Burton, Gary (Contemporary Musicians)
Vibraharpist, composer, bandleader
Jazz musician and Percussive Arts Society Hall of Famer Gary Burton has spent more than three decades playing the vibraharp and is credited with both revolutionizing the instrument's sound and broadening the jazz audience as a whole. While he was still in his teens, the budding musical innovator adopted the use of additional malletsraditional vibraharps make use of only twoo maximize the xylophone-like instrument's lush vibrato and resonance. The two-time Grammy Award winner then pioneered the fusion movement in the middle 1960s when he integrated pop devices, folk, country, and rock rhythms with jazz. In 1965, he and his group donned the casual dress of the Beatles' generation in an effort to capture fans from a younger generation. In an interview with Bill Milkowski in Down Beat, Burton commented on the universality of jazz and its inherent power to cross lines of age, race, and gender. He stated: "The attraction of jazz... is this improbable combination of the spontaneous and emotional with something that is also intellectually challenging and stimulating."
Born January 23, 1943, in Anderson, Indiana, Burton began music lessons at an early age upon the insistence of his parents, who wanted all of their children to study an instrument. Intrigued by one particular instrument's size and method of playamely, the use of mallets to create its rich soundhe six-year-old Burton chose the marimba. However, his venture into music seemed ill-fated when he refused to budge from his seat at his first lesson. Upon returning home with his mother, he begged her to let him try again and within a short time mastered both the marimba and the more modern vibraharp.
Soon Burton was adapting both piano and violin music for his instruments. By the age of eleven, he was performing around his hometown of Princeton, Indiana, with a band that consisted of his father, brother, and sister. Four years later, when his piano teacher loaned him an Erroll Garner record, Burton developed a serious interest in jazz. In 1959, at the age of sixteen, Burton attended the first summer jazz band camp at Bloomington, Indiana, and decided on the spot that he wanted to be a professional musician. "Before that I thought I was playing for fun," Burton told High Fidelity, "and I always pictured myself playing weekends to make some money, but I intended to be something seriousike a doctor, lawyer, or an engineer."
On graduating from Princeton High School in 1960, Burton planned on entering the Berklee School of Music in Boston but was sidetracked by a chance to play gigs in Nashville. As a teenager, Burton had met Yakety Sax man Boots Randolph. A mentor to Burton with close ties to Nashville, Randolph introduced the budding musician to Hank Garland, who then asked Burton to join him playing clubs and recording in Nashville that summer. "That one sojourn to Nashville was more of an aberration than anything else," Burton said in the High Fidelity profile. By 1961 Burton was anxious to leave for Boston, where he studied jazz at Berklee and classical composition at the Boston Conservatory.
Primarily self-taught, Burton had already perfected a four-to-six mallet vibe playing technique at a time when two mallets were standard. Boston was as intrigued as Nashville had been by this innovation, but Burton spent only two years at Berklee and the Boston Conservatory before heading to New York in 1963. He joined pianist George Shearing's quintet in New York and soon learned that working with seasoned professionals would expose his shortcomings as a soloist. Burton's next apprenticeship came when he joined tenor saxophonist Stan Getz a year later. Since Getz had popularized the bossa nova blend of jazz and Brazilian folk rhythms with his 1964 hit The Girl from Ipanema, Burton received television and movie exposure while playing at important jazz festivals, concerts, and clubs. By 1965 his visibility netted him Down Beats Talent Deserving Wider Recognition Award.
In 1967 Burton formed his own band with guitarist Larry Coryell, bassist Eddie Gomez, and drummer Joe Hunt, breaking several jazz precedents. As improvisor and composer, Burton opted for a repertoire of both original compositions and jazz standards. As his band incorporated new and old material, the players shed the universal suit and tie attire of jazz artists. The younger market responded when Burton released Duster, which became the forerunner of the fusion movement in 1967. Critics called his innovations "gimmicky" at the time, but hindsight has since credited Burton with perpetuating jazz at a time when the musical form was in danger of extinction. "If you are original," Burton told High Fidelity, "you get a lot of grief in the beginning. But once you get established, you get recognized as having something special."
Successful since his debut, Burton has been named top player on vibes in numerous Down Beat readers and critics polls. He won his first Grammy Award in 1971 for Alone At Last, a recording of his solo performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival that same year. His second Grammy followed in 1979 for best group performance on the album Duet, with keyboardist Chick Corea. Burton has worked with a long list of other legendary jazz artists as well, including Stephane Grappelli, Steve Swallow, "Tango Destroyer" Astor Piazzolla, Keith Jarrett, Ralph Towner, Jerry Hahn, Mick Goodrick, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, and Peter Erskine. "Without sacrificing the energy or the poetry of his playing," wrote Ron Givens in Stereo Review in 1989, "Burton has made music like an insatiable scholar."
Burton and his wife, Cricket, raised two children while he was performing, teaching, and recruiting musicians. A permanent staff member who is also dean of curriculum planning and development at Berklee, Burton is known for shaping the careers of new artists. "There's some excitement about a young player developing," Burton told Milkowski in Down Beat. "You feel like it rubs off on you a little. You find it inspiring and rejuvenating. It keeps your own music from becoming routine and repetitive." Burton also authored an instructional booklet, The Musician's Guide to the Road, with jazz students in mind. A leader of "thoughtful" jazz, Burton continues to find the time to initiate young sidemen in a style so uniquely his own that critics refer to his play as "textbook Burton." "I keep telling myself I'll cut back," Burton told Fred Bouchard in Down Beat about the future, "but that moment hasn't arrived." Evidence of this came in early 1992 when Burton teamed with clarinetist Eddie Daniels at Pasadena's Ambassador Theater for a knockout 1930s big band/swing retrospective, featuring the music of Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton.
Duster, RCA, 1967.
(With Stephane Grappelli) Paris Encounter, Atlantic, 1970.
Alone at Last, Atlantic, 1971.
(With Steve Swallow) Hotel Hello, ECM, 1974, reissued, 1992.
Dreams So Real, ECM, 1975.
Passengers, ECM, 1976.
Easy as Pie. ECM, 1980.
Picture This, ECM, 1983.
Gary Burton and the Berklee All-Stars. JVC, 1985.
Times Like These, GRP, 1986.
Real Life Hits, ECM, 1987.
Whiz Kids, ECM, 1987.
(With Eberhard Weber) Ring (recorded 1974), ECM, 1987.
Reunion, GRP, 1990.
(With Paul Bley) Right Timeight Place, GNP/Crescendo. 1991.
Green Apple (recorded 1969), Moon, 1992.
Six Pack, GRP, 1992.
(With Eddie Daniels) Benny Rides Again, GRP, 1992.
(Contributor) Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus, Columbia, 1992.
Time Machine, RCA.
Tennessee Firebird, RCA.
Lofty Fake Anagram, RCA.
In Concert, RCA.
Genuine Tong Funeral, RCA.
Country Roads, RCA.
Good Vibes, Atlantic.
The New Quartet, ECM.
In the Public Interest, Polydor.
Times Square, ECM.
(With Keith Jarrett)... And Keith Jarrett, Atlantic.
(With Stan Getz) Getz au Go Go, Verve.
(With Astor Piazzolla) The New Tango, Atlantic. Cool Nights. GRP.
With Chick Corea
Crystal Silence, ECM, 1972.
Duet. ECM, 1978.
Lyric Suite for Sextet. ECM, 1993.
In Concert: Zurich (recorded 1979), ECM.
With Ralph Towner
Matchbook. ECM, 1974.
Slide Show. ECM, 1986.
Atlanta Constitution, November 20, 1992.
Bosten Globe, January 28, 1993.
Down Beat, December 21, 1978; January 11, 1979; December 1979; January 1983; July 1988; April 1989; August 1989; March 1990; April 1992; December 1992.
High Fidelity, August 1981.
Los Angeles Times, January 18, 1992.
Rolling Stone, November 16, 1978.
Senior Scholastic, April 25, 1968.
Stereo Review, March 1989; May 1990; February 1993.
Time, March 1, 1968.
World Monitor, July 1992.