Kenny Burrell, Octogenarian

Kenny Burrell has joined the parade of major jazz artists entering octogenarianism and performing at a high level. The guitarist is of a generation of Detroit musicians including Tommy Flanagan, Pepper Adams, Elvin Jones, Roland Hanna and Louis Hayes that made a significant impact on jazz. Burrell’s 80th birthday was a week ago. He is preparing for a concert next weekend. Here’s more from a Scott Zimberg profile of the guitarist in The Los Angeles Times:

Part of what’s kept Burrell afloat over the years is musical focus. Music, he says, “has to be a balance between heart and mind. The thing is to not let your technique or your analytical side overshadow your feelings. There’s one more thing you’ve gotta do — you’ve got to be consistent. That takes work, it takes concentration, it takes focus, it takes dedication.”

He’s often praised for qualities like taste, discipline and aversion to musical cliché. “I sometimes think that phrasing is a lost art in jazz, and perhaps especially among guitarists,” Gioia says. “But Burrell knows how to shape a phrase, where to place the proper emphasis, how to construct a solo. He has unerring instincts — like a great boxer, who has a feel for the right move at the right moment.”

Burrell sees jazz soloing as a conversation between musician and listener. “If I was talking too fast, or not taking breaths, not giving you time to take it in — it would not get across very well.”

To him, the blues — which can lead lesser players to volubility — is about understatement. Music begins and ends with silence, he says. “In between, it’s up to you. You should make a statement. And when you’ve made your statement — which should be important to you, you should mean it — you should stop.”

To read all of Timberg’s article, which traces Burrell’s career, go here.

Burrell appeared on Japanese Television in 1990, with bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer Sherman Ferguson, playing Duke Pearson’s “Jeannine.”

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  1. Mark Mohr says

    Thanks for posting the article on Kenny Burrell. I saw that on the L.A. Times website and it’s good to see Rifftides giving it the attention it deserves for jazz fans and Burrell fans. As soon as I finished it, I hustled over to iTunes and bought the CD right away. It’s beautiful solo guitar work from a true master.

  2. marietta meister says

    Thanks for this pleasure, a nice morning gift. Sometimes, Kenny reminds me of Les Paul.

  3. Dick McGarvin says

    Kenny’s birthday was actually July 31st, but the big musical celebration of his 80 years is this Saturday, November 12, at UCLA’s Royce Hall. For the past year, I’ve been on the planning committee and production team helping to put this event together.

    As the LA Times article states, B.B. King, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Lalo Schifrin (in a trio setting) are headlining and an all-star big band, The Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited, will make its debut. What the story doesn’t mention is that the night will include the premiere of “Suite for Peace”, an extended collaborative work with contributions by composers John Clayton, Charley Harrison, Patrick Williams, Nick DePinna, Llew Mathews and William Banfield. It will be performed by the UCLA Philharmonia Orchestra with the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited. The concert will open with the Jazz Heritage All-Stars, comprised of some rather hip UCLA faculty members: Dr. Bobby Rodriguez on trumpet, saxophonists Justo Almario and Charles Owens, George Bohanon on trombone and a rhythm section of Tamir Hendelman, Roberto Miranda, Clayton Cameron and Kenny. Also, I’ll be presenting a short video I produced, in which Kenny tells how the seed for his educational endeavors was planted long before he became the world famous jazz musician he is. It promises to be a memorable night…and it’s completely sold out!

    Working with Kenny this past year, I have to say the man is tireless. He is equally passionate about both his playing and his teaching.

  4. Jim Brown says

    Kenny was one of dozens of major jazz artists who worked the small jazz club in Chicago where I ran sound during the mid 1970s, and he was among a few who performed the longest and most varied sets and seemed to have the greatest respect for their audiences (others in that class were Bill Evans and Carmen McRae). During a five-night engagement, Kenny was playing a lot of Ellington and Strayhorn, including many tunes that were not at all well known. Playing two hour-long sets a night during the week and three on weekends, he rarely repeated himself during the evening, and his playing seemed to this non-musician to be at a very high level. He was one of those whom I enjoyed the most. Kenny is a real class act.