Home > Kenny Burrell, 1999

Kenny Burrell, our 1999 Tribute Honoree, is all of the above and more. Respected and admired by his peers, he is equally loved by his fans that have learned to appreciate the beautiful harmonic creativity, the lush instrumental tones and lyricism of this master guitarist. B.B. King states, “Kenny Burrell is, overall, the greatest guitarist in the world today.” George Benson says, “There is no finer jazz guitarist than Kenny Burrell.” Going further back, Duke Ellington called him, “My favorite guitar player.” Beyond the beauty of his playing, Kenny is a respected composer. One of his commissioned works was premiered at New York’s Lincoln Center in 1994, featuring the famous Boys Choir of Harlem. A recording of this project, ‘Love Is The Answer’, was released in 1998.

Born on July 31, 1931, to a musical family in Detroit, Kenny’s natural talent propelled him into the circle of up-and-coming Detroit jazz musicians destined for greatness. Colleagues included Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers, Yusef Lateef, Frank Foster and the Jones brothers, Hank, Thad and Elvin. Augmenting street schooling with formal studies, Kenny attended Wayne State University, graduating with a BA in Music Composition and Theory in 1955. Note: Thanks to brother Billy, who helped to purchase Kenny’s first guitar when he was thirteen.

While in college, Kenny made his first major recording with Dizzy Gillespie in 1951. The combo included John Coltrane, Milt Jackson and Percy Heath. After graduating, he did a six-month tour with the Oscar Peterson Trio then moved to New York. Here Kenny’s versatile talents kept him busy playing everything from Broadway pit bands, pop and R & B studio sessions to jazz venues and recordings with artists such as Billie Holiday, Kenny Dorham, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins and Jimmy Smith.

Over the years Kenny has maintained a rigorous touring and recording schedule. As leader, he has recorded over ninety albums and been a featured guitarist on over two hundred jazz recordings, not to mention the numerous pop sessions.

Working with many major artists through the years such as Charlie Parker, Tony Bennett, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington plus the aforementioned, Burrell has helped to shape the direction of jazz.

He is recognized as a foremost authority on the music of Duke, originating a course, “ELLINGTONIA’, which he has taught at UCLA since 1978. This is the first and only continual college course offered on Duke Ellington in the world. Kenny has also made significant contributions to the Ellington Archive at the Smithsonian Institute.

In 1996, our legendary hero was asked to create a jazz education program for UCLA and was ultimately appointed Director of Jazz Studies Program. Burrell has developed this comprehensive program employing such notable faculty members as George Bohanon, Billy Childs, Gary Foster, Billy Higgins, Harold Land, Roberto Miranda, Tom Ranier, Gerald Wilson and many more.

With steadfast popularity, Kenny has been listed among the top guitarists in the Down Beat Critics Poll for thirty years and was recently ranked ‘Number One Jazz Guitarist’ in the Jazz Times International Readers Poll. In 1997 KLON-FM listeners placed Kenny in KLON Hall of Fame as a top vote getter. He holds an Honorary Doctorate from William Paterson College, New Jersey, is co-founder and president-emeritus of the Jazz Heritage Foundation and has written two acclaimed books, ‘Jazz Guitar’ and ‘Jazz Guitar Solos’. From the streets of Detroit to world-renowned guitarist and prestigious Director of UCLA Jazz Studies, our 1999 TRIBUTE HONOREE epitomizes the American dream. We joyfully celebrate his talents, vitality, artistic integrity and the dignity KENNY BURRELL brings to the jazz community.