Gary Burton: More Than Enough

By 
Roger H. Brown
April 8, 2010
Gary Burton '62 performs at his April 8 celebration concert.
Fellow performers and former Berklee colleagues congratulate Burton on his 50 years of achievements.
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

Many of us just celebrated Easter or Passover. I have been fortunate to have been invited to several Passover seders over the years. An important part of the seder is the retelling of the Exodus: the liberation of the Jews from Egypt. The narrator of the reflection cites God's many gifts to the Hebrew people: If God had simply parted the Red Sea for us and not given us the Torah, "dayenu," a Hebrew word that can be translated as "that would have been enough," or "for that we would have been grateful." Had God simply given us Torah but not brought us to the land of Israel, dayenu—for that we would have been grateful. And so forth.

It occurred to me that one way to fully capture Gary's achievements would be to use this form to express our gratitude and admiration of Gary—not to imply that Gary has divine powers, though some students of the vibraphone would insist he does. So bear with me. Here goes:

Had Gary simply come to Berklee as a young prodigy from small-town Indiana and inspired his classmates—dayenu—that would have been enough.

Had Gary merely been a talented sideman to Stan Getz, Hank Garland, or George Shearing—dayenu—that would have been enough.

Had he only founded his first quartet with Larry Coryell, Roy Haynes, and Steve Swallow—dayenu—that would have been enough.

Had his only recognition been to be named as Down Beat musician of the year in 1968, its youngest recipient ever—dayenu—that would have been enough.

Had he merely joined the Berklee faculty, served as dean of curriculum and then EVP, creating an endowed chair for Joe Lovano and the Herb Alpert Artist in Residence program—dayenu—that would have been enough.

Had he only launched our Music Therapy and Music Business departments, and found room for new music and ideas like rock 'n' roll and r&b and music technology in the Berklee curriculum—dayenu—that would have been enough.

Or had he only won six Grammys and been nominated for 15—dayenu—that would have been enough.

Had he only joined the ranks of musicians who reinvented their instruments through pioneering technique—such as Chick Webb, Louis Armstrong, and Earl Scruggs—by perfecting his four-mallet approach to the vibraphone—dayenu—that would have been enough.

Had he done nothing other than nurture young musicians like all of these on tonight's program and many, many others, such as Kirill Gerstein who just won the Gilmore Prize for classical piano, or Kurt Rosenwinkel, or Lionel Loueke, or Pat Metheny—dayenu—that would have been enough.

But the fact of the matter is, Gary did all these incredible things for Berklee, and for the music world. He is revered as one of the great improvisers of his generation, he has written standards still performed by young students of jazz, and has taught countless clinics and workshops. It is no exaggeration to say that without Gary, Berklee would never have become the amazing place it is today.

Gary, we are grateful beyond words. You have enriched our lives and this college in unfathomable ways. For that we are, indeed, most grateful.