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Remembering John Bavicchi

John Bavicchi, professor emeritus in the Composition Department, passed away last Sunday, December 9, at the age of 90. Ken Pullig, Berklee’s former chair of jazz composition, shares his memories here; feel free to leave yours in the comments.

John Bavicchi, born in Dedham on April 25, 1922, passed away in his sleep on Sunday, December 9th. John had studied Engineering and Administration at MIT and Civil Engineering at Cornell. He served in the CBs in the Pacific theater during World War II. After the war he received a Bachelor of Music from NEC and then studied composition with Walter Piston as part of Master classes in the Harvard Graduate School. He came to Berklee in 1964 and started the Composition department with Bill Maloof. 

John’s approach to teaching composition was to have his students write a piece each week for the students in the class and to have it played each week. We had great players in these classes I took with John when I was a student of his in the early 70’s. The instrumentation was often strange but the music was generally quite good and the particular topics he would have us address each week were thoroughly understood by the time the semester ended. Rather than trying to have us copy styles, he stressed the “nuts and bolts” of the personal creative process. I really prospered under his inspirational encouragement. This “write and play what you write” pedagogy was the basis of Berklee’s unique approach and John carried it over into the teaching of “classical” composition.

Being a friend of John went well past discussing and appreciating the techniques associated with composition and conducting. He was a an avid New England Patriots fan from the very first season. Every year he would photocopy and assemble a 20-30 page booklet of all the scouting reports (appearing in various sports publications) relevant to those players drafted by the Patriots and give it to those friends he thought would be interested . He had season tickets near the 50-yard line and up to a few years ago, went to every home game. Going to a game with John involved both a pre-game and post-game tailgating cookout. I seem to remember rum being involved!  I’ve played darts with John for nearly thirty years. We had a regular foursome that met once a month in his basement bar. Through the years it has gotten a bit tamer, but in the early years the games and related imbibing were ferocious. I will always remember these “dartbag” evenings. It was way beyond fun!

Going out to dinner with John and Bev was the ultimate  epicurean experience. Every major restaurant knew them well. John was a big tipper, not to show off, but as a gesture of appreciating a great meal and excellent service. We always had a great time and I learned about great wines and exotic dishes. I always knew how to have a good time but I learned how to have an elegant experience from John. Through the years, John, Bev, Barb and I frequented the Ritz, Chez Jean, and Cafe Budapest among many other great restaurants. I was always the “designated driver”. Luckily, we were never stopped.

He was my teacher, then a colleague, and always a great friend.  I will never forget him.

 

Ken Pullig

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7 Comments

  1. C. Scott Free

    John Bavicchi gave me the chance to play cello in the Arlington Philharmonic Orchestra when I was a student. This allowed me to hear some of the great music that John knew so well. His love of music was something that was ever apparent when studying with him, whether it was the Beethoven or Bartok string quartets, Schumann’s symphonies, or Brahm’s vocal music. My wife sang in the Belmont/Arlington chorale when we were first married. John and Beverly were a model couple for people in the arts. They loved life, sharing their home in the parties that they would host after concerts. Years later, I met with John one evening after work to talk about ASCAP. He explained what membership with that organization was and how it might help a composer. He was a masterful composer, and at the recent concert of his music in the BPC it was apparent just how versatile his musical voice was. John was an inspiring teacher for so many young musicians. I always was thrilled to see the brightest students that Berklee had, sitting in the fishbowl listening to John explain the significance of the music. He gave so much to the community. Rest in peace, John.

  2. Hi Bev,

    I was so so very sorry and saddened on hearing of John’s passing.
    it’s a sobering moment when someone who was immortal in your mind leaves us, but
    John will always be immortal in our hearts.
    He means so much to so many
    and for so long……..

    This is a real loss for those of us who knew him so well

    the Darts
    the Music
    the Food
    the Libations
    the Football
    the Limericks
    the Concerts
    the Teaching
    the Conducting
    the Compositions
    the Hangs……..

    I first met John at Berklee and MIT playing his Ceremonial Music for Double Brass Quintets at the graduation ceremonies. Powerful and industrial strength music, perfectly evocative of the moment and place. We played his music often and always with hastened anticipation and amazement.

    I had also played for john occasionly for his orchestra and chorus in Arlington and he appreciated my efforts.

    I was honored and fortunate to have John write two feature pieces for me.
    One was a solo piece for the occasion of the 50 years of the MIT concert band. We premiered this in Kresgee Auditorium in 1996 with the MIT Concert band.

    The second piece was the last major musical composition that John wrote.
    “Convirgent Diversions”, for Trumpet, Soprano Sax and Strings, was played at The John Bavicchi Tribute Concert at Berklee just 3 years ago.

    It was an spledid evening of completely original and robust Bavicchian melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, and formal spledor, full of twists, truns and delightful deception.

    This legacy will live forever and mark John as a man to be studied and played and questioned for eons.
    Nothing fashionable nothing dated here…….

    It was a splendid life, fukk rich, and huge, and John touched so many in this world
    and through his unique musical genius he will continue to live in our
    ears and our hearts.

    I am lucky and honored to have shared so many great moments with him
    on so many sublime levels.

    And Bev, you were always there for him and us,
    and we love you deeply.

    Your friend

    Greg Hopkins

  3. Peter Hazzard (Berklee ’71) was on the Berklee faculty from 1971-1983 . He was the chair of traditional studies which included John’s Beethoven and Bartok courses. He was John’s student, colleague, and business partner.

    “While I knew this day was not too far off, I am none-the-less deeply saddened by the passing yesterday at age 90 of my former teacher, long-time colleague, business partner, and second father John Alexander Bavicchi. (April 25, 1922 – December 9, 2012)

    Ken’s comments above about Patriots football and tailgating as well as dart evenings and fabulous gourmet meals are echoed throughout my life with John. Even more than his composing,conducting and other non-musical activities, it was his calling to be a demanding and yet inspiring and compassionate teacher. His life was energized by the work he for and with his students to give them perspective and insight on how to make the most of their talents.

    It is absolutely impossible to put into words what this giant of a man has meant to me personally. My heart goes out to Bev and to John’s daughter Janet. I will miss John’s wisdom, guidance, and great sense of humor more than I even know. Rest in Peace JAB.”

  4. Hi Bev,

    I was so so very sorry and saddened on hearing of John’s passing.
    it’s a sobering moment when someone who was immortal in your mind leaves us, but
    John will always be immortal in our hearts.
    He means so much to so many
    and for so long……..

    This is a real loss for those of us who knew him so well

    the Darts
    the Music
    the Food
    the Libations
    the Football
    the Limericks
    the Concerts
    the Teaching
    the Conducting
    the Compositions
    the Hangs……..

    I first met John at Berklee and MIT playing his Ceremonial Music for Double Brass Quintets at the graduation ceremonies. Powerful and industrial strength music, perfectly evocative of the moment and place. We played his music often and always with hastened anticipation and amazement.

    I had also played for john occasionally for his orchestra and chorus in Arlington and he appreciated my efforts.

    I was honored and fortunate to have John write two feature pieces for me.
    One was a solo piece for the occasion of the 50 years of the MIT concert band. We premiered this in Kresge Auditorium in 1996 with the MIT Concert band.

    The second piece was the last major musical composition that John wrote.
    “Convergent Diversions”, for Trumpet, Soprano Sax and Strings, was played at The John Bavicchi Tribute Concert at Berklee just 3 years ago.

    It was an splendid evening of completely original and robust Bavicchian melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, and formal splendor, full of twists, turns and delightful deception.

    This legacy will live forever and mark John as a man to be studied and played and questioned for eons.
    Nothing fashionable nothing dated here…….

    It was a splendid life, full rich, and huge, and John touched so many in this world
    and through his unique musical genius he will continue to live in our
    ears and our hearts.

    I am lucky and honored to have shared so many great moments with him
    on so many sublime levels.

    And Bev, you were always there for him and us,
    and we love you deeply.

    Your friend

    Greg Hopkins

  5. I first came to Berklee in 1964 apparently the year that John started teaching. He opened an entire universe of music to me. I was like a kid in a candy store totally awed by the possibilities open to me compositionally. John’s classes were so inspiring and informative, he changed how I thought about music. I owe him so much and will alway credit whatever success I have had directly to John.

  6. Bill Scism

    I studied Music History with John in room 1A, 1140 Boylston St. at the Berklee School of Music during the fall 1966 semester.

    No books
    No handouts
    No recordings except what you heard in class

    Everything that he said was on the exams. EVERYTHING!

    I got to enjoy his and Bev’s company over the years.
    Football
    Armagnac/Calvados/Rum/exotic smoked sausages
    Darts
    And most of all his presence.
    A Mench of Menches. I’ll miss seeing you, but never forget you. WS

  7. Rich Appleman

    Life will be less happy and interesting without John. He was my teacher, friend, and like a great uncle to my two sons. As a student I was in John’s Music History and Choral Arranging classes in addition to the Berklee Concert Band, playing tuba. One of my favorites photos of John is him conducting the Concert Band forty plus years ago. Great Memories. My Choral Arranging class was at 2:00 p.m. (after lunch). Before each class Tony Texeira (a jazzer) and John (classical composer) would have an hilarious back to back regarding which kind of music was better than the other. It really created a loose educational vibe. He knew his stuff and made if fun to learn. I met John at a New England Patriot football game for which Steve Prosser had written a jingle and we became great football friends. So for more than four decades we had much to enjoy together and, in my opinion, it doesn’t get better than that. -Rich Appleman, Chair Emeritus Bass Department

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