Reunion vibe

If retiring from the Berklee College of Music after 33 years has meant one thing to Gary Burton, it’s meant a chance to really get to work. The 63-year-old vibraphonist explained the other day that since leaving the premier jazz school in 2004, he’s spent most of his time either in the studio, on tour with his New Generation Band of young players or, mostly recently, on tour with some old and important musical friends.

Steve Swallow, who started out his career as an impressive stand-up bassist with Jimmy Giuffre and others, converted to the electric bass, made a splash with Burton’s band in the late ’60s and played with him for years.

And in 1973, Burton met a talented, young guitar player at a college jazz festival in Wichita, Kan. The kid, whose name was Pat Metheny, told Burton that his dream was to play in his quartet. Burton listened and took the kid seriously.

“I advised him to move to either New York or Boston where there was an active jazz scene, and a few months later he moved to Boston.” Burton says. We started playing together informally and before long I decided it would work to have Pat join the group as a second guitarist.”

That was the band — anchored by Swallow’s bass — that recorded the classic album Dreams So Real, featuring the compositions of Carla Bley.

Metheny, of course, went on to become a big name in jazz, one of the very few artists with pop-jazz commercial clout who also seeks out less commercial collaborations with artists from Derek Bailey to Ornette Coleman to his old mentor Gary Burton.

Originally, Burton and Metheny were going to get back together just to record. But the studio time was so enjoyable, Burton says, that they decided to do more and revive the Burton band repertoire of the late ’60s through the late ’70s. Last year the quartet played the Montreal Jazz Festival. Now they’ve got a full tour. (Metheney’s regular drummer, Antonio Sanchez, rounds out the quartet.)

“Playing with Pat and Steve again has been a wild blend of ‘like old times’ and getting to know them as very new and different players than before. So, the 10 concerts we have played already have been quite fascinating,” says Burton, via e-mail from the California leg of the trip.

The music and the state of discovery onstage brings back the times, he says, and makes for the best times he’s had since he stopped teaching.


Gary Burton Quartet Revisited Tour plays Music Hall on Friday, June 16; 350 Madison St, Detroit; 313-962-0243. Charles L. Latimer writes about jazz for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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