He began playing guitar at the age of 12, frequenting the jazz clubs of his native Detroit while still in high school. By the time he was seventeen he was already an appreciated jazz artist in his hometown and after his graduation from university in 1955 he moved to New York City in 1956 and recorded with Billie Holiday for the album that became ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ on Clef and later on Verve. A few months later he recorded again with Lady Day in ‘Her Orchestra’ that included Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins and Chico Hamilton at Carnegie Hall. In the same year he recorded his debut as a leader, Introducing Kenny Burrell, for Blue Note Records. Over the next couple of years he was prodigious for both Blue Note and Prestige, including a great album with John Coltrane.
His sessions were so numerous that just by concentrating on those for Verve artists he recorded with Illinois Jacquet in 1958, the following year with Blossom Dearie and in 1961 with Gary McFarland. It was in 1963 that Burrell got seriously busy with Verve sessions recording with Claus Ogerman and the Wynton Kelly Quartet, Johnny Hodges, Kai Winding and then with Jimmy Smith as part of his orchestra before a July session where he received co-billing with the organist on the album that was called Blue Bash. He even had a minor hit on the Billboard chart with ‘What’d I Say’. Before the year was out there were sessions as part of the Gil Evans Orchestra and with Stan Getz.
1964 was equally as busy with sessions for many of the same people as the previous year and it culminated in his own album, Guitar Forms backed by the Gil Evans Orchestra. Among his 1965 sessions were several for the Jimmy Smith album, Organ Grinder Swing and others for Astrud Gilberto. In 1966 he began work on the album that became A Generation Ago Today which he finished in 1967, the year he recorded, Blues -The Common Ground. He recorded Night Song in 1968 before he cut the wonderful Asphalt Canyon Sweet in 1969, which perfectly illustrates just how good Kenny Burrell is as a guitarist.
Besides those already mentioned, he worked with Gene Ammons, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, Yusef Lateef, Sonny Rollins and Stanley Turrentine among a who’s who of late twentieth century jazz greats. Yet by the early 1970s, his interests turned more to the world of academia, yet he still continued to record and may well have worked on over two hundred albums. Kenny is the founder and director of the Jazz Studies Program at UCLA as well as President Emeritus of the Jazz Heritage Foundation.
Words: Richard Havers
Despite its title, this LP was actually guitarist Kenny Burrell's second Blue Note album, although the first to be released. Teamed with pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Kenny Clarke and the conga of Candido, Burrell displays what was already an immediately recognizable tone. At 24, Burrell had quickly emerged to become one of the top bop guitarists of the era, and he is in particularly excellent form on "This Time the Dreams on Me," "Weaver of Dreams" and "Delilah." A bonus of this set is a percussion duo by Clarke and Candido on "Rhythmorama." Enjoyable music.
Words: Scott Yanow
This album is one of guitarist Kenny Burrell's best-known sessions for the Blue Note label. Burrell is matched with tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, bassist Major Holley, drummer Bill English, and Ray Barretto on conga for a blues-oriented date highlighted by "Chitlins Con Carne," "Midnight Blue," "Saturday Night Blues," and the lone standard "Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You."
Words: Scott Yanow
This CD by guitarist Kenny Burrell begins with a solid swinger, Will Davis' "Mark 1." Unfortunately, most of the remainder of the set is ballad-oriented and features Burrell's vocals on nearly half of the selections. While Burrell's voice is not bad, it cannot carry an entire project by itself. His guitar playing is fine, but there are no moments where one feels that he is really stretching himself. There are appearances from veteran pianist Gerald Wiggins and tenor saxophonist Herman Riley that add a little bit of spark to the set, but not enough to make this so-so effort all that memorable.
Words: Scott Yanow
One of the more low-profile offerings in Blue Note's best-of introductory series, this 13-track roundup of guitarist Kenny Burrell's work for the label still provides a fine overview of the jazz veteran's long career. Covering a stretch from his 1956 label debut ("Now See How You Are") to a 1986 live session at the Village Vanguard ("Jeannine"), the disc nicely spotlights Burrell's chunky, blues-tinged playing in the company of the best hard bop players of the day. There's also an excellent sample from his pinnacle Blue Lights recordings ("Phinupi"). Perfect for Burrell newcomers.
Words: Stephen Cook
Recorded between July 10, 1963 and October 16, 1969. Includes liner notes by Kenny Burrell. Compilation producer: Michael Lang. Personnel: Kenny Burrell (guitar); Vincent Bell (guitar); Jerome Richardson (flute, piccolo, woodwinds); Raymond Beckenstein (flute, bass clarinet); George Marge, Andy Fitzgerald (flute, English horn); Bob Tricarico (flute, bassoon, tenor saxophone); Richie Kamuca (oboe, tenor saxophone); Steve Lacy (soprano saxophone); Lee Konitz, Phil Woods (alto saxophone); Louis Mucci, Ernie Royal, Jimmy Owens, Johnny Coles, Marvin Stamm, Bernie Glow, Thad Jones, Joe Shepley, Jimmy Nottingham (trumpet); Julius Watkins, Ray Alonge (French horn); Jimmy Cleveland, Jimmy Knepper, Urbie Green, Wayne Andre, Bill Watrous, Tony Studd, Paul Faulise (trombone); Billy Barber , Harvey Phillips, Don Butterfield (tuba); Herbie Hancock, Richard Wyands, Warren Bernhardt, Roger Kellaway (piano); Jimmy Smith (organ); Mike Mainieri (vibraphone); Elvin Jones, Donald McDonald, Grady Tate, Mel Lewis, Charlie Persip (drums); Willie Rodriguez (congas); Johnny Pacheco (percussion). Recording information: New York, NY (07/10/1963-10/16/1969); Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, NJ (07/10/1963-10/16/1969). Editor: Peter Pullman. Photographer: Chuck Stewart. Unknown Contributor Role: Richard Seidel. Arrangers: Don Sebesky; Gil Evans; Johnny Pate. Personnel includes: Kenny Burrell (guitar); Gil Evans (arranger, conductor); Steve Lacy (soprano saxophone); Lee Konitz, Phil Woods (alto saxophone); Thad Jones, Ernie Royal, Bernie Glow, Jimmy Owens, Snooky Young, Johnny Coles, Marvin Stamm (trumpet); Wayne Andre, Jimmy Cleveland, Urbie Green (trombone); Julius Watkins (French horn); Don Butterfield, Bill Barber (tuba); Jerome Richardson (piccolo, flute, woodwinds); Mike Mainieri (vibraphone); Richard Wyands, Herbie Hancock, Warren Bernhardt (piano); Jimmy Smith (organ); Ron Carter (bass); Grady Tate, Elvin Jones, Charli Persip, Mel Lewis (drums); Willie Rodriguez (congas). Producer: Creed Taylor.
In the early '70s, Kenny Burrell met Grover Washington, Jr. in Chicago where they jammed together at the Jazz Showcase, promising someday to get together and make a record. In 1984, well after Washington's massive commercial disco hit "Mr. Magic," the saxophonist had the inclination to do a straight-ahead jazz record, and reconnected with master guitarist Burrell to do this one-off project. Drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Ron Carter, and percussionist Ralph MacDonald joined the front men, the entire combo being CTI label refugees, to do this project for Blue Note records. This turned out to be a most satisfying session, with few -- if any -- commercial concessions. Only standards, originals, and Brazilian-tinged tunes are played, with not a hint of rote funk or fusion as these players had produced a decade prior. Togethering is a great title in that many of the melodies are practiced and well rehearsed for Burrell and Washington to play in tandem. They strike an attractive sonic pose on the modern, airy Richard Evans tune "Soulero" that goes earthy and funky, a really good song with fine solos. The quirky and intriguing title track has the principals playing alongside each other, but diving off in angular degrees à la Thelonious Monk. Carter's deep soul hues during "Asphalt Canyon Blues" with Burrell's guitar tagging along also makes for interesting, non-standardized listening. There are two Duke Ellington offerings, including Burrell's popping sounds setting off the straight-ahead "What Am I Here For?," while the regretful ballad "Day Dream" has Washington's soprano all wistful and imaginary during this inspired, spatial take. The lone tune on tenor saxophone for Washington is "A Beautiful Friendship," and he assimilates the languid, relaxed tone of his first hero, Sonny Rollins. If any purist mainstream jazz listeners ever had problems with these musicians going for a buck by putting more R&B into their music, all is forgiven with the issuance of this marvelous album, which is more of a showcase for their true colors and collective musicianship beyond their commercialized efforts. Burrell and Washington proved to be a fine pairing -- a subtle, effective jazz partnership.
Words: Michael G. Nastos
Though this ranks as one of arranger Gil Evans' minor achievements in the grand scheme of things, for Kenny Burrell it was a career-defining moment, one of his most individual, multifaceted, and emotionally affecting recordings. Whether playing straight-ahead and countrified blues on electric guitar, dipping into the bossa nova and brooding post-Sketches of Spain backgrounds on acoustic guitar, or interpreting classical music, Burrell quietly lets the world know that he can be as versatile as he is tasteful. Evans collectors should know that Evans' charts only appear on five of the selections. On three others, Burrell is featured with a swinging conga-accented combo that includes pianist Roger Kellaway, and Burrell goes solo on a transcribed excerpt from George Gershwin's "Prelude No. 2" for piano. What is special about this release is not so much the improved sound as the inclusion of a truckload of outtakes from the small-group sessions, which have the effect of doubling the length of the original album. All of them -- four takes each of the bluesy "Downstairs" and "Breadwinner" and three of "Terrace Theme" -- are worth hearing, for Burrell's invention rarely flags and what fluff there is does not upset the group's swinging rapport. The outtakes, though, are grouped by title at the end of the CD in a way that might induce fatigue; you could shuffle the order with your programming controls and get a more listenable lineup that way.
Words: Richard S. Ginell
Two of guitarist Kenny Burrell's best sessions from the 1950s were this release and its companion, All Day Long. Burrell is teamed with an impressive group of young all-stars, including trumpeter Donald Byrd, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, Jerome Richardson on flute and tenor, pianist Mal Waldron, bassist Doug Watkins, and drummer Art Taylor. In addition to the lengthy "All Night Long" and three group originals (two by Mobley and one from Waldron), the original LP program has been augmented by a medley of "Body and Soul" and "Tune Up" from the same session. Jam sessions such as this one are only as good as the solos; fortunately, all of the musicians sound quite inspired, making this an easily recommended set.
Words: Scott Yanow
This session is valuable for the majestic playing of tenor great Coleman Hawkins, who performs on half of the eight tracks. While originally released on the Prestige subsidiary Moodsville -- a label that specialized in recordings with an intimate, reflective atmosphere -- the Moodsville sound doesn't sit comfortably on Hawkins. His playing is brilliantly relaxed, but it's not mood music. Leader Kenny Burrell's playing is much more in line with the Moodsville groove. The guitarist is not amplified as much as he is on his Prestige dates from this time. In fact, he performs on a nylon-string instrument almost as much as he does on his hollow-body electric. Unlike Hawkins, Burrell's subdued contribution is made to measure for this date. Listeners expecting to hear Burrell the hard bopper won't. The key moments come during the interaction between the guitarist and tenor player, especially during their exchanges on Burrell's "Montono Blues." The rhythm section, Hawkins' working band from this period (pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Major Holley, and drummer Eddie Locke), provide impeccable, sublime support. The CD is rounded out with an up-tempo performance of the standard "I Never Knew," from a date led by pianist Gildo Mahones. This is where Burrell gets a chance to cook in his classic hard bop style, along with the fine alto player Leo Wright.
Words: Jim Todd
There have been great partnerships in history: Adam and Eve, Fred and Ginger, and the one under the spotlight here, Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell. For whenever the organist and guitarist got together something good usually happened. This is certainly true of this reissued 1963 album that the pair cut for Verve. Leaving the big band sound, which Verve were then encouraging Smith to use, this one harks back to the small group albums Smith made for Blue Note in the late 50s. Also often to be heard on those was, of course, Kenny Burrell (including Smith's finest album, Back At The Chicken Shack). The pair's use of blues and funk were ideally suited and put together made for some exhilarating jazz. The two versions here of "Fever", for example, are just the epitome of sexy cool. Now coming in lush packaging this CD shows a double act perfectly in tune with each other.
Words: Phil Brett