A Storied Life in Jazz

Gary Burton's new autobiography shares life lessons learned on the bandstand, in the classroom, and around the world.
Gary Burton Book Cover
Gary Burton Book Cover

In his new memoir, Learning to Listen: The Jazz Journey of Gary Burton, the celebrated vibist offers an in-depth glimpse of his professional and personal life.

Burton’s peregrination began in rural Indiana where he began playing marimba in 1949 at the age of six. He added vibes to the mix a year later. He got a taste for the road by playing weekends around Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois with the Burton Family Band, comprising with his father (piano), sister (trombone), and brother (bass). Those gigs were primarily events at churches, Rotary and Lions clubs, Christmas parties, and the like. The family band ended around the time Burton heard his first jazz record, Benny Goodman’s “After You’ve Gone.” After he attended the Stan Kenton Stage Band Camp at 16, the die was cast. Then, a straight-A student entertaining thoughts of studying medicine or engineering, Burton describes knowing in his heart that he wanted to be a jazz musician and set his sights on Berklee.

In the summer of 1960 before entering Berklee, Burton spent a few months in Nashville where his talent impressed session guitarist Hank Garland with whom he performed regularly and appeared on Garland’s album Jazz Winds from a New Direction. Other sessions and gigs followed, and legendary country guitarist and RCA executive Chet Atkins convinced his label to offer Burton a record contract.

The following excerpt from the book picks up where Burton arrives at Berklee in the fall of 1960. The best was still to come for him as recording artist and as an educator. He devoted more than three decades to Berklee serving as a teacher and executive vice president.

Burton, now 71, has made 70 albums as a primary artist in collaboration with such names as Stan Getz, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Peter Erskine, Roy Haynes, Stephane Grappelli, and scores more. His output has earned him seven Grammys.Since retiring from Berklee in 2004, he has been active as a touring and recording artist.

This chapter, reminiscences from Burton’s student days, confirms that at Berklee in 1960 as today, key insights are gained both in and out of the classroom.

This excerpt was provided courtesy of Berklee Press.