After 40 years as a jazz professional, appearing on several hundred albums as leader and sideman, Kenny Burrell is among the handful of guitar greats who have forever changed the role of their instrument.
Staunch musical integrity and discriminate taste coupled with matchless technique have made the guitarist nonpareil among his peers. "My goal is to play with good tone, good phrasing and to swing," says Burrell, "I strive for honesty in playing what I feel."
"Master instrumentalist and composer," "virtuoso," "historic figure of American guitar." "Ellington's favorite guitar player"—this is a typical sampling of the critical praise routinely bestowed on Burrell, who pioneered the guitar-led trio with bass and drums in the late Fifties. Although he has since worked in countless other formats, from big band to three guitars plus rhythm to solo, he has remained constant in his quest to get the most out of a natural, low-volume, acoustic sound. "My audience has developed so that they come to listen and are quiet," he explains. "Thus I can work in a limited volume range and explore all the subtleties that can happen, which is my favorite part of the music."
Aside from his performing and recording schedule, Kenny has been a teacher at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) for many years. Included in his teaching schedule is a special course that he developed on the music and life of Duke Ellington called "Ellingtonia". Started in 1978, it was the first regular college course on Ellington taught in the United States. In addition he is also the founder and director of the Jazz Studies Program at UCLA where he is a professor of music and ethnomusicology. He is also a lecturer and director of workshops on guitar and Jazz studies, founder and President Emeritus, of the Jazz Heritage Foundation, and all around crusader for the recognition of jazz as a classical art form.
Kenny Burrell is also a prolific composer whose work is more and more in demand. Kenny is composer of the 1998 Grammy Award winning song "Dear Ella", performed by Dee Dee Bridgewater. His compositions have been recorded by many other great artists such as Ray Brown, Jimmy Smith, Grover Washington Jr., John Coltrane, June Christy, Frank Wes and Stevie Ray Vaughn. More recently, he received a commission grant from Meet the Composer, Inc. to write an original, extended composition for the Boys Choir of Harlem which premiered at New York's Lincoln Center, and in 1997 was recorded for Concord Records.