New Burton Quartet found it easy to get the right vibe
Vibraphone master Gary Burton still has the sharp eye for “eager, young, inventive minds” that has kept his bands lively and creative for decades.
He is celebrating his 70th birthday by going on tour with what he is calling the New Gary Burton Quartet, which harkens back to the quartets of the past and great members such as Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Steve Swallow.
“It keeps you from getting in a rut,” he says about finding players such as guitarist Julian Lage and drummer Antonio Sanchez, who will be with him Oct. 5 at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side.
Burton's appreciation for talent seems an appropriate skill for a musician whose just-released autobiography is titled “Learning to Listen” (Berklee Press, $27.99). In it, he talks about hearing and learning from many people over decades of play. That ability was honed by 30 years as a teacher and ultimately as executive director of the jazz-oriented Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“I always felt being around a college was a great learning environment for students as well as teachers,” he says. “When you have to explain something to someone else, it makes you understand it better.”
Understanding music never has seemed a problem for Burton, who has been playing vibes since he was 6 and performing since his teens. In doing so, he has changed his styles and moved through the development of jazz. In the late ‘60s, for instance, his band with guitarist Larry Coryell was among the early groups to use the rhythms and tones of rock in jazz.
He also has played with other jazz giants such as saxophonist Stan Getz and pianist George Shearing. Regardless of the band or its personnel, his playing always has been crisp and inventive, filled with speed and a virtuoso's richness of thought.
His appreciation of individual play has meant his groups have changed tone over the years. The work of current guitarist Lage is far different from that of Coryell; at times, it resembles that of Metheny, but is different from his work, too.
Burton has been watching — and listening — to Lage since the guitarist was 12, he says, and suspects Lage will be one of the music's dominant players as his career moves forward.
But he also talks with great enthusiasm about Sanchez, whom he says he didn't appreciate until the drummer started working with Metheny. That work helped create a style that was contemporary, but sophisticated enough to go the many directions Metheny's music does.
Burton says when he put that quartet together, which also features bassist Scott Colley, the band hit the road and found its heart, something that wasn't a surprise.
“The road is where everything seems to click,” he says. “Touring is where you can fine-tune an arrangement before recording.”
He says that sharpening is even true in his work with pianist Chick Corea, with whom he has done duets for 40 years.
While Burton stays active with Corea and his own band, he does consider himself “semi-retired.” He ended his work at Berklee nine years ago, moved to South Florida and runs his career as he sees fit from there.
He is quite aware many jazz musicians have kept playing long after they should have and says he does not want to be one of them.
“I really admire their chutzpah,” he says, “but you really have to know when to give it up.”