It's impossible to mention the vibraphone without conjuring up the name Gary Burton. With his four-mallet technique, the American has all but written the book on his instrument's technical vocabulary. A major player on the jazz scene since the 1960s, the musician has made his mark both in the studio and on the stage. His thirst for exploration has led to a multitude of original solo endeavours as well as joint ventures with the likes of Chick Corea and Pat Metheny. A keen educator, he has also taken many an up-and-coming musician under his wing.
Once Upon a Time In the Midwest
Gary Burton was born on January 23, 1943, in Anderson, Indiana. After teaching himself the vibes at a young age, he got his professional break at 17 accompanying country guitarist Hank Garland on record. For his first solo outing, New Vibe Man In Town (1961), he put together a trio featuring bassist Gene Cherico and drummer Joe Morello. Leaving his studies at Boston's Berklee College of Music to go pro, he toured with George Shearing' quintet throughout 1963 before joining Stan Getz' band for two years.
The Gary Burton Quartet saw the light of day in 1967, with Larry Coryell on guitar and Steve Swallow on bass. With Duster, an album released the same year, the vibesman and leader offered an early example of jazz-rock fusion. All the while, he was rapidly refining his instrument's vocabulary. His unique four-mallet grip allowed for complex harmonies and singular arrangements.
In 1968, Burton was named Jazzman of the year by Down Beat magazine. This prestigious title confirmed the artist's increasing influence and importance on the jazz scene. Soon after, he recorded two interesting duos, one with famed French violonist Stéphane Grappelli (Paris Encounter, 1969), the other with then up-and-coming pianist Keith Jarrett (1971).
Back to School
Burton started teaching at Berklee College of Music in 1971-he first worked as an educator before becoming Dean of Curriculum and eventually, Executive Vice-President. The same year, the musician was awarded his first Grammy Award for a live solo performance, Alone at Last, which was recorded at the Montreux jazz festival.
Released in 1972, Crystal Silence was Burton's debut for German label ECM. The album was also one of his earliest collaborations with keyboardist Chick Corea. The two musicians would develop a long-lasting partnership, both in the recording studio and on the live stage.
Over the course of the decade, Burton called upon new players to round up his quartet-and sometimes quintet. Among his new recruits were bassist Erberhard Weber and a young six-string wonder named Pat Metheny, who made his recording debut with the vibist on Ring (1974). Around the same time, Burton also released at least two significant collaborative efforts: Matchbook (1974) with guitarist Ralph Towner, and Duet (1978) with the faithful Chick Corea.
At the Festival
Burton and Corea went on to play together at the very first edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, in 1980. Returning two years later, the pair provided a quasi-miraculous last minute replacement for Dexter Gordon.
During the 1980s, the vibist turned to new collaborators yet again-some of them Berklee students. Among the young lions Burton approached was Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone, who featured on the 1984 album Real Life Hits, and shared the Festival stage with him the same year and the next.
Recorded in 1989, Reunion was the result of the first major collaboration with Pat Metheny since the guitarist achieved superstardom. Later that year, Burton made the most of his time at the 20th edition of the Festival, duetting with Ralph Towner and playing two sets with his quintet.
The following decade saw Burton adding some interesting titles to his rich discography. Right Time, Right Place (1990) marked the first collaboration between the vibraphone master and famous Montréal-born pianist Paul Bley. On Face to Face (1995), he reunited with Makoto Ozone. For Like Minds (1998), he assembled a supergroup comprised of Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Dave Holland and Roy Hanes. The same year, Burton recorded Astor Piazzolla, A Tango Excursion, which consisted of a dozen of the Argentine master's compositions.
New Projects for a New Millenium
For Hamp, Red, Bags, and Cal (2001), Burton paid homage to legendary vibraphone pioneers Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo, Milt "Bags" Jackson and Cal Tjader. Another close and fecund collaboration with Makoto Ozone, Virtuosi (2002) was a classical endeavour dedicated to the music of Brahms, Ravel, Barber, etc. The pair came to the Festival the following year to present it.
After retiring from Berklee in 2003, Burton put together a band of young lions (including guitar wunderkind Julian Lage) and took them on the road. They would also record two studio efforts: Generations (2003) and Next Generation (2004).
In 2009, the vibist payed a visit to the Festival with the Gary Burton Quartet Revisited. Rounded up by Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow and drummer Antonio Sanchez, this outfit had recently put out the Quartet Live album. The same year, Burton and old friend Chick Corea released the double live LP The New Crystal Silence.
The New Gary Burton Quartet set sail in 2010, with Julian Lage, Antonio Sanchez and bassist Scott Colley on board. The same year, Burton's Alma Mater, Boston's Berklee School of Music, held a star-studded concert to mark the 50th anniversary of the vibist entering the famed institution. Berklee graduates John Scofield, Mick Goodrick, Donny McAslin, Makoto Ozone and Tiger Okoshi are some of the musicians who played in honor of their friend/teacher/mentor.