Kenny Burrell - Man At Work

Kenny Burrell, a man at work for more than 60 years performing, recording, lecturing and training new generations of jazz artists, shows no signs of reducing his active schedule.
Kenny Burrell, Blue Muse, 2000
Kenny Burrell, Blue Muse, 2000
Feb. 26, 2011 - PRLog -- Kenny Burrell, Grammy Award-winning jazz guitarist, composer, educator, National Endowment Jazz Master and State Department Cultural Ambassador, started the year with concerts, lectures, performances and teaching. For an artist recorded on some 300 releases as either leader or sideman, Burrell, approaching 80 this year, maintains his active calendar.

The former State Department Cultural Ambassador, is teaming up with John Hasse, leading jazz historian from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, for a series of lectures and exhibitions to address jazz as a diplomatic tool to communicate to the world the importance of the art form as a ‘cherished aspect of American society and culture.’ The presentation is: 'Fowler Outspoken: Kenny Burrell and John Hasse on Jazz Diplomacy' at the UCLA Fowler Museum from March 20 through August 14, 2011.

Since World War II (WWII), the U.S. State Department has solicited performing artists to be cultural diplomats and ambassadors to represent the United States to worldwide audiences through musical performances around the globe. Kenny Burrell is among other cultural dignitaries, including Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck and Clark Terry.

In the mid-1950s, the State Department continued the cultural ambassadors program through the Jazz Ambassadors of the Cold War, again sending the finest American jazz musicians to Africa, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Soviet Union, Asia, Latin America and South America to perform on international stages and create goodwill through cultural sharing, while the two superpowers--the United States and the Soviet Union--threatened each other with nuclear weapons, leading to a forty-year period known as the Cold War.

Cultural ambassador goodwill was useful for more than foreign audiences, however. Cold War and Red Scare coincided with the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. Because many cultural dignitaries were black or employed black sidemen in their bands, the program was of benefit at home, where race relations were strained. Red Scare and Anti-Communist supporters suspected Russians of infiltrating African American organizations like the NAACP and luring members to the Communist Party.

During the Red Scare and Cold War, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) probed personal lives, political affiliations and careers to determine loyalty to America. Careers of black and white citizens were destroyed in the arts, education, literature, journalism, politics, film and broadcast when they were called before HUAC to testify. Later, many were  blackballed from their industries or convicted of disloyalty to their country.

In the midst of national and international chaos in 1955, Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott by refusing to give up her seat to a white man. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted for more than a year, causing near collapse of the Montgomery bus system, and launched the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, which eventually led to the end of segregation in the United States.

Kenny Burrell, UCLA professor and Director of Jazz Studies, teaches jazz history, a period that includes corresponding U.S. social history. In 1978, he created a course on Duke Ellington’s music, Ellingtonia, the first university course on Duke Ellington in the U.S. Burrell recorded a tribute, 'Ellington Is Forever,' in 1975, a year after Ellington’s death in 1974. Ellington’s favorite guitarist, although he never played with him, Burrell played banjo on 'Hot and Bothered' by Ellington’s son, Mercer, in 1984. Burrell also teaches jazz performance, improvisation, composition, contemporary jazz ensemble, jazz combos and ethnomusicology.

Founder of the Jazz Heritage Foundation and Friends of Jazz at UCLA, Burrell is DownBeat Magazine 2004 Jazz Educator of the Year and included in the African American National Biography (AANB) by Harvard and Oxford in 2008. AANB contributor to Rhythm & Blues and Jazz, Sunny Nash used her knowledge of music, performing experience, journalism education and understanding of the history of race relations in America to write biographies of jazz guitarist, Kenny Burrell; jazz trumpeter and flugelhorn player, Clark Terry; and pioneer R&B singer-songwriter, Ben E. King.

The African American National Biography with more than 4,000 historical biographies covering 500 years, dating back to the arrival of Esteban, the first recorded African explorer to set foot in North America, is a collaborative project between the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, the Oxford University African American Studies Center and the Oxford University Press edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham.

"I tried to place the lives of those I covered into historical context." Nash said. "Using music as a tool to study history reveals that musicians are responding to events that occur in their lives and producing sounds to tell their stories. Similarly, music has the capacity to change the way listeners feel and behave. I was introduced to Kenny Burrell's music by my mother, who loved quiet jazz. She said it calmed her nerves and hoped it would do the same for me. It did."

Bill Evans & Kenny Burrell Perform "A Child Is Born" at the 1978 Montreux Jazz Festival,

“Just to give you an idea about the era in which Kenny Burrell was born and raised and the music that came from that life,” Nash said, “The Great Depression gripped the nation, causing families all over the world, including the Burrell family, to suffer after global financial systems collapsed. The year of his birth, 1931, the High Plains region of the United States was plunged into darkness by black dust, deepening the Depression’s effects on families sinking lower and lower into poverty, all of which changed the world forever and affected the type of music being produced."

According to Harvard University, Gates and Higginbotham hope that the eight-volume African American National Biography will be used by scholars and historians, but also hope the collection will have a place in schools, libraries and homes of American families. “What better way to understand the richness, complexity and depth of African American history than through biography, because people’s lives are so complex,” said Higginbotham.

From Nash's Burrell biography: Youngest of three sons, Kenny Burrell was born Kenneth Earl Burrell in Detroit, Michigan, on July 31, 1931, into a poor family that enjoyed music as part of daily life. Burrell’s mother played piano and sang in the choir at Second Baptist Church, Detroit's oldest black congregation, organized in 1836 and part of the Underground Railroad, an invisible route ushering slaves to freedom before Emancipation. A piano in the home became the first instrument Burrell played as a child, performing once before an audience in his school’s auditorium. Listening to Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, Burrell’s first love was saxophone, but his family could not afford the instrument, particularly expensive due to the great demand for metal to manufacture military equipment and ammunition during WW II.

“In 1966, when Kenny Burrell's album, 'Man At Work,' came out," Nash said. "I was 16 and over all the noise outside in the world—race riots, American cities on fire, rise of Black Power, Vietnam War, hippies, Twiggy, mini skirts, the pill, hard rock--I heard sounds of Kenny Burrell’s fingers gliding gently over the guitar strings and striking sweet little chords among subtle harmonies fading slowly and disappearing into emerging and surprising resonance, and at the same time, emitting that hypnotic sound of skin on wood.”

More on Kenny Burrell and his music:

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Sunny Nash--author of Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, chosen by the Association of American University Presses as essential for understanding race relations in the United States, listed in the Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg Center in New York and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida--has work in the African American National Biography by Harvard and Oxford; African American West; Reflections in Black, History of Black Photography 1840 - Present; Ancestry; Companion to Southern Literature; Black Genesis; African American Foodways; Southwestern American Literature; The Source: guidebook to American genealogy; Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics; Ebony; Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places. For a look at Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's by Sunny Nash:

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