Gary Burton Biography

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23 January 1943, Anderson, Indiana, USA. After teaching himself to play piano Burton studied music formally before switching to the vibraphone. In 1960 he recorded with Hank Garland, a country guitarist, but then moved into jazz with a two-year stint at Berklee College Of Music, where he began an important musical association with Mike Gibbs. In 1963 he became a member of George Shearing’s group, following this with two years with Stan Getz. Later in the 60s, Burton formed his own small band, playing jazz rock and recording a number of fine albums, most notably the Carla Bley -penned A Genuine Tong Funeral (1967). Throughout the decade and on into the 70s, Burton led a succession of fine bands that included such musicians as Larry Coryell, Steve Swallow, Roy Haynes, Pat Metheny and Eberhard Weber. He was also teamed on record with Stéphane Grappelli, Carla Bley, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, Peter Erskine and others. From 1971 Burton taught at Berklee, often finding empathetic musicians among his students. Burton’s Six Pack in 1993 was a refreshing excursion featuring six guitar players: B.B. King, John Scofield, Jim Hall, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kevin Eubanks and familiar partner Ralph Towner. Like Minds, released through Concord Jazz Records in 1998, was a sublime all-star gathering that featured Burton playing with Pat Metheny, Corea and Dave Holland. Two years later Burton recorded a tribute to tango master Astor Piazzolla.

Although he followed many more famous vibraphonists, not least Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson, Burton was the first player of this instrument to create a new and wholly original musical style. His extensive simultaneous use of four mallets gave him a less percussive sound, allowing him to develop more complex ideas in a manner usually available only to pianists and players of wind instruments. His early musical experience of country and rock has been thoroughly absorbed into a strongly jazz-orientated concept. Burton’s interests and enthusiasm, allied as they are to a virtuoso technique, have made him a leading exemplar of contemporary music. However, although others have followed his example, he remains the only vibraphonist of his generation to be measured alongside the other major interpreters and innovators in jazz.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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