Celebrated guitarist Bill Frisell and composer Michael Gibbs received honorary doctor of music degrees from Berklee College of Music during a concert celebrating Gibbs’s 80th birthday.

The career-spanning performance reunited Gibbs with Frisell, who was his student at Berklee in the 1970s, as well as his longtime buddy and onetime Berklee classmate, legendary jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton. (The show also featured saxophonist Jim Odgren and the Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra, directed by Greg Hopkins, professor of jazz composition.)

Presenting the degrees, Berklee’s president, Roger Brown, said Gibbs’s influence “cannot be overstated.” Burton dedicated his first-ever solo performance of “Sweet Rain,” a Gibbs composition, to “my school friend — we were in class together back in the day.” Gibbs conducted the concert finale himself, closing with a series of dramatic crescendos that left the audience spellbound.


Frisell and Gibbs join a star-studded roster of Berklee honorary-degree recipients, including Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson, Steven Tyler, Loretta Lynn, Juan Luis Guerra, and Annie Lennox, among others.