As a five-time Grammy Award-winning musician, Gary Burton is one of the most commercially successful mallet players in history. For...
As a five-time Grammy Award-winning musician, Gary Burton is one of the most commercially successful mallet players in history. For the better part of his professional career, Burton has used his position to help educate and mentor the next generation of musical talent, teaching at institutions around the world.
Vic Firth is excited to present Gary's 8-part Vibraphone Masterclass series to you, recorded backstage in Boston's Symphony Hall. In this series, Burton covers the full gamut of common questions on the instrument - from it's history to his famous 4 mallet grip.
Steve Smith documenting his continuing musical journey
Artist biography Gary Burton
Looking back over Gary Burtonís illustrious career, it may not be instantly obvious why the jazz master would vie for a collaboration with the impressive, though untested, young guitar prodigy Julian Lage for his latest Concord Records album, entitled GENERATIONS.
Burtonís innovations in jazz, especially his approach to the vibraphone and his mastery of simultaneous four-mallet playing, have been the hallmark of a career that has spanned four-decades. His five GRAMMYģ Awards and 13 GRAMMYģ nominations cross multiple categories and attest to the high regard his music has achieved amongst his peers. Yet Burtonís genius as a jazz pioneer has been mostly overlooked.
It was in Burtonís late 1960s group where the electric guitar first came into prominence as a leading instrument in jazz and where rock elements were first infused into a pulsating and virtuoso jazz mix. Before Miles Davis plugged in his guitaristsóGaryís 1967 fusion band predated the seminal BITCHES BREW recordingóBurton was eagerly pushing the jazz form toward the more explosive rock genre. Ever since, Gary has enlisted an impressive list of young guitar players as erstwhile collaborators.
The vibraphonistís experiments with Larry Coryell created a trailblazing jazz-rock sound that landed the Gary Burton Group concert performances with such mega-rock headliners as The Electric Flag and Cream (The Fillmore West in 1967). This was the first time a jazz ensemble ever broke the rock barrier. The same group also wowed the rock-hardened audiences at The Fillmore East when they opened for Moby Grape and the Fugs in 1968. Other guitarists who would later receive their first big break in Burtonís group were John Scofield, Jerry Hahn, Mick Goodrick, and Pat Metheny, considered by many as the pre-eminent jazz guitarist of his generation. In retrospect, an extraordinary list of alumnae graduated from under Burtonís wing and went on to reshape the future of jazz.
Burtonís latest discovery, the young prodigy Julian Lage, heralds the next chapter in his illustrious career as mentor. Gary first encountered the 12-year old Julian while the young prodigy was performing with a youth ensemble during 1998 GRAMMY Awards telecast. "Even during that brief spotlight," Gary notes, "I could tell he was a natural improviser who could really swing. A few months later, I invited Julian to play a concert with myself and Herbie Hancock."
Lage, now 16, has already received high praise from the jazz world. Herbie Hancock declared Julian played "with heart, mind and soul." Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times observed Lage "showed all the signs of potential stardom." On GENERATIONS (a title inspired by the ageless rapport connecting the two musicians), the young guitarist joins the master vibraphonist to showcase, with remarkable and insightful playing, his own compositions along with tracks by Makoto Ozone, Oscar Peterson, and Carla Bley, among others.
Burton and Lage also perform a tune by Pat Methenyóan emotional connection harkening back to the famed guitaristís tenure in Burtonís group. Pat and Gary have reconnected several times over the past decades, most notably on LIKE MINDS, their 1998 date with Chick Corea that won Burton his fifth GRAMMYģ Award. While Burton believes that Lage has the potential to follow Metheny, the "discovery" factor played only a small part in his desire to forge this new partnership.
"There are two kinds of bandleaders, those who seek the comfort level of working exclusively with seasoned players, and those, like me, who enjoy the inspiration, spontaneity and informality of working with a talented, young player. I thrive from that exchange, that charged interaction and take my cue from Stan Getz, who often hired younger players to stay sharp," explains Burton, who performed with the jazz legend while in his early 20s, from 1964 to 1966.
Burtonís recent recording output has been prolificóa period that found him recording a successful batch of theme-oriented albums for Concord Records, including LIBERTANGO: THE MUSIC OF ASTOR PIAZZOLA (2000), FOR HAMP, RED, BAGS & CAL (2001), and VIRTUOSI, a classical vibes-piano duet album with Makoto Ozone (all three recordings received GRAMMY nominations). Burton was eager, therefore, to instead record an album of, "just great tunes played by great guys, without an overriding concept."
The "great guys" would eventually include Makoto Ozone, Burtonís musical collaborator of nearly twenty years, along with the pianistís trio, James Genus on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. Says Burton, "Julianís enormous talent was never an issue. I was curious to see if he could hold his own among these seasoned monster players. Once we got going with Julian, it was like reliving a part of my own youth, and I realized that he not only has great technique but is also a good, thoughtful player, both mentally and intuitively."
The vibraphonist was particularly impressed by Lageís skills as improviser; "We had to do various takes on different tunes, and it struck me how none of his solos were alike. He was constantly inventive but without a need to show off. His way of proving himself is not by being flashy, but by discovering the meaning in the music."
GENERATIONS opens with the Lage-penned original appropriately titled "First Impression," a mid-tempo jazz ballad with a light hearted mystical flavor. Both Burton and the guitarist trade ample solos over Ozoneís swirling piano harmonies before the trio heats up and begins swinging more aggressively. Lage also contributed "Early," a tango piece that opens with a classical piano intro and balances a percussive Latin beat with classical jazz flavors. Mitchel Formanís "Gorgeous" is a lush romantic ballad, which gives Lage room to explore his more introspective, soulful side. Burton discovered Oscar Petersonís whimsical, Brazilian beat-driven "Wheatland" on a Japanese-only Ozone recording and felt it was a perfect vehicle for the project.
Some explosive tempo and stylistic shifts occur over the next few tunes, as Methenyís dreamy, laid-back "Take Another Look" gives way to a frenetic, hard core be-bop reading of Carla Bleyís wild and swinging "Syndrome." Ozoneís moody "Test of Time" eases the rhythm, allowing Burton and Lage to discover yet more amazing grace. Lageís soulful "The Title Will Follow" features one of the guitaristís most thoughtful solos on the album. The set concludes with two Latin numbers, the jamming, festive "Ladies in Mercedes" (written by Steve Swallow) and Ozoneís tango "Heroes sin Nombre," which begins in a melancholy mood before a swirl of dramatic percussion kicks it up a notch.
The Indiana native began performing at age eight and discovered jazz at 13-years old via a Benny Goodman record. "Music was just a fun hobby, nothing to pursue as a career, until I went to a Stan Kenton band camp one summer at Indiana University," he says. "I was from a small town and never had experienced anything like this. The energy in this group of 150 kids was incredible. I came back energized and committed to making it my life. Milt Jackson was my biggest influence on the vibes, but Bill Evans, Miles and Sonny Rollins were the key jazz figures who inspired both my music and career.
Burton first made his mark on the jazz world some 43 years ago with the release of NEW VIBE MAN IN TOWN on RCA. For the better part of his professional career, he has used his position to help educate and mentor the next generation of musical talent, teaching at institutions around the world. In 2004, he will end his 32-year teaching career at his alma mater, Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where he is currently the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.
One of Burtonís greatest joys with recording GENERATIONS was the sense that he was observing the beginning of yet another legendary career in jazz: "There is always the undercurrent of passing the torch, and itís really exciting to watch a young player like Julian develop before your eyes. I see so much of my own past experiences in him, and sometimes heís so advanced and so mature as a player that I forget heís still a teenager," enthuses the vibraphonist. "But, thatís part of the excitement tooóknowing that he will keep maturing. When veterans like myself see and work with his kind of enthusiasm, it validates what weíre doing as both performers and educators. I remember meeting so many people when I was young who went out of their way to encourage and to help me. Iíve always been motivated to do the same."