Jimmy Page tossed aside his prepared statement just before giving the commencement speech at the Berklee College of Music, saying he’d been moved to improvise by the performance of a group of students.
Page, founding guitarist with Led Zeppelin, was on hand to receive an honorary doctorate from the prestigious Boston-based university — and to inspire another generation of graduates. Instead, he says it was the other way around.
Students performed both “Stairway to Heaven” and “Rock and Roll,” while the ceremony also recognized Valerie Simpson of the songwriting and performing team of Ashford and Simpson; Geri Allen, the jazz pianist; and Thara Memory, the trumpeter and composer.
Page, who got his start with the Yardbirds, joined a list of earlier honorary doctor of music degree recipients that includes Duke Ellington — the first to have received one from Berklee, back in 1971 — David Bowie, Smokey Robinson, Steven Tyler, George Clinton, Willie Nelson and others.
And Page would have had plenty to talk about, too, what with a raft of new Led Zeppelin-related reissues on the way, the wide release of his photo-essay autobiography looming and the promise of new music looming.
“The quality of musicianship that was shown last night was really moving,” Page said in his extemporaneous remarks on Saturday. “This is absolutely so amazing, and it’s such a privilege to be a part of this and feel all the energy coming from you graduates, congratulations.”
As for throwing away his original talking points, Page joked: “Here I am, a busking musician trying to busk my speech.”