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GRAMMY?s Salute to Jazz: Honor Legendary Guitarist Kenny Burrell

March 2nd, 2010 · 12 Comments

Kenny Burrell's Grammy Night

Kenny Burrell's Grammy Night

On a cool, damp, wintery evening in Los Angeles, the Recording Academy, in recognition of the industry?s most extraordinary artists, commenced its countdown to music?s preeminent celebration. Tuesday January 26th was the first official evening of a week-long series of festivities culminating up to the 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards.

The evening was hosted at the GRAMMY Museum @ L.A. Live in a newly constructed two-hundred seat state-of the-art sound stage. The intimate room filled to capacity and ignited with anticipation and inspiration provided for a warm and cozy ambiance.

On this special night the Recording Academy?s GRAMMY Salute to Jazz paid tribute and homage to legendary jazz guitarist and HASOM professor, Kenny Burrell – in recognition of his profound imprint on music in general and jazz in particular. Check out Dec. 14th press release at this GRAMMY website.

As the honoree entered the packed house of fellow musicians, UCLA faculty cohorts, and adoring well wishers, the crowd rose in applause; appreciative of his vast body of work and tireless dedication to educating others about the historical significance of America?s original art form – jazz.

This was Kenny?s night – an evening for fans, friends, and family to pay tribute to an artist who has recorded over one hundred albums under his name and in excess of three hundred in collaborative efforts with some of music?s most recognizable names ? from Dizzy Gillespie and Mile Davis to Tony Bennett and Billy Holiday. In addition to his extensive performing, recording schedule, Kenny Burrell is the founder and director of the jazz studies program at UCLA, where he created and implemented the first regularly scheduled college course, ?Ellingtonia?, which focuses on the music and life of Duke Ellington.

Neil Portnow honors Burrell

Neil Portnow honors Burrell

Musical entertainment was provided in part by the 2010 GRAMMY Jazz Ensemble which was conducted by Ron McCurdy (Professor of jazz studies, USC Thornton School of Music) and Justin DiCioccio (Assistant Dean of jazz studies, Manhattan School of Music). The young talented and enthusiastic ensemble of specially selected high school students were the fortunate finalist of a nationwide search for outstanding singers and instrumentalist. Beaming with pride and wonderment, their excitement could hardly be contained, on their facial expressions or in their spirited performances – as they played on stage with the legendary jazz master.

The evening co-hosts were none other than KJAZZ, (radio personalities Bubby Jackson and Tommy Hawkins, who entertained the audience with amusing anecdotes of Kenny?s historical career, and contribution to jazz.

The musical performances began with a lively tune, ?So Cool?, performed by the student GRAMMY Jazz Ensemble, an appropriately entitled number which the honoree personified. An invigorating display of skillful improvisational jazz riffs by guitarist Anthony Wilson followed, with a fresh rendition of ?Kenny?s Sound?, a Burrell composition.

Finally, the moment arrived for Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow to make his official remarks as to the reason for the evening. Mr. Portnow proclaimed that the Recording Academy presented the President?s Merit Award to this year?s honoree ?because he changed the role of his instrument in music?his sound became the sound that influenced so many other musicians?he has recorded over a hundred solo albums and countless joint efforts?he was ?known as Duke Ellington?s favorite guitarist?. Furthermore, Mr. Portnow continued, ?Kenny Burrell pioneered the jazz trio with lead guitar, one of the earliest practitioners of solo jazz guitar. On a side note, Neil mentioned that Kenny had also inspired him (Mr. Portnow), who was himself an amateur jazz guitarist. ?On behalf of the Recording Academy?s Salute to Jazz it is my honor?, continued Mr. Portnow, ?to present Kenny Burrell with this year?s President?s Merit Award in recognition of his stellar career, and his contribution to jazz and American culture?.

In his acceptance of this year?s award the affable Kenny Burrell, stated that he was, ?deeply honored to accept this award?it is another validation of the words of my mother??do good work and the rewards will come??receiving this award reaffirms that I do?and my music has connected to people in a positive way?…my deepest thanks to the Recording Academy?. Always the educator, Kenny than addressed the student GRAMMY Jazz Ensemble, ?congratulations to the young musicians on this stage for their hard work and dedication in reaching this point and preparing for this program…you give us all hope in the future of jazz. You all have something deep inside that is original and unique and I hope events such as this will help you in your efforts in pulling it out…I wish you luck, thank you?.

A performance of Kenny Burrell?s ?The Peace Maker?, followed, a composition which is part of larger body of work, Kenny?s Ralph Bunche Suite; dedicated to the Nobel Peace-Prize recipient. The passionate and virtuosic solo by flutist Hubert Laws, together with the tasteful and masterful guitar of Kenny Burrell was a showcase of seasoned musicianship.

The next piece was the Kenny Burrell composition, ?Dear Ella?, the title tune for the 1997 GRAMMY-winning album by Dee Dee Bridgewater, a spirited heartfelt performance by Jazz Ensemble singers of a jazzed up arrangement by HASOM professor Michele Weir. The evening of musical tribute concluded with an upbeat composition by Duke Ellington, ?It Don?t Mean a Thing (If it Ain?t Got That Swing)?, in celebratory performance that enlivened the crowd and bridged generations. Tonight, all was well with the state of jazz, as Kenny smiled approvingly.

Joseph Buchanan is a long-time Kenny Burrell enthusiast. Read his blog, Ethnomu188, here.

Tags: Students

12 responses so far ↓

  • GuitarsMatrix // May 6, 2010 at 1:56 am

    “do good work and the rewards will come” well thanks Kenny for your good work.
    love your sound and your fingers moving on this piece of wood!
    Chris

  • JasonGypsyJazzBlog // Jul 25, 2010 at 4:08 am

    Congratulations Kenny! Love from Amsterdam!

  • dennisstgermain // Jul 27, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    I had the honor of hearing Kenny play in my hometown at that time I was just getting into jazz guitar. When I heard Kenny play solo guitar it changed the way I see jazz guitar playing and how he was able to create a whole arrangement on just guitar. From that day on i changed my style to fingerstyle jazz and never looked back. Thank you Kenny for the great music and the great lesson.

  • jamesandrews // Jul 31, 2010 at 4:00 am

    The lessons I’ve learnt form seeing and hearing Kenny play over the years have also changed my approach to putting together arrangements on my guitar.

    What a legend. Congratulations are well deserved

  • The Acoustic Guitar Strumming Guy // Aug 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    While I am not a Jazz player, there is no denying the influence Kenny has had on players of all styles. Even someone like me, who focuses on mostly easy guitar songs to learn, can appreciate genius when we hear it. He is truly a pioneer and this is well deserved.

  • SirGuitarith // Apr 7, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Mr. Burrell is a fantastic jazz player. Congratulations to him. He definitely deserves it.

  • quicktelugu123 // Apr 8, 2011 at 7:52 am

    Superb Jazz Player. I heard some his Music. I loved it .

  • michelleporter444 // May 29, 2011 at 6:00 am

    I actually met Kenny once and he’s nice! Kenny is truly gifted and when he plays he’s simply GREAT.

  • AdrenFilmPro // Jun 1, 2011 at 8:21 am

    My grandfather gave me a bunch of Kenny’s albums. He has made a significant impact on music especially with all the time spent on studio production. I’m a drummer and love playing along with the recordings.

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