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Becoming a bigger community player

Berklee's leader sees benefit for school, city

Roger Brown may no longer be the CEO of Bright Horizons, the international day - care conglomerate he launched, with great success, in the mid-'80s. But as president of the Berklee College of Music, he's still interested in creating limitless futures for his charges.

To that end, Brown has recently entered into two partnerships he hopes will benefit not only aspiring young Berklee musicians but the Boston music community at large.

Tonight, the inaugural Boston Pops Jazz Fest kicks off at Symphony Hall with guitarist-singer John Pizzarelli and vocalist Jane Monheit as featured guests. Berklee is a partner in the new series, and students from the school will perform before and after the shows. Meanwhile, Berklee has also taken the reins of the annual BeanTown Jazz Festival, which runs Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in the South End. Expect to see Berklee students gracing those festival stages, too.

Two-plus years into his tenure as president, Brown is extending Berklee's reach into the community, teaming with local institutions and helping pump up the local jazz community. The byproduct of the cross-pollination is the raising of Berklee's profile, Brown says. But the main goal is to broaden the horizons for Berklee students as they try to carve out fledgling music careers.

``Our larger purpose is to try to get as many opportunities for our students to perform and to hone their craft and to get exposure to audiences who would appreciate what they do as we can," Brown said during an interview from his Boylston Street office last week. ``We're here to have the greatest student experience you can possibly have. One of the ways is through partnerships with other organizations."

The BeanTown Jazz Festival was founded by Bob's Southern Bistro owner Darryl Settles in 2001. Now drawing tens of thousands of jazz fans each year, the South End festival was outgrowing the time that Settles could dedicate to it. Brown thought that having Berklee take a stronger role in the festival would be a perfect marriage of neighbors.

``Likewise with the Pops, [conductor] Keith Lockhart and [managing director] Mark Volpe reached out to us and asked if we'd be interested in some kind of collaboration," Brown, 49, says in a honeyed Georgia drawl that has yet to diminish even after more than 20 years in Boston. ``And it seemed like `wow, why wouldn't we give our students a chance to be exposed to an audience that they might not otherwise and have the opportunity to test their mettle in that environment?' It seemed like a very logical thing to do."

Dennis Alves, director of artistic planning for the BSO, hopes that the Jazz Fest collaboration is only the first for Berklee, the Pops, and the Symphony. He envisions a time when the partnership expands to include crossover with the orchestra and Berklee's composition - and - arranging students.

``What we think we get out of it is just a wonderful collaboration," Alves says, ``a way to showcase these young kids."

Settles echoes those sentiments and says he's been very satisfied with how the college has approached raising his baby.

``Just the talent that they brought to the festival immediately shows the commitment that they have," he says. This year, Berklee is bringing pianist McCoy Tyner, saxophonist Kenny Garrett, and turntablist DJ Logic to the BeanTown Jazz Festival.

``There's been no major negative feedback at all," Settles says. ``Honestly, a few people asked the question `wow, why is a corporate entity taking over such a wonderful community-based event?' And there's only one answer: it outgrew a small non profit organization that I was in charge of. To run something this large it became almost a full-time job, because it takes so much time to plan and execute, so I think I would've done the city an injustice not to follow through and to make this happen because it has so much potential."

Brown hopes the Berklee connection can help fulfill that potential.

``BeanTown is a big responsibility, and we have some ambitions to have it become a central part of the cultural fabric of Boston," Brown says. ``I think it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to say that we're the people who can do that."

Brown admits that connecting with local institutions is part of a conscious strategy of collaboration to promote the work the school does, as well as its students.

``The whole point in having all of these facilities is to be a great institution, and this is what a great institution does. Berklee's had a lot of great partnerships in the past, I think maybe the change I have brought is to dial up our ambition a little bit," Brown says of his tenure.

``If you think about it, in order to do the things we need to do with the facilities, we need supporters who will help us financially and believe in what we're about; we need neighbors who appreciate what we're doing for the city; we need the mayor and the BRA to recognize that we are committed to giving back."

His vision for the future of students doesn't end with Berklee, however. Noting that some current Berklee undergrads came through the Bright Horizons programs, Brown says half-jokingly, ``I've got to start some assisted - living facilities. These kids are never going to get rid of me!"

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