GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations: Gary Burton

From Miles Davis to Chick Corea and beyond, GRAMMY-winning jazz vibraphonist details the five GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings that shaped his remarkable jazz journey
  • Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
    Gary Burton
February 13, 2014 -- 2:40 pm PST
By Fernando Gonzalez /

(To commemorate the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame's 40th Anniversary in 2013, has launched GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations. The ongoing series will feature conversations with various individuals who will identify GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings that have influenced them and helped shape their careers.)

In his 2013 autobiography, Learning To Listen: The Jazz Journey Of Gary Burton, seven-time GRAMMY-winning vibraphonist and bandleader Gary Burton opens up about growing up in rural Indiana, where he took his first music lessons at age 6. He discovered jazz at 13 when he heard Benny Goodman's "After You've Gone" and was "enthralled." 

Soon his collection included everything from the "West Coast cool" of Dave Brubeck to the "East Coast hothouse" of Charles Mingus. He went on to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston and shared a stage with artists such as Nashville, Tenn., studio wizard and guitarist Hank Garland, pianist George Shearing and saxophonist Stan Getz before setting out on his own. With the Gary Burton Quartet, Burton not only secured his place in jazz history as a player and bandleader, but also by pioneering what came to be known as jazz/rock fusion with the release of his 1967 album Duster, which earned him his first career GRAMMY nomination for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Small Group Or Soloist With Small Group.

Over the years Burton has crossed paths with other jazz greats such as Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Pat Metheny, all of whom helped influence his career. Below are the five GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings that helped shape Burton's remarkable jazz journey.

Kind Of Blue
Miles Davis
Columbia (1959)
Inducted 1992

"I was 16 years old and at band camp, playing in a student band and coincidentally there was a festival in French Lick, Indiana, and we were invited [to appear] as the opening act. Miles' group was the headliner and I watched them from the side of the stage. That group had [John] Coltrane and [Adderley] Cannonball and Bill Evans. It was the band [who played on] Kind Of Blue and I had never heard anything like that in jazz. The record came out shortly after that and Kind Of Blue was my introduction to modern jazz. It is the single most important jazz record of the past century."

Stan Getz
Verve (1961)
Inducted 1999

"[Stan Getz Quartet] wasn't the first name band I played in, but I was with Stan Getz for three years and it was the experience that had the most influence on me. This record was done just before I met him. It was Stan's favorite and, for him, a very daring project — it had just saxophone with a string section. He was very proud of it, he talked about it a lot and I came to regard it as Stan's best work. For me, it was the first jazz recording I was aware of that didn't feature a typical jazz band. It was an unusual, risky kind of project I normally would not have been attracted to. Strings? Not even a rhythm section? Yet, it was so impressive that it opened my eyes and ears to all kinds of possibilities."

Far East Suite
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra
RCA (1967)
Inducted 1999

"I met Duke while still with Stan. We crossed paths [at] different events and festivals and at one point he invited me to a recording session and it was the most awesome experience imaginable. I only found out later, when the record came out, that it was Far East Suite

"The band was set up on the bandstand facing the booth but there was a space of about 40 feet between the conductor and the control room and there they had set up chairs. There [was] somewhere between 60 to 100 people. The control room was jammed full and the crowd spilled out into the studio and we were sitting in folding chairs. But people were dressed in tuxedos and formal gowns and fur coats. It was like they were going to a ball.

"Watching the band working on this music was terrific and Duke was amazing. Here you had this great party scene going on and he never stopped, he seemed to ignore everything swirling around in the room. And the music was so original, so inventive. These were remembrances of these exotic cities they had visited in their tours. The early Duke music I had heard was more conventional big band, even though his was among the most modern sounding. But this was on another level."

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles
Capitol (1967)
Inducted 1993

"I was starting my new band [Gary Burton Quartet and] trying to [incorporate] rock and jazz, and I had become a huge fan of new rock, but the Beatles were my favorites. They had this eclectic way about their work. Every tune on their record was from a different style of music — there was a track with a string quartet and then there would be a blues shuffle, and then there would be something with a sitar or something orchestral — and we didn't do that in jazz. We would use the same style and the same instrumentation for the whole record. What the Beatles did was exciting. It had a big influence on me."

"Now He Sings, Now He Sobs"
Chick Corea
Blue Note (1968)
Inducted 1999 

"This was the first record I heard of Chick's. We [have] since gone on to a 40-year-long collaboration but this was the introduction. Bill Evans had been the leading influential player and one of my favorites, but the younger players — Chick, Keith [Jarrett], Herbie [Hancock] — were moving away from that. Chick struck me as the best I'd ever heard in modern piano. It was as good as I ever heard it done."

(Seven-time GRAMMY-winning jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton released his autobiography, Learning To Listen: The Jazz Journey Of Gary Burton, in 2013. The New Gary Burton Quartet's most recent album, 2013's Guided Tour, was nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental Album at the 56th GRAMMY Awards.)

(Fernando Gonzalez, an independent writer and editor, is a regular contributor to the International Review of Music, JazzTimes and Miami Herald. He is based in Miami.)


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