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Kenny Burrell: Every Note Swings

By Published: February 6, 2012
AAJ: Same question about another album with another great saxophonist, Bluesy Burrell (OJC, 1962), with Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
1904 - 1969
sax, tenor

KB: Oh, yes. The grand master. Boy, he was something. Another great experience, with Coleman Hawkins. He was just a beautiful person and liked to play with younger musicians and I can only say that I've never been around another musician who was so flexible and adaptable. His ear, he could just hear everything. It only took once or twice for him to hear something and he grasped it right away. He was just a great musician and it was a thrill to be a part of that with him. It was my record, but I had also recorded with him on some date of his as well.

AAJ: And finally, your recollections of recording your album with Creed Taylor
Creed Taylor
Creed Taylor
, God Bless the Child, with such fine arrangements by Don Sebesky
Don Sebesky

KB: I loved it. I had a really good relationship with Creed Taylor and I think it kind of culminated in the album we did with the Gil Evans Orchestra, Guitar Forms. That one became, for many reasons, a critical success and was nominated for a Grammy Award. But this session certainly had an overtone of my musical relationship with Billie Holiday because I had worked with her and made recordings with her and she had certainly influenced me as she did many other musicians, in the musical sense, even though she's a vocalist. It was a dedication to her spirit.

Also, one of the tunes on there was "Love in the Answer." That's the first time I recorded that. I expanded on that and did more with that piece later on. That was also a period when I was really trying to deal with answers to helping people get along, or, let me put it another way, with answers to why people couldn't get along with each other. The answer I came up with in that song was, "Love is the Answer." That also was a reflection of my influence from Duke Ellington and others that I admired.

AAJ: You released God Bless the Child in 1971 and your solo album Tenderly forty years later. Both include your tribute to Ellington, "Be Yourself." What do you think that song says about him, and about you?

KB: It's a song that I wrote in dedication to Duke Ellington and the reason it's dedicated to him is because that's one of the main lessons that Maestro Ellington left us: That your strongest suit, the most powerful thing that you have, is your own uniqueness. That's what will set you apart, which will give you a boost, and will set you on your way—your uniqueness. So why not go ahead and exploit that? Why not go ahead and push that? Because it's simply a matter of being yourself: Everybody's unique but many people don't have the courage or the spirit to go ahead and be themselves.

He was a perfect example of being yourself and showing that uniqueness that we all have. I've been highly influenced by that because I believe that's correct, that we all are different and we all have something special to give, but we have to be brave enough to bring it out. Of course, there are a lot of reasons why people are shy or bashful or afraid to be themselves. But the point is that people who succeed and the people who we admire are the ones who are being themselves and are showing their uniqueness.

AAJ: Speaking of "uniqueness," you have often recorded music by Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
. What is it about Monk's music that you so enjoy playing?

KB: That's a perfect example of what I was just saying. Thelonious Monk was certainly different and most people admired and acknowledged that. Most of the time, you can hear right away that Thelonious Monk's music is something different. He chose to be himself and no one else. There's never been anyone like him, and there probably never will be. And the point is that there shouldn't be, because we are all different anyway. Not only was it different because it was him being himself—it was Monk, it was his music—and harmonically it was brilliant, melodically it was brilliant, and rhythmically it was brilliant. He is one of the great composers of music, especially for small jazz bands. Some of his songs are truly brilliant—Brilliant Corners (Riverside, 1956).

AAJ: What would you like to share about Tenderly?

KB: I'd like to invite people to listen to that, and I hope that they like it. We mentioned "Be Yourself"—it is also on the new CD, and it has a couple of different things about it, in that I put some words to it and I sang it. Also, the CD has a variety of songs including one classical piece. I used both acoustic and electric guitars throughout.

AAJ: Have you considered doing an entire album of "guitar with vocals" songs?

KB: Yes, I have thought about it and I'm sure that will come. It just has to happen when I get that feeling.

AAJ: In baseball, a pitcher who gets older can compensate for lost velocity with increased control. Does that happen with guitar players, too?

KB: Well, I don't know. I would just say that it could be, maybe. I don't know. I was never concerned about speed. My focus has been on playing good notes. That's where my focus has been—on whatever works. Whatever I think sounds good, that's what I try to play. Sometimes it's fast, sometimes it's slow, but that's kind of my approach. In baseball, speed is required. It's a big part of your arsenal. In music—yes, but not so much. Yes, it's important, but there's so much more involved in music than speed, you know?

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