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Learning to Listen: The Jazz Journey of Gary Burton [Paperback]

Gary Burton
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

23 Oct 2013
In Learning to Listen, Gary Burton shares his fifty years of experiences at the top of the jazz scene. A seven-time Grammy award winner, Burton made his first recordings at age 17, has toured and recorded with a who's who of famous jazz names, and is one of only a few openly gay musicians in jazz. Burton is a true innovator, both as a performer and an educator. His autobiography is one of the most personal and insightful jazz books ever written.

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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: 22.9 x 15.1 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 528,674 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
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 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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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars BURTON LAYS OUT HIS PERSONAL AND MUSICAL LIFE IN JAZZ 28 Sep 2013
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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 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.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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
4.0 out of 5 stars 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
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential jazz reading 21 Sep 2013
By Richard Niles - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Informative and insightful, I couldn't put this book down.
It succeeds both as an essential cultural document about jazz and as a sensitive and passionate personal biography.
Burton is one of the great jazz innovators, both in his promotion of a new generation of composers (Corea, Jarrett, Carla Bley, Michael Gibbs) and the way he revolutionised his own instrument, the vibraphone.
This is an inside view of how creativity is born, develops and applied.
I recommend it unreservedly.
Dr. Richard Niles
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