Kenny Burrell Biography

Kenneth Earl Burrell, 31 July 1931, Detroit, Michigan, USA. Coming from a family that encouraged music (all his three brothers were musicians), Burrell studied classical guitar for a mere 18 months (1952-53). In 1955 he received a Bachelor of Music degree from Detroit’s Wayne University. He played guitar with the Candy Johnson Sextet in 1948, with Count Belcher in 1949 and Tommy Barnett in 1950. In 1951, Dizzy Gillespie visited Detroit and they recorded together. In March 1955 he stood in for Herb Ellis in the Oscar Peterson trio and in 1957 saw work with Benny Goodman. Discovered by the prestigious Blue Note Records label, he formed an association with organist Jimmy Smith, and recorded with John Coltrane under the name The Cats.

Like all jazz guitarists of his generation Burrell was primarily influenced by Charlie Christian, but developed his own particular playing style. His series of 60s albums for Blue Note and Verve Records contain his classic work. Arguably, Midnight Blue, featuring Stanley Turrentine (with its famous Reid Miles typography and the inspiration behind English singer-songwriter Elvis Costello’s Almost Blue sleeve), is his best album. The track ‘Midnight Blue’ has also been cited as the influence for Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’. The excellent Guitar Forms, recorded with Gil Evans in December 1964, is another important work, the ambitious suite demonstrating wide influences. Along with Grant Green, there is no finer exponent of ‘smoky guitar jazz’. In the late 80s his encouragement of young black talent - especially the drummer Kenny Washington - gave his trio an edge that belied his reputation for classy easy listening. In the late 90s Burrell was also to be found teaching at UCLA, and became a professor of music in 1997.


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


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