During the fifties and sixties, there were a trio of jazz guitarists who (to me at least) epitomized that zone between bebop and blues, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell.
Kenny Burrell came from Detroit, a scene in the fifties that spawned a whole generation of musicians who would define the genres that would be known as Hard Bop and it’s close relation, Soul Jazz.. These players were open to the influence of boppers such as Charlie Parker as well as blues and gospel. Burrell concurrently absorbed and influenced this language as it was being created. Burrell further augmented his blues and bebop influences with classical guitar studies. The result was a jazz guitar style that was at once refined and raw. He could play beautiful unaccompanied chordal passages, frenetic single note barrages, supple blues vamps and swinging bebop lines
Burrell was name checked by Jimi Hendrix as one of his favorite guitarist. Texas bluesman Albert Collins admitted that his original ambition was to play jazz in the Burrell style. Jimmy and Stevie Ray Vaughan often cited Burrell as one of their favorite guitarists with a cover of Burrell’s tune “Chitlins Con Carne” appearing on Stevie Ray’s last LP, The Sky Is Crying.
Midnight Blue was recorded on 8 January 1963 at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey and released in early May 1963 on Blue Note Records. Burrell surrounded himself with musicians who could find just the right spot by playing at lower volumes and slower tempos. There’s tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, bassist Major Holley, drummer Bill English, and conguero Ray Barretto who adds sparse, subtle Latin beats.
Midnight Blue has appeared on more than one Essential Jazz Records list and I will not disagree. This is a record that someone who doesn’t like jazz would like. It’s not in your face, it’s relatively low key but it just oozes a certain elegance while still keeping it real. As the title implies, this is a record that was made for late night listening but really, it’s timeless.
Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue
Kenny Burrell – Chitlins Con Carne –
Kenny Burrell – Saturday Night Blues –
This brings me to the distressing part of the story. In May of 2019, Katherine Burrell, the wife of guitarist Kenny Burrell, set up a page on the fundraising website GoFundMe with the simple headline “Support Kenny Burrell.” Burrell had an accident in 2016, after a concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall to celebrate his 85th birthday, which necessitated two years’ recovery. From there, the bad news kept coming: mounting medical expenses, identity theft, bank fraud, ravaged credit scores, a homeowners-association legal battle. As a result of all this, the Burrells are broke, and could be homeless within weeks. In desperation, Mrs. Burrell turned to the Internet, trying to raise $100,000 to keep them from disaster. In a distressing sign of the times, many people who first learned about their GoFundMe page via social media were inclined to doubt the story but the magazine JazzTimes verifed that it was all true. The link below is to the GoFundMe page. Go there and give.
Support Kenny Burrell (GoFundMe Page) –