Gary Burton and the Next Generation Band

October 16, 2009 at 11:53am
Click here to watch Gary Burton and Julian Lage perform together

Having just graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and landing an amazing job at MCG Jazz I was excited to experience my first concert weekend of this year’s concert series. What made it especially wonderful for me was having our first artist be vibraphonist Gary Burton with the Next Generation Band. Gary Burton not only went to Berklee in the 1960’s, but then spent over 30 years teaching at the college. I knew that having him in town for 5 days was bound to be a time I would never forget.

During his stay I was able to see Gary in a variety of settings. The first time I met Gary was to take him and 21-year-old Julian Lage to the Winchester Thurston Upper School for a clinic. The moment they got into the van conversation instantly started up about Gary’s time playing with George Shearing and the challenges and growth that he experienced as a player due to George’s way of writing music in any and every key. At this time he was told not to use the motor driven butterfly valve, which causes the tremolo effect when spinning. After leaving George to play with Stan Getz he tried to add the tremolo effect back again, but at that moment realized that he no longer liked it and has not used it since. Having listened to Gary’s stories I became curious to find out about Julian and his background.

I knew that Julian was still living in Boston as a student at Berklee so I figured I couldn’t have asked for a better ice breaker. After talking about how every student can’t make it through the day without that one cup of coffee from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts across from the 150 Mass Ave building, which we all lived hours a day in, we started to talk about the influences you find as a musician that help you to create music. At the moment Julian has been experimenting with the bluegrass sound and instruments not traditionally found in jazz like the cello and mandolin to create the sound for his newly released CD. Having heard him explain on the way to the clinic about the types of music he has been working with it made me think about Gary having also experimented with jazz fusion and working with Chick Corea. Both Gary and Julian seemed to have a passion for understanding the music that came before them, but not letting it get in the way of creating fresh new ideas. They both have the desire to contribute to expanding on what we know as the traditional jazz idea and progressing with the times.

Click here to watch Gary Burton talk about improvisation

With Gary behind the vibes and Julian holding his guitar specially crafted for him, all of the kids in the audience (including me!) were waiting with anticipation. The moment they started to play it captured everyone in the room. Having never heard a vibraphone and guitar duo I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after the first note I wanted to hear more. While playing My Funny Valentine you could tell that Gary and Julian were musically connected: always picking up where one left off as though they were finishing each others sentences. As Gary focused on each golden bar during his solo Julian just listened, looked over, and smiled. It seemed that after not playing together for three years it felt good for the both of them to be back on the same stage.

During the clinic at the Winchester Thurston Upper School, I was able to get a lot of questions answered. People wanted to see the Gary Burton mallet grip, which always embarrassed him and in turn made him stress that no, he did not name it after himself. He talked about Bill Evans and how he influenced his playing because there were not many vibraphonist to follow at that time since it was such a new instrument. He then got into how he started to play with Chick accidentally by being the only two in a group to volunteer and agree to be part of a jam session, which led to touring together and making records like Crystal Silence.

Click here to watch Gary Burton talk about his musical influences

Each night the group played they played longer, they took more time to improvise and stretch out, and they always made time for an encore. With every concert the group that had not been together for three years started to sound like they’d never been apart. The audience and I both could feel the energy and creativity they sent out, and they did it all through music.