Kenny Burrell :: Biography

Burrell was born in Detroit, Michigan. Both his parents played instruments, and he began playing guitar at the age of 12. He went on to study composition and theory with Louis Cabara and classical guitar with Joe Fava. While a student at Wayne State University, he made his recording debut as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's sextet in 1951, followed by the "Rose of Tangier/Ground Round" single recorded under his own name at Fortune Records in Detroit. While in college, Burrell founded the New World Music Society collective with fellow Detroit musicians Pepper Adams, Donald Byrd, Elvin Jones, and Yusef Lateef.

Burrell toured with Oscar Peterson after graduating in 1955 and then moved to New York City in 1956 with pianist Tommy Flanagan. Within months, Burrell had recorded his first album as leader for Blue Note and both he and Flanagan were sought-after as sidemen and studio musicians, performing with singers Tony Bennett and Lena Horne and recording with Billie Holiday, Jimmy Smith, Gene Ammons, and Kenny Dorham, among others. From 1957 to 1959, Burrell occupied the former chair of Charlie Christian in Benny Goodman's band. Since his New York debut Burrell has had a prolific recording career, and critics have cited The Cats with John Coltrane in 1957, Midnight Blue with Stanley Turrentine in 1963, and Guitar Forms with arranger Gil Evans in 1965 as particular highlights.

In 1978, he began teaching a course at UCLA called "Ellingtonia," examining the life and accomplishments of Duke Ellington. Although the two never collaborated directly, Ellington called Burrell his "favorite guitarist," and Burrell has recorded a number of tributes to and interpretations of Ellington's works. Since 1996, Burrell has served as Director of Jazz Studies at UCLA, mentoring such notable alumni as Gretchen Parlato and Kamasi Washington.

Burrell teaches classes in jazz history, performance, improvisation and composition. He also leads students in the Fusion Jazz Ensemble and several jazz combos. The founder of the Jazz Heritage Foundation -- a four-horn and four-rhythm jazz tribute ensemble -- and the Friends of Jazz at UCLA, he is recognized as an international ambassador for jazz and its promotion as an art form. Recently he helped curate the Fowler Museum exhibition, "Jam Session: America's Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World."

Awards

Burrell has won several jazz polls in Japan and the United Kingdom as well as in the United States. Burrell wrote, arranged, and performed on the 1998 Grammy Award-winning album Dear Ella by Dee Dee Bridgewater, received the 2004 Jazz Educator of the Year Award from Down Beat, and was named a 2005 NEA Jazz Master.

You can check out "Ella's Song" that Kenny Burrell wrote for Ella Fitzgerald here.




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