To call vibraphonist Gary Burton '62 '89H a superstar is wildly underplaying the impact this Berklee stalwart has had on the world of music. His long career as a performer, teacher, improviser, recording artist, and mentor to generations of musicians has been entwined with Berklee since he first came to Boston to attend the college in the early '60s.
Burton has had a vibrant and busy life playing with Chick Corea '97H, Chet Atkins, Stan Getz, Quincy Jones '51 '83H, Arif Mardin B.M. '61 '85H, Pat Metheny '96H, and many more. Along the way, he has been nominated for more than a dozen Grammy Awards, winning seven. His four-mallet technique has exploded the music world, showing the capacity for the vibraphone to offer a range and depth no less versatile than that of the piano.
Born in Anderson, Indiana, in 1943, Burton was encouraged in music by his parents and, after seeing a marimba concert as a child, he began to expand from piano to the vibraphone. By high school, he had developed an interest in jazz and throughout his career, he has mixed the genre with country, pop, and other forms. One of his hallmarks has been to find and mentor other budding musicians, such as Metheny and Makoto Ozone, among others. Burton returned to Berklee in 1971 to teach and thus began a more than three-decade run as a teacher, director of curriculum, and vice president of the college. As a teacher and administrator, he added a focus on the business of music and practical ways to develop careers in music. His most recent book is Learning to Listen: The Jazz Journey of Gary Burton—An Autobiography.
In a piece for the 50th anniversary celebration of Burton at Berklee in 2010, he said: "You don’t teach talent. You teach technique, interpretation, and content." He added that when he was young, some people had advised him not to learn to read music for fear it would destroy creativity, and that some have the same attitude about going to school. "But talent is not fragile," he said. "It will survive almost anything."