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Fri, 07.31.1931

Kenny Burrell, Guitarist born

Kenny Burrell

*Kenny Burrell was born on this date in 1931.  He is a Black jazz guitarist known for his work on the Blue Note label.  

Kenneth Earl Burrell was born in Detroit, Michigan. Both his parents played instruments, and he began playing guitar at 12 after listening to Charlie Christian's recordings. During World War II, due to a metal shortage, he abandoned becoming a saxophonist and bought an acoustic guitar for $10. After listening to Oscar Moore, he was inspired to play jazz, but Django Reinhardt showed him "that you could get your own individuality on an instrument."  He studied 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 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. He 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 a leader for Blue Note. He and Flanagan were sought-after as sidemen and studio musicians, performing with singers Tony Bennett and Lena Horne and recording with Billie HolidayJimmy SmithGene 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. 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 guitar player." Burrell has recorded several tributes to and interpretations of Ellington's works. Since 1996, Burrell has served as Director of Jazz Studies at UCLA, mentoring Gretchen Parlato and Kamasi Washington. 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. Burrell was a Grammy Salute to Jazz Honoree in 2010.

The Grammy website states, between "...1956 and 2006, Mr. Burrell has excelled as a leader, co-leader and sideman releasing recordings with stellar musicians in the world of jazz." His collaborations with Jimmy Smith produced the 1965 Billboard Top Twenty hit album Organ Grinder Swing.  Along with Christian Reinhardt, Burrell cites blues guitarists T-Bone Walker and Muddy Waters as influences.  Also, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan have cited Burrell as an influence.  

In 2019, concerns arose about Burrell's well-being and living circumstances as he became increasingly socially and physically isolated in his home. Major frictions developed between his wife, Katherine Goodrich, 37 years his junior, and others living in their Westwood, California, apartment building. A GoFundMe account was set up to pay medical bills and other putative expenses, which became controversial because he was covered by medical insurance through employment at UCLA and Medicare.  Then, a letter from Burrell was published, providing a detailed explanation of the situation and justification for the GoFundMe campaign.  

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Sitting here alone, in peace With my private sadness Bared of the acquirements Of the mind’s eye Vision reversed, upended, Seeing only the holdings Inside the walls of me, Feeling the roots that bind me, To this... PRIVATE SADNESS by Bob Kaufman.
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