Berklee Blogs

First-hand accounts of the Berklee experience

Author: erice (Page 1 of 7)

Remembering Steve Prosser

Last week, Berklee lost an incredible educator, musician, and friend with the death of Steve Prosser. Like most, I learned of Steve’s passing late Wednesday night when students, fellow instructors, and friends of Steve began flooding facebook with their memories of Steve and also their sorrow at his passing. The huge outpouring of love for Steve that I’ve seen on social media is a testament to Steve’s excellence as a musician and professor at Berklee, but also of his character and larger than life personality.

While I only took one semester of ear training with Steve, I consider that time in his class an honor. Steve Prosser has been a legend at Berklee for quite some time now, and all my upper-semester friends insisted that I take ear training with him when given the chance. And sure enough,I found Steve to be just as humorous, passionate about teaching, and genuinely invested in his students as everyone had raved he would be.

Of all his attributes, I was probably most fond of Steve’s desire that his students be more than just skilled musicians, but concerned individuals about the world around us. Almost every class we would talk about the current news of the day, Berklee or otherwise, and I’ll never forget his voracious appetite for knowledge and his interest in learning more about all his students and the different cultural backgrounds we all came from. Even when we practiced dictations, Steve would pick music in a foreign language, frequently from scores to foreign language films, to help our class broaden our musical palettes. Of course, Steve is well-known for his humor too, and his anecdotes about Steve Jobs, the Fens in the 80’s, and well, everything in the 80’s, are still some of my fondest memories from his class.

Like many students, I knew Steve Prosser wasn’t well, as he had to cancel many of our classes due to health issues. But I was encouraged when I saw him on the sidewalk near the 150 building not even two weeks ago, looking healthy as ever and walking with an elderly man down Boylston Street. I can’t think of a better memory of Steve as my last than him selflessly assisting his fellow man and taking his time to enjoy every second of his conversation with his companion on a chilly Boston day.

Because the news of his passing and the collective memory of Steve has only been shared through closed social media platforms, Berklee-Blogs would like to invite the Berklee community to share their memories of Steve here for us all to mourn his passing together and also cherish the life he lived.

Rest in peace, Steve. Rest in peace.

– Elisa Rice


Post script — Kristine Adams, Steve Prosser’s ex-wife and fellow Berklee faculty member, has been gracious enough to share some unpublished photos of Steve.

Steve Prosser and his mother, Betty, at his marriage to Kristine Adams. Kristine writes “He loved his mother very much and I know he would want to have her be part of any memorial.”


Steve Prosser and Berklee faculty member Paul Del Nero playing at concert directed by Ken Pullig in Boston.


Steve Prosser and his Jazz Choir (including current Berklee faculty Charlie Sorrento, Gaye Tolan Hatfield, and Kristine Adams and Berklee alumnae Camille Schmidt, Randy Crenshaw, and Bill “Orange” Lyons) at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in 1982 for Ted Kennedy’s 50th birthday party.

Photo Blog: Berklee Alumnae Honor Maggie Scott in Star-Studded Concert

To honor legendary jazz vocalist and pianist Maggie Scott for 30 years of mentoring and instruction at the college, Berklee brought back some of Maggie’s most accomplished students for a concert in her honor. Robin McKelle, Lalah Hathaway, Esperanza Spalding, Antonia Bennett, and Nadia Washington all took time from their busy schedules to share the stage with Maggie once again, as all of them have appeared in Maggie’s yearly “Jazz Vocal Night,” a tradition Maggie Scott began in 1980.

In addition to Maggie’s tribute concert, Berklee students were also treated to a special panel discussion with Maggie Scott and all the visiting alumnae where the artists spoke about everything from promotion, rejection, and articulating musical ideas to television wardrobe and everything in between.

From Left to Right: Robin McKelle, Lalah Hathaway, Maggie Scott, Esperanza Spalding, Antonia Bennett, Nadia Washington

One of the most frequent pieces of advice from the panel was for students to appreciate their time at Berklee. Although several of the women expressed how valuable their time was at Berklee, and how students should savor their experience here as well, Lalah Hathaway probably explained the advantages and opportunities of Berklee best, saying “Do as much as you can while you’re here. Because this little vacuum that you live in does not exist in the real world. Like… if I decided I want to shed – “I’m gonna call a marimba player, and I need a bass player who plays only fusion, I want a flute player” – it’s impossible to do in the real world. So take advantage of all of this… It’s just fertile ground to ground to grow your mind”

The panel also offered perspective and encouragement for students feeling the pressure of performing at Berklee and the fear of rejection that they themselves once felt. Robin confessed that she too was terrified of performing in front of the student body.

“This fear of being judged, I felt it severely while I was here. When [I] walked on the stage, I was like “oh my gosh, I’ve got to sing, like, every single, like, amazing riff that I know because everyone’s going to be listening… It has to be the most amazing notes and I have to sing every one of them in this one song right now.”

Robin explained how finding a small group of collaborators that made her feel comfortable helped break her fear of being judged and helped her develop as an artist.

Lalah Hathaway offered her own advice on the issue of rejection, by suggesting students change their perspective.

“Have in your mind the idea that no one can judge or reject you. If they don’t understand or like what you’re doing, it’s not really about you. It’s about their experience. They’re not walking away from what you’re doing, they’re walking toward whatever it is that they like, which has nothing to do with you. So, your ideas and who you are as a creative being can’t be judged or rejected. I know it’s a big concept, but try to embrace the fact that whatever you are, whatever is in you, nobody can judge it or say no to you about it even though you feel like people are saying no to you…Their experience has nothing to do with you and your expression.”

The panel got a chuckle when asked how they’re able to articulate their musical and artistic ideas, saying that they still weren’t able to fully convey what they wanted, as it’s always a work in progress. Lalah Hathaway shared an anecdote about learning that even music’s greatest luminaries struggle to articulate their ideas too. “I had the same question [for] Herbie Hancock. I said, ‘You know, the thing is… I get so frustrated… ’cause I can’t get [my ideas] from my head to my hands or to my voice, [or] to my instrument. It’s so frustrating.’ He said ‘Well join the club.’ And I was, like, ‘Ooooh… Herbie Hancock. All right.’ ”

But the biggest laugh of the clinic was in response to the question “what is the biggest lesson the music industry has taught you,” Lalah Hathaway quickly answered “not to wear white on TV” to resounding laughter from the panel and audience. But offering a more serious answer, Esperanza encouraged students to follow their own artistic compass.

“As powerful as the capitalistic music business machine might seem, the drivers don’t really know what’s going to work either. We’re all in the dark about what’s going to be the next thing that people want to hear and consume, really. I mean, there are focus groups that companies do sometimes to see how audiences react to certain songs. So then, based on [the results], they’ll put it on the radio, and the exact opposite happens once it gets to the radio. You know? And the reason I’m saying that is because when you’re young and you go out and you see these adults… wielding money and power, you feel like ‘Okay, they must be right.’…Ultimately, if what you’re doing is true, your guess is as good as theirs. So you might as well do what you really really really believe in doing. And then if it works then it’s their idea and everyone’s happy.”

Among the more singer-specific questions asked during the clinic, the question of how to choose musicians to work with drew many responses from the panel. Speaking in broad terms, Lalah said “they have to be good and funny.” Robin added “respect” to the list, saying “[in] my experience, first of all as a female, and second of all as a singer, there is this concept that we don’t know what’s happening….[I need musicians] to respect [that] when I turn around and say ‘this is what I’m looking for,’ they don’t roll their eyes and say ‘Well, she doesn’t know what she wants anyways ’cause she doesn’t know.’ Because I do know, and I did the work to know.”

Readers of Berklee-Blogs may remember John Mayer’s words of wisdom on promotion, and the opinion’s from the panel seemed to echo his same sentiments. First, Antonia suggested a balanced perspective to promotion, saying, “I think the music always has to come first because you have to have the product before you put something out. But with that being said, the more organized you can get, the more internet savvy you can get, the more you – I mean, I personally hate doing this – but the more you twitter and Facebook and… the more you can keep people involved in that kind of way, the better, I think.” But Lalah Hathaway was firm in her discretion against promotion when students could better serve their time at Berklee concentrating on music, saying, “the thing is, I don’t know how early you should be worried about branding. First of all, you probably don’t even have a brand yet. You have to develop your brand, and then you win people over… one person at a time.”

Understandably, developing a brand, and the overall issue of maturing as an artist, came up frequently during the clinic. And among the many philosophical suggestions the women on the panel offered, Esperanza reminded the students not to put the cart before the horse.

“To a certain degree it doesn’t matter who you think you are or what you think you are because you’re surrounded by people who are masters of their craft that you came here to learn [from]. You have the rest of your life to hone in on un-packaging your being. While you’re here, all you have to do is do it. … And I listen to [your question] just thinking what would [Berklee Professor] Thera say. All that you said was true, but he’d be, like, ‘Forget that – do your homework!’ He’s like ‘You don’t have to know who you are yet. All you have to do is do what I say because if you don’t you won’t know it.’ And that sounds sort of lame. I’m sorry to put a kink in [the other panelists’] words because all of that is totally true. But if you don’t have the tools that you need to interface with other human beings who have taste and can tell what’s good or not good, if you don’t have the tools to interface, it doesn’t matter how in tune with yourself you are – nobody’s going to understand what you’re doing. … So, all you really need to do is just do your homework and do it all the way and apply everything that you can. And I promise, through that process, when you have enough of the tools, when you have enough vocabulary, then you can write poetry about your life. But if you can’t speak English, you can’t write a poem.

And going one step further, Maggie Scott reminded students that artistry comes from maturity, which comes from experience, which simply comes from age.

“You know they say you’re not really a good singer until you reach 30. Why? Why? Why? Because you are more mature, [and] you can interpret the lyrics the way they’re supposed to be interpreted. You know, I once asked the class, what is the meaning of Lush Life. And they looked at me and said, ‘Well, isn’t that like green grass, and beautiful trees, you know, it’s lush.”… True [story]! So, I had to explain to them [that] the word ‘lush’ meant being an alcoholic, being a drunk. I said, ‘Have you ever read the lyrics to Lush Life? If you sing the song, do you know what you’re singing about? The last line of that song, “I’m going to sit at the bar stool and rot with the rest of ’em,” what does that say?’ Now when you’re 18, and you want to sing Lush Life? Give me a break!”


All the women shared wisdom that can only come from experience at their craft, and the women certainly proved why they’ve become experts in their field during the concert that evening.

Antonia Bennett and bassist Jon Lockwood

Antonia Bennet was the first vocalist to perform, demonstrating her own unique brand of uplifting nostalgia that can stand on its own without comparisons to her father, Tony Bennett.

Nadia Washington

Although a recent graduate, Nadia Washington more than held her own among so many accomplished performers. Nadia’s powerhouse vocals tempered with the perfect amount of control and artistry demonstrated why Nadia was asked to join tribute concert and how gifted Maggie has been as an instructor to this day.

Robin McKelle with special guest pianist Alain Mallet

Robin probably performed the most stunning ballad of the night with just Alain Mallet on piano for an incredibly complex yet lush arrangement of “Cry Me A River.” The arrangement was a true duet between long solo breaks of piano and deep, evocative vocals. For Robin’s second song, she brought back the entire band for a swinging standard, demonstrating her versatility and unique style.

Lalah Hathaway

Possible no one sang with more power and presence than Lalah Hathaway. With her unique blend of soul and jazz, Lalah stirred the audience so much that one man in the back interrupted the final phrase of Lalah’s ballad because he could not contain his joy and exuberance for her performance.

Esperanza Spalding

But the biggest star was recent Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding. Like the other performers, Esperanza did not disappoint to bring the goods and show why she has caused such a stir in the industry. For her first song, Esperanza was less about smooth vocals like the other performers and more about precision, as if playing her voice with the same spunk and energy she uses to yield her bass.

Esperanza Spalding performing a duet with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington

For her second piece, Esperanza performed a special duet with Terri Lyne Carrington on drums, creating a fantastically fresh, rhythmic, and yet intimate performance.

Maggie Scott with full jazz orchestra

Finally, the woman of the hour, Maggie Scott came out to thank the other performers for honoring her with their talents before performing a jazz standard herself joined by the other vocalists. Seeing several generations of musicians on stage all with the common goal of story-telling and uplifting and investing in others was a special highlight of Berklee’s concert series, and one I’m not soon to forget.


Christian Scott sits down with

Recently, Edison prize-winner and Grammy-nominated jazz trumpeter Christian Scott visited his alma mater for a clinic, a concert, and an interview with Berklee’s new site, an outgrowth of the Berklee High School Jazz Festival.

Christian accomplished an impressive feat of academics at Berklee, completing two degrees in just two years, largely due to his intensive high school education at New Orleans Center of Creative Arts (NOCCA).

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Brandi Carlile at the Berklee Performance Center

Earlier this month, well over a thousand people packed into the Berklee Performance Center, many for the first time at the venue, to see a rare, solo performance by the chart-topping singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile. The sold-out show can partially be attributed to the singer’s fame with her popular songs, such as “The Story,” but also for her notoriety as an incredible performer. And the huge applause Carlile received after listing each and every Boston venue she’s played in the last decade (House of Blues, Orpheum, Paradise, etc) only reinforced the already-overwhelming anticipation for her performance.

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The Rise of Emily Miller

Move over Diana Krall and Norah Jones! There’s a new leading lady in town, and her name is Emily Miller.

Readers of Berklee-Blogs may recognize her name from my Singer Showcase post, whom I called “the real star of the showcase.” I also said that I would “pay good money to see her headline a show,” so you can imagine my delight when I found out that Emily was headlining her own show at the Berklee Performing Center for Family Weekend!

Emily couldn’t have had a better opening act than the widely popular and successful Berklee a cappella group Pitch Slapped. The International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella champions and Season 2 contestants on the NBC show The Sing Off performed several new arrangements, and had several new members take solos. The group also announced their plans for a full length album and a West Coast tour, demonstrating that they have no plans of slowing down.

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