Gary Burton (born January 23, 1943, Anderson, Indiana) is an American jazz vibraphonist, composer and jazz educator. Burton developed a pianistic style of four-mallet technique as an alternative to the prevailing two-mallet technique. This approach caused him to be heralded as an innovator and his sound and technique are widely imitated. He is also known for pioneering fusion jazz and popularizing the duet format in jazz, as well as being a major figure in jazz education due to his 30 years at the Berklee College of Music.
Beginning music at six years old, Burton for the most part taught himself to play marimba and vibraphone. He also began studying piano at age sixteen as he finished high school in Princeton, Indiana (56-60). Burton has cited jazz pianist Bill Evans as a main inspiration for his approach toward the vibraphone.
Burton attended Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1960-61. He studied with Herb Pomeroy and soon befriended the composer and arranger Michael Gibbs. After establishing his career during the 1960s, he returned to join the staff of Berklee from 1971-2004, serving first as Professor, then Dean and finally as Executive Vice President during his last decade at the college.
Early in his career, at the behest of noted Nashville saxophonist Boots Randolph, Burton moved to Nashville and recorded with several notable Nashville musicians including guitarist Hank Garland, pianist Floyd Cramer and guitarist Chet Atkins.
After touring both the U.S. and Japan with pianist George Shearing in 1963, Burton went on to play with saxophonist Stan Getz from 1964 to 1966. It was during this time with the Stan Getz Quartet that Burton appeared with the band in a feature film, "Get Yourself a College Girl", playing "Girl From Ipanema" with Astrud Gilberto. In 1967 he formed the Gary Burton Quartet along with guitarist Larry Coryell, drummer Roy Haynes, and bassist Steve Swallow. Predating the jazz-rock fusion craze of the 1970s, the group's first record, Duster, combined jazz, country and rock and roll elements. However, some of Burton's previous albums (notably Tennessee Firebird and Time Machine, both from 1966) had already shown his inclination toward such experimentation with different genres of popular music. After Coryell left the quartet in the late 1960s, Burton hired a number of well-regarded guitarists: Jerry Hahn, David Pritchard, Mick Goodrick, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and most recently Julian Lage, who plays guitar in Burton's group Next Generation.
Burton was named Down Beat magazine's 'Jazzman of the Year' in 1968 (the youngest ever to receive the title) and won his first Grammy award in 1972. The following year Burton began a now 40-year-long collaboration with pianist Chick Corea, recognized for popularizing the format of jazz duet performance. Their eight recordings together won the pair Grammy awards in years 1979, 1981, 1997, 1999, 2009, and most recently in 2013, for Hot House. Burton has a total of 21 Grammy nominations and seven Grammy wins.
Burton has played with a wide variety of jazz musicians, including Carla Bley, Hank Garland, Gato Barbieri, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Steve Lacy, Pat Metheny, Makoto Ozone, Tiger Okoshi, Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, B.B. King, Tommy Smith, Eberhard Weber, Ralph Towner, Peter Erskine, Stephane Grappelli and Ástor Piazzolla.
From 2004 to 2008 Burton hosted a weekly jazz radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio. From September 2006 to April 2008, Burton toured worldwide with Chick Corea celebrating 35 years of working together. More recently Burton toured and recorded in 2009 with Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow, and Antonio Sanchez (The Gary Burton Quartet Revisited), reprising music from Burton's 1970s group.
In 2011, Burton released his first project for Mack Avenue Records, entitled Common Ground featuring the New Gary Burton Quartet (with Julian Lage, Scott Colley, and Antonio Sanchez). The group's second release, Guided Tour, was released in August, 2013. Burton's autobiography, Learning To Listen, was published by Berklee Press in August 2013. Burton's available recordings, as of 2013, are mainly those from Atlantic Records, ECM Records, GRP Records, Concord Jazz, and Mack Avenue Records.
Following an early marriage in his 20's, Burton married for a second time 1975-84 to Catherine Goldwyn, granddaughter of film producer Samuel Goldwyn (1879-1974). They have two children, Stephanie and Sam, and one grandchild.
By the 1980s, Burton was in a gay relationship and he came out publicly in a 1994 radio interview with Terry Gross, making him one of rather few openly gay jazz musicians of prominence. In 2013, he married his long time partner, Jonathan Chong.