Did you know that at some schools have music programs so advanced that you can possibly take a class studying some of your favorite artists of yesteryear AND today? Well introducing one such institution, my alma mater, Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA where along with classes like ‘The J Dilla Ensemble’ and ‘The George Duke/George Benson Ensemble’ you can now enroll in ‘The Dwele Ensemble.’ If just this class wasn't enough to get you excited, check out the teacher Tia Fuller (swiped from wiki)
Fuller graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor's degree in music from Spelman College, and went on to obtain a master's degree in Jazz Pedagogy and Performance from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Fuller has also regularly performed with a number of jazz artists, including Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington, Ralph Peterson Septet, the T.S. Monk Septet, the Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra, the Rufus Reid Septet, the Sean Jones Quintet and the Nancy Wilson Jazz Orchestra, and touring with Beyoncé’s all-female band.
As you all know I’m an advocate of progressive music curricula. So of course I had to support a class named after our brother from Detroit! The Dwele Ensemble had their first recital (a mid-term of sorts) last week and I brought a little surprise for them. YUP… you guessed it! the man of the hour, Dwele. After shooing him into stairwells, ducking him in conference rooms and shoving him into bathrooms (sorry about that bro), I was able to get him to his seat unseen as he beamed with pride in secrecy in a dark corner from the balcony of the David Friend Recital Hall as the students put on a phenomenal show. (Video of the show is available here)
(Spoiler) For the grand finale Dwele came on stage and surprised the students! He later treated them to a meet and greet and Q&A after the show in a nearby classroom. I along with my Berklee cohorts (Raydar and Darcie you ROCK) made the surprise possible, but the real hero is Tia Fuller the lady that started it all.
Even thought she was in L.A. rehearsing for “Black Girls Rock” I had a chance to catch up with her to ask a few questions!
How would you describe Berklee as a learning institution?
As a learning institution Berklee is a place that is diverse in all genres of music. From hip ensembles, to big band to hard rock and turntable ensembles, Berklee offers the complete educational experience. Many of teachers and professors are pioneers of their field that students have direct access to. Likewise, the students are highly motivated, and committed to the advancement of their education as well as preparation for the professional world.
What is the Dwele ensemble?
It is a 12 piece ensemble that consists of 3 trumpets, 1 trombone, 2 keyboardists, bass, drum, percussion, guitar and 2 vocalists. We are currently studying the album "Greater Than One"
Why did you feel it was important to study Dwele's music?
He is personally one of my favorite artists and I wanted to celebrate him through an ensemble at Berklee. In addition, his music allows for students from the jazz, contemporary/ gospel/ r and b and vocal department to come together and explore genre crossing elements in his music. Because some of his main influences are prolific jazz musicians such as Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis, I had an overabundance of jazz students (especially trumpeters) who auditioned.
Were the students familiar with Dwele's music prior to the class?
Yes they were. Many knew of his music prior to the class, but it was a prerequisite to familiarize themselves with the music, prior to our first session.
What was/is like to play for heavyweights such as Beyoncé and Esperanza Spalding?
It's a complete blessing! I love and respect both of them as performers, and musicians, individuals. To have gained so much wisdom from them personally and professionally, and to share a piece of my experience with the students, I've started an Esperanza Radio Music Society and plan to do a Beyoncé Ensemble in the near future.
What did the kids say to you after their surprise visit from Dwele?
They were in disbelief and extremely excited!
Tia is as humble and gracious as she is talented. It was such a pleasure meeting her and the students of the ensemble. Dwele Ensemble drummer Tyrone Dunning said, “I had NO IDEA that Dwele was actually coming haha the funny thing is from where I was positioned on stage I saw him at a glance in the middle of our last tune but I could only see his hair so I kind of second guessed myself but I just knew that I wasn't tripping! That was Dwele's hair I saw.”
Yes Tyrone that WAS Dwele’s hair you saw! Later I sat down with the famous fro to get his reaction.
How did it feel to see and hear college students recreating your work?
It was unbelievable. I was all smiles the whole time. I was so happy to be able to see a school like Berklee honor something that I've done. It was a humbling honor and motivation for me as well.
What was it like to have the chance to connect with the students afterwards in the Q&A session?
Talking to the students afterwards was a lot of fun. I think a lot of times as artists we don't often get the platform to tell the back stories to songs, albums, collabs, so it was a release for me. And some of the questions showed that they really studied the songs.
Why did you want to keep your visit a surprise, didn't you want them to know you were coming?
I wanted to keep it a surprise because I wanted to be able to enjoy the show as well as the audience and performers. I wanted it to be natural. I've been to tribute shows before where the singers are concentrated more on performing at the honoree than the performance, and the audience is paying more attention to what the person thinks than the actual show... I didn't want that pressure either to be truthful lol. I wanted to enjoy it, and I did.
What did you think when you first heard there was a “Dwele Ensemble” class at Berklee College of Music?
I thought Berklee?? The strictly music college Berklee?? Doing MY songs??? Yea, call the manager, clear the schedule. Epic.
Dwele Ensemble student Dunning later said, “It felt great knowing that he saw the show and HE LIKED IT!! That's what makes me proud, the artist himself approved and was satisfied with all the work we've done! And for him to come to the show and support that meant a lot! That's what I call showing love and he showed MAD (a lot of) love that night! It was a pleasure!!”
All in all I applaud Berklee, Tia, the students, those who came out to support the ensemble and of course Dwele the muse. I charge all artists to make music you can be proud of and that people will want to study for years to come. Great job guys!
For more information on Berklee College of Music visit: www.Berklee.edu