Sunday, March 18

Director of jazz studies recognized for advancement of music genre


Receiving a 2005 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters
Award isn’t something most people would be modest about
““ but Kenny Burrell, director of the Jazz Studies Program at
UCLA, certainly is.

The Jazz Masters Award is the highest honor people can receive
for their contributions to the promotion and advancement of the
American genre of jazz music. Recipients receive national
recognition among their musical colleagues at an awards ceremony
and concert and are provided with a one-time fellowship of $25,000.
The American public chooses the nominees, and then a panel selects
the winner.

While Burrell was excited and honored to receive such an award
and to be in such prestigious company, he felt mixed emotions upon
receiving it because past musicians who are worthy of such an award
passed away before the award was established.

“Legendary musicians such as Louie Armstrong have also
made major contributions to jazz but didn’t receive the award
and should so that people can look back on the awards and know
about all the important contributors of the genre,” said

Steve Loza, professor of ethnomusicology and a colleague of
Burrell’s for nearly 30 years, is happy to see that Burrell
has received the award.

“He is highly deserving of it,” Loza said. “I
sat on the Jazz Masters selection panel some years ago, and I am
surprised it took this long. … But the best (is saved) for

Burrell was born into a musical family and became seriously
interested in jazz when he was a teenager and began playing
semi-professionally. But it was not until his sophomore year at
Wayne State University in Detroit that he finally decided to devote
his professional life to music even though he knew that succeeding
in the music industry would be very difficult. He said he
considered studying law but ultimately decided to pursue a career
in music .

“Music was really where my heart was, my passion
was,” Burrell said. “I’m glad I chose music
because it’s paid off.”

Burrell has had a very fruitful career, having traveled the
world and collaborated with many top artists and musicians such as
the great jazz singer Billie Holiday, Motown legends Quincy Jones
and Aretha Franklin, and Rat Pack member Frank Sinatra just to name
a few. Burrell also wrote the 1998 Grammy Award-winning CD
“Dear Ella.”

Burrell’s lifetime has been filled with some many
wonderful experiences that picking a favorite is out of the

“I have enjoyed so many parts of my career that I simply
cannot just choose one,” said Burrell.

Burrell came to UCLA in 1978 after being asked to teach a course
on jazz part time. In 1996, he was then asked to become a full-time
professor and the first director of the new Jazz Studies

As an advocate for the awareness of jazz, he has also created a
support group on the UCLA campus called Friends of Jazz. The
function of this group is to expand the Jazz Studies Program by
adding more outstanding faculty, support for its students and more
concerts and seminars about the history of jazz.

Tim Rice, professor of ethnomusicology, said Burrell is
determined to have the best possible jazz program he can for the

“He has a very clear vision of the kind of training young
students need to succeed in today’s jazz world,” he

As a professor, Burrell strives to educate his students on the
importance of jazz by encouraging their creativity. He is happy to
pass on his knowledge with fellow jazz enthusiasts any way he

Brent Canter, a first-year ethnomusicology student, chose to
attend UCLA for the sole reason of studying under the accomplished
Burrell because he knew he would be learning from one of the best
musicians in the jazz community.

Eli Sundelson, also a first-year ethnomusicology student, says
he is privileged to study under Burrell because he has grown up
listening to many of his recordings.

“It’s exiting to study with someone you’ve
admired and have been listening to for such a long time,”
Sundelson said.

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