Take Five With Greg Burk

Greg Burk By

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About Greg Burk

Following his acclaimed 2016 release Clean Spring on SteepleChase Records, American pianist and composer Greg Burk returns with solo piano As A River—his 12th and most lyrical album to date.

The son of classical musicians, Burk spent his formative years on the Detroit jazz scene, followed by studies in Boston with the likes of George Russell, Danilo Pérez and Paul Bley. The lyrical, classical, side of Burk's music emerges with conviction in this solo piano setting and mixes seamlessly with his deep roots in the jazz tradition. These diverse currents flow together fluently and unpredictably to create the journey that is the music of As A River.

Now based in Italy, where this album was recorded on a Steinway Concert Grand, he's performed with some of the jazz great, from Benny Golson and Kenny Wheeler, to David Murray and Steve Swallow.

Burk describes the impetus for this recording, which at times recalls the harmonic language of folk songs and melodies, as a "reawakening to the wonder of nature." The rivers and lakes of his native Michigan were the playgrounds of his youth. This powerful union to the natural world, reawakened following a trip to Sequoia National Park to which the closing song of the recording, "Sequoia Song" is dedicated.

As A River demonstrates Burk's sophisticated touch, original pianistic conception and intimate flowing improvisations.



Teachers and/or influences?

When I was 18 I attended UMASS at Amherst. At that time both Yusef Lateef and Archie Shepp were teaching there. Imagine that! Dr. Lateef had me compose within specific parameters, whereas Dr. Shepp had me learn Parker tunes, and Don Byas and Bud Powell solos. Later I attended New England Conservatory where I studied with George Russell, Danilo Perez, Charlie Banacos, Jerry Bergonzi and Paul Bley. Bley helped me tie all of the things I had learned together into a more personal whole. His lessons were like sessions with a philosopher with a bit of psychoanalysis thrown in between the stories. These great musicians all influenced my way of thinking about music, but they also influenced me by who they were as people, in particular Yusef Lateef and Archie Shepp. As an 18 year old who was just getting started, they could easily have been annoyed, impatient or simply uninterested in dealing with me. Contrary to this, they were very generous with their time, their knowledge and insight and treated me with respect.

As far as influences, I'd have to say all of the music I've listened to has influenced me in some way. The jazz musicians that have had the strongest impact on me are those whose vision and personality is strong, even if it is not representative of what I want to say.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

When I was an adolescent three things happened that solidified my decision to be a jazz musician. First I didn't make my high school basketball team, but made it into the school's jazz band. Second I went to Blue Lake in Bavaria where I met bassist Rodney Whittaker. When we returned back to Michigan, I went to visit Rodney in Detroit and he took me around to the numerous sessions and rehearsals he was involved in. Thirdly my parents went through a difficult divorce at this time so music became my refuge, where I could elaborate my feelings, and discover my creativity at the same time.

Your sound and approach to music.

I'd say my approach has always been to elaborate my musical ideas in different ways, especially composing, playing on standard jazz progressions and playing free music. These different areas allow different parts of my thoughts and emotions to play out in the music. Composition is like the distillation of an idea into its most fundamental shape while soloing on forms for me is a dialogue with the tradition I love, a discipline, and the joy of swinging and playing together with others. Free playing relates to both of these—composition and form improvisation, but with the abandonment of preconceptions. Trying to elaborate a compositional idea in real time without a predetermined form is the ultimate challenge! I've found over the years that the last of these three, free playing, results in some of my most sincere and surprising music.

Your teaching approach

I have been involved with teaching for many years and my philosophy has changed over these years. As a foundation, I try to get my students to nail the basics, especially rhythm and ear training. Then I try to go with the personality of the student to help them find the road most appropriate for them. I encourage composition, transposition, free playing, and lots of listening!

Your dream band



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Album Reviews
Take Five With...
Album Reviews
Read more articles
As A River

As A River

Tonos Records

Detroit Songbook

Detroit Songbook

SteepleChase Records

Deep Blue Sky

Deep Blue Sky

Pink House Records

Clean Spring

Clean Spring

Steeplechase Lookout



Accurate Records

Ecstatic Weanderings

Ecstatic Weanderings

Self Produced


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