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Kofi Burbridge

Seventeen years ago, Kofi Burbridge moved to Atlanta to record an album. He's still waiting to finish it, but he hasn't exactly been sitting around. Kofi is that rarest of musicians - the combination virtuoso keyboard player/flautist. If he hasn't always known where he was headed, the path is his own, and he has traveled it his way.

The journey started in the Bronx, NY, where Kofi was born on September 22, 1961 to William and Carol Burbridge. They moved to Washington, DC two years later, and Oteil Burbridge was born there in 1964. Sisters Leilani and Adero followed in 1968 and 1971.

The boys made their musical talents obvious from an early age - Kofi's perfect pitch was discovered when he was six, and he began taking flute lessons. Meanwhile, Oteil held down the bottom end.

"He was 3, 4 years old, he was pulling off some funk rhythms," says Kofi. Before Oteil graduated to a standard drum set, his instrument of choice was a Quaker Oats box. The musical talent wasn't inherited - Kofi calls their father "one of those cats with no rhythm" - but the brothers did pick up on William's love of music.

Long before they were anchoring the jam scene, the Burbridges were musical partners in that house. They ran through enough instruments to be their own orchestra.

"Oteil and I had been shuffling instruments back and forth," Kofi says. "It was drums and flute, then bass and keyboards, and every once in a while we'd go through our orchestral thing. He's played bass clarinet, he's played violin, he's played trumpet. I've never played reeds, but we've both played piano, this, that - we really owe it to our parents." The Burbridges' talents extend outside the musical realm. Oteil was the host of a local television show, and Kofi worked the stage.

When he was about 11, he spent a few months as the understudy for the role of Travis in A Raisin in the Sun. Later he traveled to Russia, seeing Moscow and Leningrad with fellow thespians.

When Kofi was in tenth grade, he took the first major step toward a career in music: he left home to attend the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. His focus was classical flute, but that wasn't enough. During his five years at the NCSA, Kofi's fellow students convinced the school to start a jazz program. At the same time, he got serious about his piano playing. "That's when I heard No Mystery by Chick Corea and Return to Forever," he says. "I had never heard an acoustical group play like they did. I knew music could sound like that, I'd just never heard it." The same year, Kofi wrote the song that would become "Kam-ma-Lay." Derek Trucks hadn't been born yet, and Kofi's gig with the band was more than two decades off.

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