Kenny Burrell Bio
Distinguished Professor, Director of Jazz Studies
Jazz performance, improvisation, composition, jazz history, Fusion Jazz Ensemble, jazz combos
Honorary Doctorate, William Paterson College, B.M., Wayne State University
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. He is a professor in the Departments of Music and Ethnomusicology at UCLA.