WASHINGTON, PA (Sept. 17, 2015) — A memorial concert at Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) will honor Michael Berry, a music professor who passed away in August following an illness.
The concert, which is free and open to the public, will be held Sunday, Sept. 20 at 3 p.m. in Allen Ballroom of Rossin Campus Center at W&J. It will feature performances by W&J faculty members, Berry’s friends and musical partners, and former students. The program will include mainly jazz music and some of Berry’s favorite tunes.
“Michael was a tremendous musician. I’ll always remember the contributions he made to the [W&J Music] department and to this area,” said Kyle Simpson, assistant professor in W&J’s Department of Music, and director of W&J’s Jazz Ensemble. “The music department will always have the legacy he left at W&J, and know that our drum [studio] is thriving because of the work he did both here and in the community.”
Simpson and Berry often played together in regional jazz groups that included some of the best musicians in Pittsburgh, but Simpson said Berry was always humble and often underplayed his musical accomplishments, which included Grammy nominations.
Berry studied at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music. He studied jazz drumming with Jerry Granelli, a student of Joe Morello of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, and also with Gary Le François, a student of Freddie Gruber.
Over the past 30 years, Berry performed at venues ranging from small jazz clubs to Carnegie Hall to Le Casino de Monte Carlo. During the 1980s, he was the drummer for the jazz vocal group Rare Silk, earning Grammy nominations in 1984 and 1986. He and the group opened for legends such as Benny Goodman and Bob Hope.
“Playing with an amazing drummer is a really hard feeling to describe,” Simpson said. “He reacted to you when you were playing and always pushed you to be better. He knew all the subtleties of every musical style. He could play incredibly well.”
Berry has taught drums privately for seventeen years, and became a member of W&J’s music staff as an adjunct music professor in 2011. His wife, Faun Doherty, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics at W&J. The couple has two sons.
W&J’s Music Department staff is feeling the loss of Berry’s teaching for their students, Simpson said, but also for the opportunity of working with him as a peer in the professional circuit.
“As a teacher, he was really innovative, and was really adept at finding the perfect balance between challenging students to get fundamentally better, but providing them access to materials they really enjoyed,” said Simpson, who also noted that Berry challenged and encouraged him in his own music. “You saw that in the students. They did things that really challenged them, but they would also take those new skills and apply it to something they love.”
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.