Kenny Burrell
Distinguished Professor, Ethnomusicology Global Jazz Studies

Jazz performance and history

Kenny Burrell is one of the most respected jazz artists in the world. He has been active from 1956 to the present as a guitarist and composer in a variety of musical contexts including solo, small combo, large ensemble and symphony orchestra. He is a producer and recording artist whose extensive discography includes the critically acclaimed Guitar Forms; Ellington is Forever; and Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane. He has recorded 97 albums under his own name and several hundred with other artists. He has performed and recorded with many of the most influential musicians in jazz history including Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Tony Bennett, Billy Holiday, Quincy Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Smith, Art Blakey, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, and Louis Armstrong.

Burrell, recipient of many awards, was named a 2005 Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a title awarded annually to a handful of living figures in recognition of their exceptional contributions to the field of jazz. He also received a 2004 Jazz Educator of the Year award from DownBeat Magazine for academic achievement and excellence in jazz education. He is a recognized authority on the music of Duke Ellington and in 1978 developed the first regular college course on Ellington ever taught in the United States, at UCLA. In 1996, he was appointed director of the then new Jazz Studies Program, where he has brought to the faculty such jazz notables as George Bohanon, Billy Childs, Billy Higgins, Harold Land, Bobby Rodriguez, Anthony Wilson, and Barbara Morrison.

Born and raised in Detroit, Burrell found musical colleagues at an early age among jazz greats such as Paul Chambers, Tommy Flanagan, Frank Foster, Yusef Lateef, Betty Carter, and the brothers Hank, Thad, and Elvin Jones. While still a student at Wayne State University, he made his first major recording with Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Percy Heath and Milt Jackson.

Known for his harmonic creativity, lush tones and lyricism on the guitar, Burrell is also a prolific and highly regarded composer. His compositions have been recorded by many artists, including his “Dear Ella,” performed by Dee Dee Bridgewater, which won a 1988 Grammy Award. He has received several commissions, including one which resulted in a world premiere at New York’s Lincoln Center with the famous Boy’s Choir of Harlem. His latest extended musical work, the “Ralph J. Bunche Suite,” premiered at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall in June, 2004. The piece, commissioned by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, is dedicated to the memory and legacy of that great humanitarian.

The founder of the Jazz Heritage Foundation and the Friends of Jazz at UCLA, Burrell is recognized as an international ambassador for jazz and its promotion as an art form.

Jazz performance, improvisation, composition, jazz history

Honorary Doctorate, William Paterson College, B.M., Wayne State University

Benefit concert to honor UCLA jazz legend Kenny Burrell for his 85th birthday
The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music with Friends of Jazz at UCLA will stage a benefit concert to honor Kenny Burrell, distinguished professor and director of jazz studies at
Professor Kenny Burrell Receives Los Angeles Jazz Society's 7th Annual L.A. Jazz Treasure Award.
On September 4th, 2015, UCLA’s own jazz legend Kenny Burrell received the Los Angeles Jazz Society’s 7th Annual L.A. Jazz Treasure Award. In the audience, and playing, were other UCLA
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Jazz supporters help endow UCLA faculty chair honoring guitar great Kenny Burrell
Kenny Burrell
The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music has received $1.2 million to establish the Kenny Burrell Chair in Jazz Studies. The Herb Alpert Foundation provided the lead gift of $500,000, which was matched by funds from the UCLA chancellor’s office. An additional $200,000 came from more than 150 donors, including members of the Friends of Jazz at UCLA, which was established in 2003. The new endowed chair, which is expected to be filled by fall 2019, will help attract a senior faculty member who will add teaching power to UCLA’s new global jazz studies bachelor’s degree program. “This endowed chair rightly honors Kenny’s legacy as a distinguished teacher and a legend of jazz,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “It also demonstrates our commitment to music education and American culture, further advancing UCLA’s role as a leader in the arts.” Judith Smith, dean of the music school, initiated the effort to establish the chair in celebration of Burrell’s 85th birthday and his 20 years (from 1996 to 2016) as director of the UCLA Jazz Studies program. The foundation’s lead gift was announced at a tribute concert on Dec. 3, 2016, and friends and fans of the legendary jazz guitarist and composer were inspired to make contributions to support the effort. “Creating this chair is a crucial step forward for jazz studies in the Herb Alpert School of Music,” Smith said. “It will continue Kenny’s tireless advocacy work for jazz as an American art form and ensure the highest caliber of jazz instruction and exploration at UCLA for generations to come.” Burrell joined the UCLA faculty in 1978 to create and teach a course dedicated to the music and legacy of Duke Ellington. In 1996 he was named the founding director of the UCLA Jazz Studies program, and in 2004, he created the Kenny Burrell Archive of African American Music at the UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. Burrell made his first professional recording in 1951 as part of a combo with Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Milt Jackson and Percy Heath. Burrell, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, has released more than 100 records and performed and recorded with many of the great jazz musicians — among them, Billie Holiday, Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Ray Charles, Art Blakey and Louis Armstrong. A prolific composer, Burrell wrote “Dear Ella,” the title song on the 1997 Grammy-winning album by Dee Dee Bridgewater. In 2010, the Recording Academy paid tribute to Burrell, naming him that year’s Salute to Jazz honoree. It is to Burrell’s credit — and a measure of his devotion to jazz — that the school of music has a world-class jazz studies program that continues to expand and grow. “When I was in college, I was disturbed by the fact that jazz was not getting legitimate attention like other forms of music,” Burrell recalled in a 2011 interview. “I made a pledge to myself that if I ever had the chance, I would try to do something to help solve that problem.” The funds raised for the chair are part of the UCLA Centennial Campaign, which is scheduled to conclude in December 2019 during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year. This news release was originally posted on UCLA Newsroom.
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