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Grammy Does Jazz

Kenny Burrell Tribute to include performances by Burrell, Anthony Wilson, Hubert Laws and Grammy Jazz Ensembles. The Ensembles also perform at later events with Mindi Abair, Brian Culbertson, Boney James and James Moody.

Hubert Laws
Kenny Burrell
Anthony Wilson

On Tuesday, January 26, 2010, the Recording Academy, the folks who present the Grammy Awards, will pay tribute to Kenny Burrell at a special event held a few days before the Awards broadcast. The Grammy Salute to Jazz will be held at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles and will be hosted by KJAZZ radio personalities Tommy Hawkins and Bubba Jackson.

Slated to perform are Burrell himself, along with Hubert Laws, Anthony Wilson and the Grammy Jazz Ensembles (a group of 28 high school musicians selected from across the country). During this evening dedicated to paying tribute to jazz, Burrell will be presented with The President’s Merit Award for his outstanding achievement and contributions to the jazz genre and the music community.

Wilson, a guitarist of some note himself, said that “I’m honored to have been invited to play ‘Kenny’s Sound,’ a song from Blue Bash (a classic Kenny Burrell album also featuring Jimmy Smith), at the Grammy tribute next week.”

Wilson, son of big band leader and arranger Gerald Wilson, has a personal connection to Burrell. “Though I was a teenager when I first met Kenny Burrell and started going to hear him play live (many times), I didn’t really get to know him then,” explained Wilson. “Later on, around the time I began to make my own records in 1997, Kenny was very encouraging to me, and also asked me to do some substitute teaching for him at UCLA. I guess it was an audition of sorts, because I joined the faculty the next year. So for the next 10 years or so, I saw Kenny at least twice a week during the school year, as well as at concerts around L.A. ”

For Wilson, performing at the tribute is a small way to pay back all that he gleaned from the guitarist over the years. “I’ve learned so much from Kenny Burrell, and his playing embodies all the most fundamental qualities that I aspire to have in my own playing. Like so many of the greatest players, the center of Kenny’s musical world is his touch, which is strong, even, never harsh, and can be identified in an instant. There is harmonic, and rhythmic authority in every line he plays, and he is a consummate melodist. His improvisations are inventive, contoured, and surprising: never predictably pattern-based, always unfolding in a coherent way, beautifully balanced. He is one of the great blues players of the last hundred years; but his is an interpretation of the blues completely free of cliché, which made it a reference point for me. As a guitarist who leads a large band, I always have admired Kenny’s work incorporating the guitar as a solo voice in that kind of context (e.g., “Guitar Forms”). Finally, there is his gorgeous amplified sound, simultaneously cutting and warm, enviably consistent no matter what equipment he plays on: my template for a perfect electric guitar sound in jazz.”

Wilson said about Burrell’s legacy: “While jazz continues to change and morph over time, of course, regularly envisioned anew by the artists who take their own rightful places in the community, a musician like Kenny Burrell makes an indelible mark on the music. As young musicians wishing to broaden and deepen their work look past their most obvious present-day influences and heroes, they look back without backward-looking, finding, from artists such as Kenny, powerful, lasting lessons in how to move forward.”

Unfortunately, the Burrell event is by invite only. However, the Recording Academy has more jazz activity coming up, including performances by the Grammy Jazz Ensembles at GRAMMY In The Schools Live! – A Celebration of Music & Education. Unlike the Burrell tribute, this evening is open to the public and will showcase the Ensembles, along with student alumni from GRAMMY Camp and GRAMMY Signature Schools, with special guest artists Mindi Abair, Brian Culbertson and GRAMMY nominee Boney James on January 27, 2010, at the Doubletree Guest Suites in Santa Monica, Calif. The Ensembles will offer another public performance at Spaghettini Italian Grill & Jazz Club with special guest artist James Moody on January 28.

The lucky but busy kids also get to perform at the 20th anniversary MusiCares® Person of the Year tribute on January 29, which will honor Neil Young. And topping it all off, the Ensembes will get to record a CD on January 29 and 30 at Capitol Recording Studios, thanks to the generosity of the EMI Music Group. Wait, no, there’s more. The kids aren’t done. The Ensembles will attend the 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards on January 31 as guests of The Recording Academy and will perform at the GRAMMY Celebration After Party.

Now that’s an itinerary. The ensembles are under the direction of Justin DiCioccio of the Manhattan School of Music, Dr. Leila Heil of Colorado State University, and Dr. Ron McCurdy of the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music.

Originally Published