Orrin Evans Remembers Dwayne Burno
6.10.70 – 12.28.13
The first time I heard Dwayne Burno was at Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus in Philadelphia. He was in his first year at Berklee and would come back home from Boston for the jam sessions. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed by his style at that time. What I was impressed by was that this dude knew every song ever written. And if he didn’t know the song, then you didn’t know that he didn’t know it!
But then I would see him on so many different projects. When I was in my last year of high school, I turned on the TV and there’s Burno with Betty Carter. That’s when I said, “That’s the dude from Ortlieb’s!” Being from Philly, that meant so much to all of us.
After I graduated high school I was going to Rutgers University and I would go check out the jam sessions at the Blue Note in New York. By that time, I was amazed by this cat’s playing, on so many levels. I first played with him in the late ’80s. I don’t think any of us got paid—we were just happy to be playing music. He scared the shit out of me, that’s the truth. When you weren’t playing the right stuff, he didn’t necessarily tell you with his mouth but he told you. You knew. And what made him scary to me was the mystery. It wasn’t that he said or did anything. It was always the mystery of what was going on in his head and what does he think about me? Some of it was also my insecurity, I’m sure.
As I got to hang with him I got to know him as a person, and I think the best thing that ever happened to him was eight years ago when he met his wife and had his son. See, I’ve been the youngest one with kids for a long time, and I remember him saying to me, “Man, I need to hang with you for a second and ask you how to do this, because you were doing it before it was in style.” He was dealing with a newborn while I was trying to get mine ready for college. And those moments were so precious to me because I saw that he was a sweetheart. I’ve known him for 20 years but I really got to know him in the last 12 or 13 years and found out that this dude was a teddy bear. His wife, Wendy, brought that out
He was on my Freedom record from 2011, and by that time he was really sick. But Burno was never sick because he always gave 100 percent. He was 100 percent all the time. I remember that record date because between tunes he would lay down on the floor and take a nap. And I remember when we were on the road and he was doing dialysis and we had to carry boxes around because he did it himself, sitting in his hotel room. He still wanted to go on the road. I know I wasn’t going through dialysis and I know I wasn’t trying to figure out how to live, but no matter what, that dude played 100 percent. He did whatever he did hardcore. He didn’t care what you thought—he did it. That’s the truth of what needs to be said about Dwayne Burno.
As told to Jeff Tamarkin