If there’s ever been anything across human history that has evaded conflict, crossed borders and doesn’t care what we look like or believe in, it’s music. But if there’s anyone who can turn uncontroversial topics into competitions, it’s Stanford. So now, I present to you a list of people who made large contributions to the music industry at-large from both Stanford and UC Berkeley.
Who’s better? You decide.
Jack Conte ’06 and Natalie Knutsen ’09 — known by her stage name Nataly Dawn — are among the most creative people on the planet. They met at CoHo when Knutsen opened for Conte’s band. Together, the two alums formed the band Pomplamoose, a crunchy mix of alternative/indie music as well as funk, jazz and rock influences. Recently, they launched another band, Magaziine, solely for their want to be more productive. Jack and his team also head up Scary Pockets and Stories, two more incredible forces of music-making, as well as Dead Wax, a new YouTube series where professional musicians react to history’s greatest musical feats.
Ever heard of surround sound? That’s Ray Dolby ’57, pioneer of Dolby Laboratories. It started off as a company that was focused on making the best audio around. Almost any album that you have heard from after 1970 likely underwent one of Dolby’s processes, whether it be his historic additions to noise reduction technology or the introduction of surround sound, especially for movies. These days, Dolby is one of the largest audio-visual companies in the world, with its fingers and toes in myriad ventures, from movie theaters to headphones to video processing tools.
What happens when your grandma wants to hear music, but she can’t work the dang “Spotifys” or “Apple’s Music?” That’s right — she turns to Pandora, every grandma’s favorite streaming service. Tim Westergren ’88 is one of the masterminds behind Pandora’s Music Genome Project, a quasi-machine-learning algorithm that helped found the basis for those sweet, sweet yacht rock radio stations that launched the platform to success in the early 2000s. The algorithm’s architect and chief musicologist, Nolan Gasser Ph.D. ’01, studied music at Stanford.
Jon Nakamatsu ’91 M.A. ’92 is a prolific classical pianist and music educator in the Bay Area. In 1997, he won the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, making him the first U.S. national to win the competition in 16 years. While at Stanford, Nakamatsu also started teaching German at Saint Francis High School. He has toured the world with many prestigious orchestras, yet never forgets his roots — he played on campus just this month!
Would you believe me if I told you that John Chowning is behind 90% of your favorite pop songs? (Ok, maybe your parents’ favorite pop songs.) You can hear his work on everything from Toto’s “Africa” to Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” and even the theme song for “The X-Files.” That’s because Chowning, who was a researcher at CCRMA back in the ’60s, invented FM synthesizers! Yamaha bought and used his technology on their famous synths, which were (and still are) used for some of the most popular songs of our lifetimes.
Raymond Pepperell, who graduated from Berkeley in the ’70s, is probably better known as “East Bay Ray.” Pepperell is the guitarist for the Bay Area-based punk rock band Dead Kennedys. He graduated from Berkeley with plans to be an architect, but discovered that architecture was too “artistically limiting,” so he turned to punk music. After seeing a show in San Francisco, he was inspired to put out an ad looking for bandmates in San Francisco newspaper The Recycler, leading to one of the most influential punk bands of all time.
Stewart Copeland is the drummer for everyone’s uncle’s favorite band, The Police. He also graduated from Berkeley in the ’70s. While attending, he was a DJ at their radio station, KALX. Copeland once said about Berkeley’s music department, “If I had gotten into the music department at Berkeley, I’d probably be a timpanist in an orchestra right now.” I guess we’re lucky that their requirements were so strict, because if he made it past auditions, we might not have hits like “Roxanne” or “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.”
It’s Rob Hotchkiss, who graduated from Berkeley in 1983, we have to thank for that song that gets stuck in our head, “Hey, Soul Sister.” After attending Cal in the ’80s — where some argue he studied law, but it’s hard to tell — he transferred to “other Berkeley,” i.e. Berklee College of Music. Hotchkiss then moved to San Francisco, where he and his new friend Pat Monahan created the band Train.
What do “Transformers” (2007), “Ender’s Game” (2013), “Desperate Housewives” (2004-2012) and The Sims 3 all have in common? Besides being relics of my childhood (don’t ask about “Desperate Housewives”), all of them feature music composed by Steve Jablonsky, who graduated from Berkeley in the ’90s. Jablonsky’s work has spanned the action movie gamut, and it’s those dramatic scores that set the bar for the industry’s standard for great movie music.
Did you know that the Grateful Dead, the band responsible for everyone’s favorite Ben and Jerry’s Flavor, was founded in our own Palo Alto? They’ve even performed at the Frost Amphitheatre. It’s Berkeley we have to thank for founding member Phil Lesh, although he left the school before he joined the Dead as their bass player. Not much exists online about his time at Cal, but I’m sure it helped influence his free-flowing nature and love for psychedelic… music.