Photos By: Mann Jan. 26, 2010
GRAMMY Salute to Jazz: Honoree Kenny Burrell
By: Art Jackson
Honoree: Kenny Burrell
GRAMMY Jazz Ensembles
GRAMMY President/CEO Neil Partnow
A young Neil Partnow
To kick-off the 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards week, jazz guitarist virtuoso Kenny Burrell was honored at the beautiful GRAMMY Museum in downtown Los Angeles by the academy as the first of a week long celebration before the live broadcast from STAPLES Center.
The evening was dedicated as a tribute to jazz, one of the great American musical forms. The President's Merit Award was presented to prominent jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell for his outstanding achievement and contributions to the jazz genre and the music community.
Being a bit under the weather, Kenny provided some levity as he sat down to do a candid interview in his dressing room before his performance where he promised to try and not get his handkerchief in the picture. Also in the dressing room were GRAMMY nominated jazz artists guitarist Anthony Wilson and flautist Hubert Laws, who provided background music as he warmed up on his flute, giving the room a very mellow ambience.
Having been in the industry for over six decades, the guitar was not Kenny’s first instrument of choice. Both his older brother and his mother played the piano and he gravitated toward it also, and with sheet music available to him, his emphasis was not on jazz but more on learning how to improvise and just play music. He learned by doing a lot of ear training, a lot of rule of thumb and watching others play.
I always felt that there was no such thing as making it as a jazz performer. A jazz musician has to work hard and practice in order to maintain skills and master an instrument. Jazz mastery comes from being technically good as well as being able to articulate what you hear and feel. You have to be able to express your ideas, with emphasis on them being YOUR ideas. As musicians, we play a lot of different things and songs. You tend to play like this or that person or maybe even your influences. For me, it was Charlie Parker, which I’m sure you can hear in my music. But in the 1950’s when I was in my early 20’s, I began to play the music that I was feeling inside and it became my voice, my sound. I was able to express who I was and it was the beginning of me finally feeling like I could make it as a jazz musician.
Now a professor at California State University – Los Angeles, Kenny teaches jazz improvisation of Duke Ellington. He sees there has been one constant throughout the years for jazz musicians. The big problem for jazz musicians has always been to make a great living and that hasn’t changed. “It wasn’t great then and it’s not great now. The nature of the business has not evolved to keep pace with the great strides that has happen in the music industry.”
The tribute was hosted by KJAZZ radio personalities and close friends of Kenny, Tommy Hawkins and Bubba Jackson and they were joined by the GRAMMY Jazz Ensembles — a group of 28 talented high school musicians selected from across the country
The GRAMMY Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow, gave the honoree a warm introduction as he relived fond memories of his youth, reflecting upon his own budding attempts to be a guitar player trying to emulate Kenny’s music.
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