Gary Burton Performs 50-Year Retrospective, April 8

Burton celebrates 50 years of music where it all started—at Berklee.
March 18, 2010

Six-time Grammy-winning jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton, long associated with Berklee as a student, professor, and administrator, will celebrate an illustrious career and mark his 50-year connection with the college in a retrospective of his entire body of work on Thursday, April 8, 8:15 p.m., at the Berklee Performance Center, 136 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston. In Gary Burton's Arrival: Celebrating 50 Years, the grand finale to the 2009–2010 Music Series at Berklee, he will be joined by musical compatriots like Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Steve Swallow, Julian Lage, and many more. Tickets are $25–35 (reserved seating), available at the Berklee Performance Center box office and at Ticketmaster, 617 931-2000. For concert information, call 617 747-2261 or visit

This career-retrospective performance, the first Burton has given, will provide a Berklee-centric overview of his stellar career. Musicians who have been members of Burton's various bands over five decades will join him on stage, including Harry Blazer, Mick Goodrick, Abe Laboriel, Joe Lovano, Donny McCaslin, Jim Odgren, Tiger Okoshi, Makoto Ozone, Antonio Sanchez, John Scofield, and Steve Swallow. The program includes Burton's original tunes as well as his famous arrangements of work by Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Carla Bley, Swallow, Scofield, Mike Gibbs, and Ozone. The show will also feature Burton's most recent ensemble of young, Berklee-trained wizards, his Next Generation Band: Luques Curtis, Julian Lage, Vadim Neselovskyi, and James Williams.

Gary Burton is known as an innovator in jazz and on the vibraphone—famous for the four-mallet technique—and as a major force in music education. Born in Indiana in 1943, he attended Berklee from 1960–62, studying with Herb Pomeroy. He left Berklee to join George Shearing and subsequently Stan Getz, with whom he worked from 1964–66. As a member of Getz's quartet, Burton won Down Beat magazine's Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition award in 1965. By the time he left Getz to form his own quartet in 1967, Burton had also recorded three albums of his own for RCA. Borrowing rhythms and sonorities from rock music, while maintaining jazz's improvisation and harmonic complexity, Burton's first quartet attracted large audiences from both sides of the jazz-rock spectrum. Such albums as Duster and Lofty Fake Anagram established Burton and his band as progenitors of the jazz fusion phenomenon. In 1968, Burton received Down Beat's Jazz Musician of the Year award, still the youngest musician ever to be so recognized.  

In the '70s, Burton began to focus on more intimate contexts for his music. His 1971 album Alone at Last, a solo vibraphone concert recorded at the 1971 Montreux Jazz Festival, won him his first Grammy. Burton also turned to the rarely heard duo format, recording with bassist Steve Swallow, guitarist Ralph Towner, and most notably pianist Chick Corea, thus cementing a long relationship that has garnered four Grammys for their duet recordings. During its storied association with the ECM label (1973–1988), the Burton Quartet expanded to include the young Pat Metheny on guitar. Metheny was just one of the many Burton acolytes who have joined his band to travel the world and learn, just as Burton had learned from the masters Shearingand Getz.

Burton began his parallel career at Berklee as a teacher of percussion and improvisation in 1971. In 1985, he was named dean of curriculum. In 1989, he received an honorary doctorate of music, and in 1996, he was appointed the college's first executive vice president. In 2004, after 33 years working at Berklee, he retired from the college to perform and record full-time, and left Boston to build a home in Florida.

According to frequent collaborator Steve Swallow, "Gary Burton is today, after 50 years in the public eye, at the top of his game, playing with ferocious intensity and intelligence; he's maintained a keen interest in finding new answers to old questions. He's playing like a kid, but he's bringing to the bandstand a formidable accumulation of knowledge. Nice combination, I'd say."