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Jazz Guitar Standards

Kenny was lucky to have a musical background. His father was a banjoist, his mother a pianist, and both brothers were guitarists. Many of Burrell’s friends at the Miller High School in Detroit were musicians including jazz pianist Tommy Flanagan and bassist Calvin Jackson. His music director at school was Louis Cabrara and he proved most influential in helping to form Kenny’s musical career. It is intriguing to note that other ex-pupils of Miller High School were vibraphonist Milt Jackson and saxophonists Yusef Lateef and Pepper Adams.

Kenny Burrell’s early heroes were jazz guitar players Charlie Christian and Oscar Moore. By 1948 he already was well-respected in his area for his guitar skill. He played in lots of groups in the Detroit area including a spell in 1951 with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie at the Club Juana. In 1955 he led his own group, then left to replace jazz guitar player Herb Ellis in the Oscar Peterson Trio. Burrell stuck with Peterson for only 6 months and then left Detroit to settle in New York.

After showing up in New York in 1956 Kenny Burrell was first contracted by pianist Hampton Hawes. Burrell did spend some time playing with Broadway theater orchestras (including the popular programs “Bye Bye Birdie” and “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”) but managed to keep a continuous professional career in jazz for almost eighteen years on the East Coast.

From 1952-53 Burrell studied the classical guitar with Joe Fava and now often includes this method of playing as part of his jazz concerts. He also decided to study music theory and composition and in 1955 acquired his Bachelor of Music degree from Wayne State University. In 1957 he performed with Benny Goodman’s orchestra.

Kenny Burrell’s interest in promoting the guitar is seen by his participation for a number of years with a jazz club in New York called “The Guitar”. This venture, unfortunately now closed, was the brainchild of fellow Detroit musician Fred Hayes with whom he had actually studied at Wayne University.

In 1973 Burrell moved to Los Angeles where he ended up being actively involved with studio work. At the very same time he also preserved a rigorous schedule of jazz club, concert appearances, and teaching which continues to this day. Since 1978 he has taught the History of Jazz and American Music at UCLA during the winter season term.

While Kenny Burrell’s most remarkable jazz recordings are from several decades earlier, he continues to be one of the most well-respected jazz guitar players on today’s scene. He has won lots of jazz publication readers and critics polls and continues to record regularly. It is said that Duke Ellington let it be known that Kenny Burrell was his favorite jazz guitar player!