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Learning to Listen: The Jazz Journey of Gary Burton Paperback – 23 Oct 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 388 pages
  • Publisher: Berklee Press Publications (23 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0876391404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0876391402
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.4 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 145,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Widely recognised as the most technically accomplished of jazz vibraphonists, Gary Burton also led the first true fusion band, combining jazz with rock and storming festival stages and rock palaces around the world in the late 1960s. By then, he had already toured the world with jazz icons George Shearing and Stan Getz-all before he turned twenty-five. Burton has spent nearly sixty of his seventy years as a professional musician, balancing full-time careers as a groundbreaking jazz artist and an innovative educator at the renowned Berklee College of Music. Through his bands, as well as through his partnerships with Pat Metheny and Chick Corea, he has forever changed the musical landscape of the late twentieth century.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By B. L. Rudd on 7 Jan. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a fine read from one of my all time favourites. It could well be the finest autobiography of a musician yet. I've enjoyed Garys playing since his contribution to Hank Garlands "Jazz Winds from a New Direction" (the album every jazz guitarist should own). I've seen him play live on numberous occasions, admired his choice of sidemen with the exception of the grindingly dull Larry Coryell. Garys love of tango is something I share, I applaud his part in bringing it to the notice of the world. I'm convinced that no one on this planet can outplay Gary. Maestro.
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Format: Paperback
I think I discovered (or should that be encountered) Burton's music and playing in the early 70s when he toured Australia. After seeing him playing vibes solo and in a group context on TV I began buying his then recent recordings. Some years later I discovered some of his earlier mid 60s recordings and marvelled at how good (and ahead of their time) they were.

Burton talks about his early career playing with George Shearing and Stan Getz before deciding to form his own groups. In the book also Burton sings the praises of various other musicians he has worked with such as Chick Corea, Steve Swallow and Pat Metheny.

He also talks about his marriages, career as an educator/administrator at Berklee. Burton has continued to provide himself with musical challenges to this day which have met with varying reactions from his fans, audiences and critics.

Myths abound about Burton's practice (or lack of practice) methods. And this book goes someway to providing an insight into how Burton views practice and what his methods are. But when you are blessed with perfect pitch and a seemingly wonderful memory the norm of extended hours of practice used by many musicians would be overkill. More tellingly Burton provides an insight into his control and editing of his "subconcious" playing ability.

Burton has done much to prove the vibraphone (vibraharp) is more than a novelty instrument and that Jazz works well within a wide variety of influences. He has proven himself to be a great and successful interpreter of other people's compositions complete with an innate ability to connect with his audience.

Gary Burton spent many years writing (or thinking about writing) his autobiography. But after reading it, you have to wonder why it took so long to write, as its so easy to read. Highly recommended.
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By Bengt Stark on 28 Oct. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great book! A whole life of playing jazz by a maestro like Burton. Interesting stories.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 32 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By Stuart Jefferson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"I will freely admit that I have a kind of love/hate relationship with music." Gary Burton.

"I haven't practiced the vibraphone since high school. I can go for hours, and sometimes days at a time without thinking that much about music." Gary Burton.

I first heard Gary Burton many years (decades!) ago when I happened to stumble across his early album "Lofty Fake Anagram". From then on I was hooked on his sound. Burton is certainly one of the best vibes players in not just jazz, but music in general. He's absorbed and then gone beyond fine players like Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo to create his own sound, and champion a number of other players and/or composers. This great book goes a long way in explaining Burton and his music. There's 32 pages of b&w and color photographs , a Discography, and an Index. The book is broken into sections that chronologically tell Burton's personal and musical life--"Early Years", "On My Own", "Moving On", etc. The book was started about 12 years ago and finished in one long week in an L.A. hotel. But nothing sounds rushed or forced. Burton's writing style is simple and straightforward, which makes for engaging reading. Occasionally throughout the book you'll see highlighted sidebars that Burton has used to describe something or someone in particular ("Lionel Hampton: Father of the Vibes", "Vibraphone or Vibraharp?", "Stan Getz", "Miles Davis", "Thelonious Monk", "Pat Metheny", etc.), which add both interest and depth to his book.

The book roughly begins with Burton talking about his beat up trophy for his first place win at the 1951 National Marimba Camp when Burton was 8 years old. He talks about his first vibraphone--"In order for me to play, my father had to build a platform the length of the instrument for me to stand on." He goes on to describe what it was like hearing jazz for the first time--Benny Goodman's "After You've Gone", and his subsequent search for jazz albums by Mingus, Brubeck, Blakey, and other jazz giants. This was the music that was the foundation of his early jazz "education". He goes on to talk about the local music scene and his earliest gigs. As Burton describes some of them--"Not all my gigs were in up scale surroundings. Sometimes, I played on a bandstand enclosed in chicken wire so the crowd couldn't throw anything at the musicians." But Burton persevered and continued to learn his instrument--eventually enrolling in the Berklee School of Music, and playing in "the big city." Plus he talks about recording his first album, "After The Riot", a jam session (unreleased) after the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival was cancelled, and playing on Floyd Cramer's record "Last Date", which was Burton's first "gold" record he played on.

Burton goes on to talk about his "on the job training", working with various jazz musicians (George Shearing, Stan Getz, Red Norvo are a few mentioned), and his experiences on the West Coast, his early albums like "Out Of The Woods", "Something's Coming", and "Getz au GoGo" (sic). Also included is playing with guitarist Hank Garland in Nashville on the album "Jazz Winds From A New Direction", and his debut album as a leader, "New Vibe Man In Town". Something that made an early impression was seeing the well known Paul Gonsalves playing early on a Sunday morning with local players, just for a few extra dollars. It's when Burton talks about playing with other musicians like Stan Getz and the influences and ideas these people had on Burton and his growth as an artist that make the book even more interesting.

The book is filled with stories of how Burton advanced his jazz knowledge with the help and influence of various jazz performers he met and/or played with, absorbing ideas he could use in his own music. He also goes into some detail concerning his move to the ECM label and the effects that had ("...among the best decisions I ever made.") on his playing. Burton goes into some detail about various albums for that label (with Chick Corea and others) and the members of his group (Steve Swallow for instance) that played an important part in his music. He describes in some detail his meeting (and early on as a mentor) and subsequent playing with guitarist Pat Metheny (the beautiful album of Carla Bley's compositoins "Dreams So Real" is where I first heard Metheny back in the days of vinyl), and how that affected and shaped both Metheny's and Burton's music.

Plus Burton talks at length about his on going involvement with the Berklee School of Music--as a student (who dropped out to play with Shearing), a teacher, an innovator of new music departments, his eventually becoming head of day to day operations for a school that has grown to 4,000 students in a variety of fields, and beginning an on-line department of music--all of which most fans don't know anything about. This is a side of Burton that's especially interesting--his life in academia as opposed to being an "on the road" musician--and how he found time to do both jobs admirably.

But there's many personal asides throughout this book--his marriages (one to Catherine Goldwyn of the Hollywood Goldwyns) and family, his divorces and his realization (with the help of therapy) that he was (is) gay, and his eventual meeting of his long time partner. Burton also discusses his major health problems and overcoming them as best he could. The book ends with Burton meeting his life partner and talking in depth about his role at Berklee, and the creative muse.

As a jazz fan and long time listener of Burton's music, I've sometimes wondered why there's never been a book on Burton and his music--music that has influenced jazz over many years and given all of us many hours of enjoyment. While this is an autobiography, and Burton can pick and choose what to put in and what to leave out, he by and large does a pretty fair job at delineating his personal and professional life in jazz. This is a very readable book filled with interesting information about both Burton and jazz in general. As with many other books like this I wish Burton would've written more about recording the many albums in his discography--more in depth information about the players, the compositions, and being in the studio--only he could write about. Even so, for Burton fans it's something you might want to consider adding to your jazz library. Burton has continued releasing albums of merit over the years, so it's nice to read a book about this fine musician.

It's great that the albums "New Vibe Man In Town" and "Gary Burton Quartet In Concert" are now back on the shelves. Now if someone would reissue the albums "Duster", "Country Roads And Other Places", "Live Concert" (only issued in Canada), and other early albums, jazz fans (like me) would be much happier.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Great Book for Young and Older Musicians 26 Oct. 2013
By Walter J. Jamieson Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
To the modern Jazz fan this one is a page turner even though it differs from the usual Jazz memoir. Some Jazz books are ghost written by hacks - this one was not.
Since Burton began playing professionally at a very early age, and was an accomplished player early on, his memories retain the enthusiasm of youth mixed with the poise of self confidence as a virtuoso. He writes well in a graceful, informative yet matter of fact way not only about himself and his own music but about many of the Jazz greats from mid-20th Century to the present. He is as strikingly honest about them as he is about himself, and usually full of praise for his idols and colleagues. His very funny anecdotes are even funnier because of the low key way he tells them.
The book is beautifully presented with high quality paper and 30 pages of archival and current photographs.
One thing I admit I don't understand is the standard here and elsewhere for men who have had successful heterosexual as well as homosexual relationships to refer to themselves as gay rather than bi-sexual.
Careless editing is the only reason for denying this excellent book a fifth star. As I said above, Burton writes well, but he makes a few grammatical mistakes that any careful editor could have caught and corrected without any trouble. Berklee Press should have been as on the ball about choosing an editor as Burton is about music. I also fault Berklee for not including the fine recording Burton made with accordion player Richard Galliano in 2006 in the discography at the end of the book.
Highly recommended anyway.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Good book about a brilliant musician 2 May 2014
By Mac - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The great vibraphonist Gary Burton offers an inside account of the jazz scene, the emerging jazz rock scene of the mid 1960s of which he was a very important contributor, while also giving us a glimpse into his own creative process as an improvising musician. I especially enjoyed the standalone profiles of various musicians that he worked with or was influenced by, and the chapters on George Shearing and Stan Getz are absolutely fascinating. There are a couple of areas where I would like to have seen more information: first, Gary was a highly exceptional musician from a very young age and I would have appreciated more from him about the nature of his talent and how he was able to develop his musical talent so quickly. That he recorded professionally at age 16, was offered a record contract shortly thereafter, AND had his music school education subsidized by the record company is incredible to say the least. Second, since Gary has such a vast discography I would have appreciated more information about the artists he recorded with, the tunes, interactions in the studio, how the records were made etc. He does offer some great information in this vein but I wish he would have given us more. My one criticism of the book is that a fair amount of space is given to the details of touring, international travel, intineraries etc. While some of this is interesting, that aspect of the book did bog down a bit for me. All in all this is a really nice and very interesting book about a very brilliant jazz musician.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Thank you Gary Burton 23 Nov. 2013
By A. Coke - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book immensely. For me it could have easily been twice as long. More about Stan Getz, George Shearing, road trips, what makes great music, and the life of a musician. The book is a well put together narrative and it's made me want to explore more of his music. What more could one ask for? As I said, a little more about everything!
The first jazz record I ever bought was Gary Burton's Duster. I've always enjoyed his music but after reading this realized I've missed large portions of it. I suppose that says a lot about jazz, how little credit the musicians get, and how under the radar most of them truly are. After all the years of Grammy nominations and thousands of gigs and tours how is it more people don't seem to know him? Perhaps they do and it's just that I've been living under a rock, not listening to the right radio stations, or watching the right tv shows. I never remember seeing him in Texas where I grew up. We hunted the record stores for his releases. Now with the Internet and MP3 online stores it will be much easier to find his music.
I enjoyed the books honesty and it was pretty eye opening about his early years. Even with his level of musicianship and enormous luck and support he still had to work hard to establish himself as a leader and get his first band off the ground. I felt he downplayed his leadership and would have liked to have read more about the different sides of the music business. Still it's a great overview of his life and career... And the book could have been much longer.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Compelling Memoir from a Master of the Vibraphone 8 Nov. 2014
By Anthony A. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
-reviewed by Anthony Smith

I realize I'm a bit late to the party, as the book was released in 2013, but having just voraciously devoured Learning to Listen: The Jazz Journey of Gary Burton, I feel compelled to offer a review...
Many books have been written over the years about jazz greats, some by outside observers and some by the artists themselves. Some of these books offer amusing tales and occasional insights, but fail to deliver a compelling narrative about the artist's life and career, through pedestrian writing or an inability to identify and focus on the important accomplishments and pivotal moments in a given artist's life story. Others fail because they veer too far from the music, delving into sordid details about drugs, relationships, grudges, etc. Some artist autobiographies don't work--and this is not specific to only musicians--because it turns out that while the artist might possess wonderful gifts in his or her chosen milieu, said gifts do not carry over to literary ability (which is a specific art unto itself).
Then there are those books which do succeed in illuminating the life and times of a given artist, books which teach us things we didn't know about his or her motivations, struggles, demons, private triumphs and failings, and also interesting details about the environment/culture around which a successful career originally blossomed and eventually ran its course. Luckily, there have been quite a few jazz biographies and autobiographies that meet the aforementioned criteria. They line our bookshelves, and we refer to them on occasion, when we want to remember a particular reference or entertaining anecdote. We have such books about Miles, Coltrane, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, and many other giants of the music we love.
There is another category of jazz biography/autobiography, and it is much rarer. This type of book transcends its topic (music) and tells a deeper story about a fascinating life, a remarkable individual, and a world that, while ostensibly is focused on music and musicians, offers rich insight into a particular time in history, and also manages to eloquently and poignantly address the human condition itself. Vibraphonist Gary Burton's autobiography, Learning to Listen: The Jazz Journey of Gary Burton, is just such a book.
It took me a while to pick up Gary's book, for whatever reason--even though I knew from the time it was released in 2013 that it was essential reading (I am a vibraphone and piano player, and a career full-time musician). I grew up on the West Coast, and as a teenager had the great privilege to see numerous live performances by Blue Note icon Bobby Hutcherson, one of the very few jazz vibraphonists who, along with Gary, is considered a true innovator on the instrument. I was certainly aware of Gary's music, even back then (how could anyone possibly play vibraphone and not be aware of Gary Burton?!), but I was more entrenched in the Bobby Hutcherson camp at that time. As the years passed, I became more aware of Gary's prodigious output as a vibraphonist and bandleader, but I still knew relatively little about both his artistic oeuvre and his personal life. Eventually I came to greatly admire Gary's "pianistic" four-mallet technique, his work with Chick Corea (and numerous others), and the sheer breadth of his accomplishments as a recording and touring artist, and also an educator and figurehead of the renowned Berklee School of Music.
From page one of "Learning to Listen," I was completely hooked. I flew through the book in a couple days, knowing that I was going to turn around and read the whole thing again, once I'd finished. I found myself relating to and empathizing with so much in this book. I realized that in many ways, Gary and I are kindred spirits. I've had a nice career playing, composing and teaching music myself--by no means on any kind of level that approaches Gary's international fame and reputation, to be clear!--and much of what Gary writes in his book speaks directly to my own experiences, emotions, philosophies and conclusions, after twenty-plus years of making music professionally. I suspect--and this is part of the beauty of this autobiography--that many musicians felt the exact same way while poring over Gary's life story. In sharing a very personal account of his path through the tumultuous, colorful world of music, Gary touches on many truths and revelations that are universal, collectively shared by musicians and artists. There are moments while reading the book, as I'm sure others would agree, when one stops and thinks: I am Gary Burton. That's exactly how I feel. That's exactly what I went through myself. The early days of playing a variety of musical genres, moving to different cities in search of a scene, weathering the doubts of family and peers, struggling to form a personal identity, to develop an individual sound/style on one's instrument, the search for like-minded artistic souls to create, commiserate and co-exist with, and the search for moral support, nurturing and validation from a world that sometimes offers up these commodities rather scarcely... these are all things I understood and related to based on my own experience, and realities that any artistic person has shouldered, at one time or another.
Perhaps I feel this way about Gary's book in part because I also play vibes, an instrument that regrettably remains obscure and rather underrepresented in the music world, and I also have braved a career as a bandleader. When Gary delves into detail about the logistical challenges of constant travel and transporting equipment, the difficulties in keeping sidemen happy and the inevitability of losing and replacing players, and the financial difficulties of sustaining a career that is inherently plagued by such great uncertainty, from month to month and year to year--these are all things I relate to completely. And while Gary describes all this very truthfully and bluntly, in a manner that could never be confused as a "fairy tale," he also recounts the details of hilarious shenanigans, often involving very famous musicians in awkward moments and compromised positions--anecdotes that veer into slapstick territory at times. These moments add levity and color to Gary's narrative, and they're just damn funny! (For example, Gary's story about Stan Getz fumbling around in a wheelchair, onstage at Carnegie Hall, had me laughing for five minutes straight!)
As is the case with pretty much every jazz artist who has made a big name over the years, Gary was fortunate to have a number of early mentors and supporters who recognized his exceptional talents and helped facilitate his success. He is quick to give credit to these individuals, and careful to reiterate the importance of these figures in his ongoing good fortune as an internationally sought-after jazz star. He makes it clear that without these key players--both musicians and businessmen--he would not have enjoyed nearly the same level of success in music. Early in the book, he also describes the warm, supportive family environment that enabled him to develop his musical abilities at such a young age. As he explains it, from almost the first time he held mallets in his hands, doors were opened and a whole world of possibilities was presented.
My personal conclusion after reading about Gary's early years is that he was both extremely fortunate (circumstantially) and also very naturally gifted: the perfect storm for a very successful career in music. To add to this perfect storm, Gary also was born at exactly the right time, historically speaking--a truth he himself acknowledges in the book. The precedent for four-mallet vibraphone technique had not been set yet, allowing him to become its pioneer. The vibraphone was a very new instrument, with an entire world of unexplored possibilities. It is testimony to Gary's creative genius that he, out of all aspiring mallet players of his generation, was the one to break so much new ground. Like Bill Evans on piano, Charlie Parker on alto saxophone, and Miles Davis on trumpet, Gary changed the way entire, subsequent generations of young players approached his instrument. This is rarefied status, afforded only a handful of visionary individuals in the history of jazz.
One thing I didn't realize about Gary (that I learned through the book) was that for much of his career he was a genuine risk-taker. He rolled the dice at various crucial junctures in his career, and there were no guarantees that it was all going to work out well. There's an over-arching sense that he enjoyed something of a charmed career, as these pivotal moments always seemed to wind up paying off in great dividends--a fact that Gary acknowledges more than once in the book. For example, Gary boldly switched creative gears and started a rock-influenced quartet, eschewing traditional jazz at a time when this was a very risky move, and the whole endeavor entailed a major step into uncharted territory. In a narrative tone that is honest and somehow also humble, Gary explains how his foray into jazz/rock fusion actually pre-dated those of Miles Davis and other larger-than-life artists, who would become the icons of the fusion movement of that era. In other words, Gary pioneered the fusion rock movement; he isn't credited by jazz historians as such, necessarily, but the move did work out quite well for him commercially, and paved the way for his future successes. Also, Gary explains how virtually nobody believed his solo vibraphone appearance at Montreux could possibly succeed... but he courageously listened to his inner voice (a theme he revisits on multiple occasions in the book, and the source of the book's title), and proceeded to play an entire set of solo vibes for a large, festival audience. It was a move that his label and others felt would prove disastrous, but it turned out the opposite: it was a giant success, a pivotal moment that created a sea change in the jazz landscape. It not only opened the door for Gary to enjoy a long, fruitful tradition of solo vibes concerts performed all over the world, but had the same effect for other artists on a variety of instruments.
Another aspect of the book that merits discussion is Gary's insightful recollections of his collaborations and relationships with various giants of jazz. In some cases these were artists who discovered and/or somehow buttressed Gary's career, and in other cases it was the opposite: individuals that Gary himself either discovered or gave a platform to build their careers. These include Lionel Hampton, Hank Garland, George Shearing, Stan Getz, Duke Ellington, Red Norvo, Pat Metheny, Ted Kurland and Lee Berk (not artists, but giants nonetheless), Makoto Ozone, Astor Piazzolla and numerous others. Gary offers an honest assessment of each of these individuals, pointing out not only their various talents and abilities, but also their quirks, foibles and, in some cases, considerable failings as human beings. Gary has made a point throughout his career of being equitable and generous with sidemen in his various groups, and he uses his book as an opportunity to throw at least a couple notorious cheapskates and unscrupulous hustlers under the bus. Bravo for being honest, Gary... it's a sad fact of the music business! The author's willingness to share his personal criticisms of certain figures (always offered in a fair-minded, balanced manner) gives the book a certain edge that others of its kind lack. For example, such musically revered figures as tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and vibraphonist Milt Jackson are presented as difficult personalities and, at least in the author's own experience, a drag to be around.
The flip side of this is that Gary goes to great length to demonstrate his appreciation of those musicians and composers who inspired him and also treated him kindly over the decades, whether they be figures whose music influenced his own work, or people he has collaborated with (sometimes for multiple decades, as is the case with Steve Swallow and Chick Corea). One particularly fascinating passage explains how Gary's first musical interactions with pianist Corea were by no means a match made in heaven. This blew me away. I had assumed, as I'm sure most people did, that the two had always enjoyed an effortless musical rapport, considering the incredible legacy they've forged as a piano/vibes duo. Not the case, apparently. Corea's first attempt to work with Gary in the vibraphonist's quartet was something of a failure, leaving Gary to believe the two artists weren't stylistically compatible. Years later, it was only through a fluke of timing, and both men being in the same place at the same time, that they fortuitously discovered they did in fact have a musical bond. The discovery led to many albums, thousands of concerts, and multiple Grammies.
In addition to the wealth of information about musicians, touring, making records, and navigating an inherently uncertain career in the creative arts, Gary's book also provides great insights into the academic world, or more specifically, the Mecca where academia meets creative musicianship: Berklee College of Music, where Gary, despite barely having a year of college education under his belt, played an integral role in helping develop the school's culture and overall mission. For decades, Gary was directly involved in the evolution of the school, first as a teacher, later as an administrator and curriculum visionary. He did all this while maintaining one of the busiest international touring and recording careers of any jazz artist of his generation. Also, he managed to have a family. He speaks with honesty and emotion about his two unsuccessful marriages, his love of his children, and also his lifelong struggles to understand and embrace his sexual identity. In the end, this aspect of his life is, like everything else, a success story, as he eventually made the courageous decision to "come out," with the support of family, friends and colleagues, and embark upon the self-described second half of his life as an openly homosexual man. I was moved by the self-reflective sincerity with which Gary writes about this aspect of his journey, and it served to greatly deepen my understanding of this remarkable man and artist.
In the end, Learning to Listen is a book I wholeheartedly recommend to not only musicians and creative people, but anyone who is interested in what makes us tick. I learned a lot from this book, not only about the history and circumstances surrounding a truly exceptional, legendary career in jazz, but also about the creative process (both the author's own, fascinating approach to improvisation and his beautifully written observations about the creative processes of other important artists), and also about aspects of the universal journey of the artist/musician in our modern world... and last, but certainly not least, the human condition itself.The Lizard Stays in the Cage: Music, Art, Sex, Screenplays, Booze & Basketball
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