I write to you in remembrance of venerable voice faculty member, Mili Bermejo, who passed away on February 21 after a long battle with cancer. She was in a hospice facility for her last few days and her family was with her.
Mili was born in Argentina, but spent most of her young life in Mexico City. She is the daughter of renowned Mexican songwriter and guitarist Guillermo Bermejo. She studied voice and classical composition at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. While in Mexico, Mili performed at jazz festivals, as well as music for the theater, film, and broadcast media.
After moving to Boston in 1979, Mili attended Berklee and graduated in 1984 with a major in jazz arranging and composition. She immediately received an appointment as full-time faculty member at Berklee. During her 32 years at the college, she taught a variety of voice and jazz courses, including Advanced Latin and Jazz Vocal Workshop, Advanced Vocal Improvisation Techniques, and Recital Workshop for Performance Classes, as well as many private instruction students.
Mili’s family forged a strong connection with Berklee. Her brother Miguel ’78 and sister Margie ’84 attended Berklee. Her sister Luz attended Boston Conservatory and was a faculty member at Berklee in the early 1990s.
Mili was considered a vocalist of unusual sensitivity and power, who drew upon her native Latin American musical roots and skill as a jazz improviser to create performances that embraced both tradition and originality. Taking advantage of her diverse musical background, Mili developed an eclectic pan-American style of jazz. She melded the harmonies and improvisation of jazz with the Argentinean, Venezuelan, Cuban, and Mexican songs of her childhood.
Mili and bassist Dan Greenspan married in 1989 and together recorded Ay Amor! and the 1998 release, Duo, joining forces to convey the sound and poetry of Latin American music. For many years, Mili and Dan maintained an active performance schedule, including concert appearances with Chick Corea, Miroslav Vitous, Roy Haynes, Stan Getz, and acclaimed Brazilian vocalist Tania Maria. They toured from Boston to Mexico City, and from Canada to Spain. In bilingual performances, they captivated audiences with a repertoire of both traditional and contemporary song from Argentina, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, and other countries. Bob Blumenthal of the Boston Globe wrote that Duo is “where jazz meets Latin with elegance and soul.”
Later, Mili and Dan formed Quartet Nuevo that, during its time, included Berklee faculty members Mick Goodrick and Tim Ray. Her quartet released Casa Corazon in 1994, following that in 1995 with Identidad, which encompassed the broad span of influences in Latin music. In 2000, the Mili Bermejo Sexteto, featuring guitarist and Berklee faculty member Claudio Ragazzi, released Pienso el Sur on the Mexican Pentagrama record label, bringing Mili’s musical journey full circle.
Mili was in the final stages of preparing her book, Jazz Vocal Improvisation, for publication by Berklee Press; it is due for release this spring, and will add another dimension to her legacy.
From Voice Department faculty member Lisa Thorson:
“My friend and sister-in-song to so many was an innovator who brought heart, honesty, and consummate skill to every song she sang, wrote, played, and taught. She inspired me in quiet early morning moments before our teaching days and on stage, and taught me so much about love, peace, and possibility. Querida Mili, mi amiga, your spirit lives on through all of us who knew you, loved you, and were so lucky to have been part of your universe.”
From Piano Department faculty member Doug Johnson:
“Connected to the earth. This is how I will always see Mili. Her music, her energy, the opportunities to make music with her and Dan; to sit around the dinner table, talking and laughing, enjoying each other and great food. Eating fresh vegetables grown in the soil she worked with her hands, deep in the earth, connected to the earth. That my daughter knew this woman and saw her example, I am thankful. I feel so lucky to have known her. I miss you, Mili Bermejo.”
Words of Mili’s student Delfina Chebterrab echo those of all of her students:
“Mili was so much more than a teacher. She was a mentor. She was light, warmth, and wisdom, and her words were always encouraging and honest. Her lessons about life and music will always resonate in my heart and soul. Thank you for teaching us that we always can say through music what words can’t express. …los que se aman agradecen a cada cielo con sus ulnas…los que se aman viven presentes… We already miss your immense light. You will be forever present in each one of the melodies of the universe.”
Anne Peckham, chair of the Voice Department, shares these thoughts:
“Mili was a bright light in our lives, a musician’s musician, an artist with great depth. She was a well-loved teacher and colleague. Mili loved music and she loved teaching. She will be missed for her positive creative energy that spilled over to all of us. Mili was a part of the fabric of Berklee, and we will miss her every day.”
Voice Department faculty member Andrea Capozzoli offers these closing thoughts.
“I was fortunate to have Mili as my voice teacher for the four years I attended Berklee and also took her ensembles, Latin Styles, and Advanced Improvisation classes. The advanced improv class was very important to her. She stressed the importance for singers to hear the changes as instrumentalists and to be aware of patterns and melodic lines when they improvise. She was my teacher, my colleague, and my friend. Mili was a very unique person with a passion for music and for life. Her warm and loving spirit resonated to those who knew her and that is how she will be remembered.”
I invite you to watch this concert of Mili Bermejo from 2014 and to share your stories and memories of her in the comments below.
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