When he started playing the saxophone more than 50 years ago, Brookline resident Larry Monroe said the dream for jazz musicians was getting the call to go on the road as part of one of the big bands.
For years, Monroe said he waited for the call to join a big band until finally around 1974 the Buddy Rich Band called asking him to go on tour with them for about two years.
But by then the time of the big bands was fading away, Monroe said, and perhaps more important to him was the realization that he had already found a stable musical home at the Berklee College of Music.
“It was too late for me by then,” said Monroe, who was in his mid 30s at the time. “So I made the tough decision to forgo that which had been a lifetime dream.”
Larry Monroe. Submitted photo by Phil Farnsworth.
Almost 40 years later, the Berklee College of Music is preparing to celebrate Monroe’s decision.
As part of Berklee’s Signature Music Series, the college is hosting a concert Thursday to mark Monroe’s retirement after a 50-year career at the school that started as a student, and progressed to becoming a teacher, dean, and a global ambassador for the school.
The concert, called “Larry Monroe’s Recuerdo” will be held at the Berklee Performance Center Thursday, Oct. 18 at 8:15 p.m. and will include Monroe playing the alto sax along with his former student, New Orleans-based saxophonist Donald Harrison, and Italian bassist Giovanni Tommaso.
Monroe, now 72 years old, retired in August, after working to help the Berklee College of Music organize the curriculum for its first international campus in Valencia, Spain, which opened this year.
Over the years Monroe also performed with Lou Rawls, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett, Garuy Burton and the Boston Pops Orchestra.
Originally from Randolph, Vt., he grew up listening to big bands and began taking clarinet and saxophone lessons before he enlisted into the U.S. Air Force to play in a military band. When he was discharged in 1962 he enrolled at Berklee via the GI Bill and began teaching at the school in 1970.
Monroe said the opportunity to write and play music, and pass along some of his ideas to others at the school were some of the major reasons why he never left the college.
“I didn’t think I was going to become a Charlie Parker or a John Coltrane,” he said. “I was pretty sure I was going to be a good but not great player and I thought there was another way to be involved with music. With Berklee, and any great music school, you are immersed in a community of great musicians eager to learn and try new things.”
During his teaching career he influenced musicians such as Harrison, Branford Marsalis, Miguel Zenon, Anat Cohen, Daniela Schachter, Donny McCaslina and others.
Eventually Monroe became the first dean of Berklee’s Professional Performance Division and with former Berklee vice president Gary Burton he established the Berklee on the Road program presenting clinics and performances with Berklee faculty in Japan, Spain, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Greece and Puerto Rico.
Speaking by phone from his home in Brookline where he lives with his wife Rita, Monroe recently said he’s planning to play music he’s written over the years at the concert Thursday, including some pieces he hasn’t played in years.
“I’m hoping that I can re-insert myself into the period that it was written,” Monroe said.
Faculty and students will also be playing at the concert Thursday night. Tickets are $8 or $16 in advance and $12 or $22 on the day of the show and can be purchased at berkleebpc.com or at 617-747-2261.