A 'Global Passport': 10 Years of the BGJI

Alumni of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute (BGJI) reflect on what the institute means to them.

April 1, 2019

When Danilo Pérez founded the Berklee Global Jazz Institute in 2009, his aim was to, as he says, make "music that is inclusive and welcoming of different nationalities, indigenous instruments, and folkloric music." To him, global jazz "creates a common language and promotes music as a virtual bridge between people and cultures." In this playlist, far-flung alumni of the institute chime in on the songs that represent the soul of the institute and reflect on a decade of the BGJI. Listen to the tracks and see below to read evidence on how Pérez's musical vision has gone about creating that virtual bridge between cultures.

BGJI Staff and Alumni on 'Global Jazz'

1. "Suite for the Americas, Part 1," Danilo Pérez, founding artistic director of BGJI

Pérez: "[The songs were] commisioned and premiered by the Chicago Jazz Festival in 1999. This piece started a musical synthesis I now call 'global jazz.' I am experimenting with different concepts of tetrachords, claves in odd meters, counterpoint, and blues and Middle Eastern scales. The intention of this piece was inspired by the idea of using music as a catalyst to open doors for healthy intercultural dialogue experiences, music that is inclusive and welcoming of different nationalities, indigenous instruments, and folkloric music. It creates a common language and promotes music as a virtual bridge between people and cultures. It was first performed with my Motherland band (Luciana Souza, Donny McCaslin, Adam Cruz, Antonio Sanchez, Essiet Essiet), with special guests soprano [saxophone] jazz legend Steve Lacy, blues guitarist Jon Premier, and a bata group from Cuba."

2. "Per Sempre," Marta Roma M.M. '16

Roma: "Global jazz is finding your own voice, looking back at your story, looking forward to the unknown, and questions and answers all around that invite you to create. My composition 'Per Sempre' has all this inside. In the end, a message through music will be about finding the way to make changes and be heard and the way to express ourselves, our love, our pain, our concerns, and our hopes, transcending instruments, nationalities, and borders."

3. "The Fog," Layth Sidiq B.M. '14, M.M. '16

Sidiq: "Global jazz is a platform where I, as an Arab violinist, can find my voice in an environment I never thought I would be a part of. It breaks down the stereotype of what an instrument or a nationality can do, and it unites all these different forces under one roof. The philosophy of global jazz for me is a means to transcend barriers, connect people and provide the space for my musical tradition to continue evolving and exploring new territories. 'The Fog' is the second movement of my Son of Tigris suite, and it's based on a famous Iraqi song called 'Foag el-Nakhal.'"

4 and 5. "Forever," Anthony Fung, cowritten and selected by Edmar Colón B.M. '15, M.M. '16

Colón: "I remember being in class with Danilo Pérez when he shared with us an anecdote from his time spent with the great master, Dizzy Gillespie. They had been touring the world with Dizzy’s United Nations Orchestra, and Dizzy asked Danilo what the word jazz meant to him: 'Jazz means to me… where do you come from?' Danilo proceeded to explain that they saw the music and their cultural identities as a global passport with which they could relate and connect to other people and cultures from different parts of the world. I believe that in this time, with so many individuals and institutions trying to make us believe that we are separated and that we are different from one another, we have to turn and embrace the things that celebrate our commonalities; jazz and music, in general, being one of the greatest examples of our collective consciousness. The similarities in our shared humanity are greater than our differences. It is time that we shift the focus and celebrate what makes us one.

"I cowrote 'Forever' with another alumnus of the BGJI, a dear friend and colleague, Anthony Fung. This piece incorporates different elements from different musical styles including, jazz, classical, singer-songwriter, and others."

6. "A Change Is Gonna Come," Anat Cohen B.M. '98, selected by Farayi Sophia Malek M.M. '18

Malek: "Anat Cohen's rendition of 'A Change Is Gonna Come' from her 2008 album, Notes from the Village is the perfect embodiment of global jazz. Cohen takes the classic American Civil Rights song by Sam Cooke and places it in a more traditional jazz setting, while keeping the soulfulness the original piece. Cohen, who hails from Tel Aviv, Israel, brings a less traditional American sound through her clarinet that brings a multidimensional and intercultural sound to the piece. When I listen to this recording, I can feel the message of the song through her sound even though the lyrics are not present."

7. "Flying," Keith Jarrett '67, selected by Vasilis Kostas M.M. '17

Kostas: “Global jazz is a platform that has the power to bring various musical cultures together. It refers to those musicians' attitude and willingness to explore new territories while using their own traditions and roots as a source. The outcome of this unique blending is a new developing language that doesn't consider different ethnicities as a limitation but as a great opportunity for appreciation for each other and expansion of our own boundaries. This Keith Jarrett song is a great example of global jazz.”

8. "Lifta," Naseem Alatrash B.M. '14, M.M. '17

Alatrash: "My new single, ‘Lifta,' is a reflection of the emotions that accompany leaving home, starting a new life somewhere new and the nostalgia accompanying the memories of home. It promotes a dialogue of acceptance and shared humanity."

9. "Night in Tunisia," Dizzy Gillespie, selected by Lihi Haruvi, assistant professor in the Harmony Department

Haruvi: "Global jazz is a musical practice that provides a way to exercise and demonstrate our ability to come together in the world as one. A good example of this idea is the classic Dizzy Gillespie song 'Night in Tunisia.' My ethnic background is actually Tunisian—my grandparents came to Israel from Tunisia on a boat, and this song was the first example of jazz that had a different flavor, and is the very early seeds of my vision. It's always had a special meaning for me."

10. "Desde el Sur," Orion Lion (Orion Morales Gonzalez M.M. '17)

Gonzalez: "Global jazz is a philosophy that encompasses all the sounds that portray fraternal emotions, and also where hope and gratitude are allowed within the jazz context. We represent different thoughts inspired in our culture—global jazz is a bridge between all of us."   

11. "The Flash," Anthony Fung B.M. '14, M.M. '16

Fung: "This song was inspired by the superhero television show The Flash. As I was watching the show, I heard the sound of Panamanian drums behind the scene when the Flash was battling against a supervillain. I decided to use the Panamanian rhythm Tambor Norte as the glue behind the composition. This song was recorded in Los Angeles with a group of international musicians representing Sweden, Puerto Rico, France, Canada, China, Panama, and the U.S. The composition itself not only highlights each individual's abilities as musicians, but it embodies a multicultural dialogue between all parties to unite together for a common cause."

12. "Suite for the Americas, Part 2," Danilo Pérez, founding artistic director of BGJI