Gary Burton - vibraphone; Larry Coryell - guitar; Steve Swallow - bass; Stu Martin - drums
Vibraphonist Gary Burton made his Newport Jazz Festival debut as a 21-year-old wunderkind sideman to tenor sax giant Stan Getz at the 1964 edition of George Wein's annual clambake on Narragansett Bay. Returning as a leader in 1967, Burton brought with him a stellar crew consisting of such up-and-coming young players as guitarist Larry Coryell, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Stu Martin. Together they premiered new material from Burton's groundbreaking album Duster, which is generally considered to be one of the seminal fusion albums. Recorded in April of '67 and released right around the time of Burton's Newport Jazz Festival appearance, Duster had a big affect on the jazz world, as did the vibraphonist's performance have on the assembled jazz fans at Festival Field on July 1 that summer.
Coryell's bluesy string-bending and biting electric guitar lines on pieces like Swallow's "General Mojo's Well Laid Plan" and Carla Bley's "Sing Me Softly of the Blues" adds a rock-tinged element to this trailblazing quartet. Swallow's use of upright bass throughout this Newport set is one of his last. By 1968, he would shift over to electric bass and begin to revolutionize that instrument with his remarkable facility and penchant for fluid, melodic lines in the low end. Today he is a perennial poll-winner on electric bass as well as a prolific and highly regarded composer who has collaborated frequently over the years with pianist-composer Carla Bley. Coryell would go on to trail blaze the fusion movement in the early '70s with his powerhouse group, The Eleventh House. Burton's whirlwind duet with Coryell (untitled at the time of this Newport performance) is a prime example of his dazzling virtuosity on the instrument that he pushed into the forefront of modern jazz with his revolutionary four-mallet technique, which allowed for a vast array of chordal colors. Coryell goes toe-to-toe with the vibes innovator with some fleet-fingered picking on this vibrant piece that is fueled with rock energy while making allusions to both bluegrass and classical music.
Swallow is prominently featured carrying the melody on brief run through Bob Dylan's "I Want You," which is underscored by Stu Martin's brisk brushwork. They next tackle the intricate and chops-busting "Blue Comedy," a swinging piece by British composer Michael Gibbs, a frequent collaborator with Burton. The vibraphonist nonchalantly double-times the groove during his solo here, flowing effortlessly over the changes while Swallow and Martin propel the music forward. Coryell contributes some exhilarating six-string work that effectively showcases his love of Wes Montgomery, Django Reinhardt and Chuck Berry, all within one staggering solo. Martin also turns in a dynamic, unaccompanied drum solo to punctuate the proceedings. They follow with a buoyant, as-yet-untitled piece by Gibbs that has a slight calypso feel and features some intricate, odd intervallic lines between Burton and Coryell in the head. Burton's solo here is flowing while Coryell digs into the fabric of the piece with some stinging blues licks. They close their Newport set with an uptempo blast of energy on Coryell's raucous, hard-driving swinger "One, Two, 1-2-3-4," which has Burton and Coryell wailing on dizzying unisons through the head before the adventurous guitarist unleashes the kind of blistering, distortion-laced speed licks that would later serve him as a godfather of jazz-rock, or so-called fusion.
Born on January 23, 1943, in Anderson, Indiana, Burton was a child prodigy who began music at the age of six and taught himself to play marimba and vibraphone. He studied piano at age 16 and during his short stint at the Berklee College of Music in Boston (1960-61) began developing his pianistic four-mallet approach to the vibraphone, citing pianist Bill Evans a major inspiration. Early in his professional career, Burton moved to Nashville, where he recorded as a sideman to such Music City notables as guitarist Chet Atkins, pianist Floyd Cramer and saxophonist Boots Randolph. In 1961, Burton released his debut as a leader, New Vibe Man in Town, on the RCA label and followed up in 1962 with Who Is Gary Burton?? That question was answered in 1963 when he secured a high profile gig with jazz pianist George Shearing, touring both the U.S. and Japan. Burton went on to play with saxophonist Stan Getz at the height of his popularity, from 1964 to 1966, appearing on such important albums as 1964's Getz Au Go Go and Getz/Gilberto 2. In 1966, he recorded two albums (Tennessee Firebird and Time Machine) that boldly experimented with bringing elements of popular music into jazz. Then in 1967, he formed the Gary Burton Quartet with guitarist Larry Coryell, drummer Roy Haynes, and bassist Steve Swallow. The group's first record, 1967's Duster, combined jazz, country and rock 'n' roll elements into an intriguing mix that pointed the way to the fusion movement. After Coryell left the quartet in the late-1960s, Burton hired a succession of cutting edge guitarists through the '70s, including Jerry Hahn, David Pritchard, Mick Goodrick and Pat Metheny. He did the first of an ongoing series of duets with pianist Chick Corea in 1972, documented on the ECM album Crystal Silence, and followed with similar collaborations in 1979 (Duet and In Concert, Zurich, both on ECM). Their 2008 live reunion, The New Crystal Silence on Concord Jazz, won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. He has also collaborated throughout his illustrious career with such great artists as pianist Keith Jarrett, acoustic guitar master Ralph Towner, violinist Stephane Grappelli, French accordionist Richard Galliano and tango legend Astor Piazzolla.
Burton's lifelong commitment to music education started in 1971, when he began teaching percussion and improvisation at the Berklee College of Music. In 1985, he was named Dean of Curriculum and in 1989 received an honorary doctorate of music from the college. In 1996, he was appointed Executive Vice President, responsible for overseeing the daily operation of the college. He announced his retirement from Berklee in 2003 after 33 years at the college, but he didn't retire from performing. With his Generations band, which featured a lineup of talented young musicians including then 16-yea-old guitarist Julian Lage and Russian-born pianist Vadim Nevelovskyi, made two recording and toured steadily 2003 through 2006. In 2009, he reprised his Gary Burton Quartet of the 1970's with guitarist Pat Metheny and bassist Steve Swallow and Antonio Sanchez replacing original drummer Bob Moses. Burton's most recent recording as a leader is 2011's Common Ground (with guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchez) on the Mack Avenue label. (Bill Milkowski)