Growing up in Anderson, Indiana, Gary Burton was regarded as a child prodigy. He became interested in music when he was just six. That was when Gary Burton first began to play the vibraphone and marimba. Mostly, Gary was self taught, and eventually pioneered the four-mallet technique. 

This was very different to the technique and sound produced by other vibes’ players. Gary’s put his four-mallet technique to good use when he discovered jazz in his early teens. This was the start of a lifelong love affair.

By the time he was sixteen, Gary began to play the piano. This would eventually lead to him choosing between vibes and piano. That was in the future. Before that, seventeen year old Gary left high school in Princeton, Indiana. Next stop for Gary was Berklee College of Music. 

Between 1960 and 1961, Gary Burton attended this prestigious institution. When Gary left Berklee College of Music in 1961, his recording career was about to begin.

New Vibe Man in Town.

Having signed to RCA, New Vibe Man in Town was released to critical acclaim in 1961. Critics heralded the arrival of this prodigious talent. He had settled into the role of bandleader, and wasn’t overawed by the more experienced members of his trio. A great future was forecast for Gary Burton. 


Who Is Gary Burton?

A year later, and Gary Burton returned with his sophomore album Who Is Gary Burton? This time, the young bandleader was leading septet of experienced musicians. Only drummer Joe Morello returned from Gary’s debut album. The seven tracks had been recorded on September 14th and 15th 1962. Who Is Gary Burton? was released later in 1962.

With Gary at the helm, his septet produced an effortless set. Critics remarked upon the standard and quality of his playing. Gary was akin to a master craftsman as he pioneered the four-mallet technique on a set that eschewed the predictable. Gary, critics remarked, was a rising star of the jazz scene. So it was no surprise when he began to catch the attention of some of the biggest names in jazz.


This included George Shearing, who Gary was invited to tour with during 1963. Gary played on George Shearing’s American and Japanese tours. However, still, Gary found time to release his third album, Something’s Coming. It’s recently been released alongside The Groovy Sound Of Music and The Time Machine as a remastered two CD set by BGO Records. These three albums are the perfect introduction to Gary Burton as his sound evolves.

Something’s Coming!

Touring America and Japan with George Shearing had proved a valuable musical lesson. Working with such experienced musicians night after night allowed Gary to gain vital experience. Gary watched how George Shearing lead a top class band. Although Gary was the youngest member of George Shearing’s band he was there on merit. While he was only twenty, he had already, had released two albums. Soon, two became three when George began work on Something’s Coming!

For Something’s Coming!, Gary chose seven tracks. This included some familiar standards, including Rogers and Hart’s Little Blue Girl; Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Something’s Coming; George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s Summertime and Bronisłau Kaper and Ned Washington’s On Green Dolphin Street. Gary also covered Michael Gibbs’ Melanie and Six Improvisational Sketches. The other track that was chosen was Careful, a song penned by Gary’s guitarist Jim Hall. These seven tracks were recorded by a quartet.

Recording of Something’s Coming! took place at RCA Victor’s Studio B in New York City on August 14th-16th 1963. Producing Something’s Coming was George Avakian. Gary played vibes, while the rhythm section featured drummer Larry Bunker, bassist Chuck Israels and guitarist Jim Hall. After recording of Something’s Coming was complete, Jim Hall would play an important part in Gary’s future career.

Sometimes, though, Gary was wracked with self doubt. During these periods, Gary wondered whether the vibes was the right instrument for him? He wondered: was it too obscure an instrument? Maybe people wouldn’t like the sound of the vibes? What if it wasn’t popular, and there was no call for a vibes player? All these thoughts crossed Gary’s mind. So much so, that he began to consider switching instrument.

Gary wondered should he switch to the marimba, or even the piano? Although he had only been playing the piano since he was sixteen, he was already a talented player. The marimba he had playing since he was six. Seamlessly, Gary could believed he was good enough to switch from vibes to marimba or piano. With Gary wracked with self doubt,it was guitarist Jim Hall who put his mind at ease.

Jim Hall who had befriended Gary upon his arrival in New York. He realised that his friend was having a crisis of confidence. His advice was to stop fretting about the instrument and focus on the music. That was what was important. With that in mind, Gary was able to concentrate on the release of Something’s Coming.

The release of Something’s Coming was scheduled for 1963. Before that, critics had their say on the album. Critics were impressed by how Gary Burton had developed. It seemed that with each album, he grew into the role of bandleader. So it was no surprise when critical acclaim accompanied the release of Something’s Coming. It would showcase Gary’s new band. This time around, his band had been scaled back to a quartet. They would prove the perfect foil to Gary.

Having decided to record the album as a quartet, it was just the rhythm section and guitarist Jim Hall that accompanied Gary. They earn their corn from the opening track, On Green Dolphin Street. Here, Gary’s twinkling, glistening vibes dance above the driving, swinging arrangement. This gives way to the beautiful understated balladry of Melanie. Then the Jim Hall penned Careful allows Gary’s vibes and Jim’s guitar to unite and play as one. As they play leading roles, the rhythm section add a slow, swinging and spacious backdrop. It combines elements of the cool school and cocktail jazz. However, it’s Jim’s guitar that steals the show. From there, Six Improvisatory Sketches showcases a much more abstract sound, before it’s all change.

Gradually, Something’s Coming! from West Side Story begins to reveal its secrets. Soon, the quartet kick loose, as Jim Hall and Gary play starring roles, as the arrangement swings. After this, the quartet play with a fluidity and inventiveness as they cover of Little Girl Blue. It features some of the finest solos on the album. Summertime which closes Something’s Coming is reinvented as a mid-tempo track, where the quartet breeze through this oft-covered track, and in the process, breath new life to a classic.


After the success of his third album Something’s Coming, and with his self doubt banished, a new chapter was about to unfold in the Gary Burton story. He was asked to join Stan Getz’s band, and between 1964 and 1966, toured with his band. However, Gary didn’t sacrifice his solo career, and released his fourth solo album The Groovy Sound Of Music in 1965.

The Groovy Sound Of Music.

Having spent much of 1964 touring with Stan Getz, Gary Burton returned to the studio in December 21st and 22nd 1964. Over two days, Gary and his band recorded eight songs from the Broadway play The Sound Of Music. They were given a moderne makeover by Gary’s septet.

For the recording of The Groovy Sound Of Music RCA Victor’s Studio A in New York was booked for  December 21st and 22nd 1964. Gary’s band featured a rhythm section of drummers Joe Hunt and Ed Shaughnessy; bassist Steve Swallow and guitarist Joe Puma. They were joined by Bob Brookmeyer on valve trombone and Phil Woods on alto saxophone and clarinet. As usual, Gary played vibes and arranged three of the eight tracks. With the studio only booked for two days, and Christmas fast approaching, The Groovy Sound Of Music was recorded quickly. The release was scheduled for 1965.

Onlookers thought that The Groovy Sound Of Music was Gary’s homage to Rogers and Hammerstein. He had covered their songs before. However, Gary had never released an album of Rogers and Hammerstein’s music. That was until 1965. However, there was another reason for the release of The Groovy Sound Of Music.

In March 1965, the film version of The Sound Of Music was due to be released. RCA had been entrusted to record and release the soundtrack to The Sound Of Music. As part of the agreement struck with Richard Rogers, RCA would encourage other artists to record other versions of The Sound Of Music. This would make the venture even more profitable for Rogers and Hammerstein. One of the artists approached to record a version of The Sound Of Music was Gary Burton. He knew that other jazz musicians had enjoyed commercial success by covering Broadway musicals, so decided to record what became The Groovy Sound Of Music.

Prior to the release of The Groovy Sound Of Music, critics received an advance copy of the album. They were impressed as the tight, talented septet reinterpreted the eight songs from The Sound Of Music. Never had they sounded like this. Suddenly, Rogers and Hammerstein’s The Sound Of Music was hip among the jazz fraternity.

From the jazzy, gently swinging reinvention of Climb Every Mountain, The Groovy Sound Of Music reinvents eight familiar songs from the Rogers and Hammerstein songbook. They take on new meaning. Especially the mid-tempo version of Maria, where Gary’s glistening vibes combine with the horns. Then An Ordinary Couple is reinvented, when a bossa nova beat underpins an arrangement that where flutes and cellos play starring roles. After this, there’s two excursions into modal jazz.

After this, Gary decided to include a version My Favourite Things. That’s despite John Coltrane recording the definitive version. However, while the tempo is similar, Gary doesn’t try and compete. Instead, he takes the track in a different direction. His modal version veers between thoughtful to joyous, as it later breezes along showing a new side to this oft-covered track. Sixteen Going On Seventeen is also given a modal makeover. It oscillates and breezes along, and is a truly irresistible reinvention that takes the track in a new direction. The same can be said of Do-Re-Mi scampers along playfully. Then it is time for a masterclass from Gary.

This takes place on Edelweiss, which is the perfect showcase for Gary’s four-mallet technique. Closing The Groovy Sound Of Music is The Sound Of Music. Here a bossa nova beat underpins the lush strings and woodwind that accompany Gary’s twinkling vibes. It’s a case of saving one of the best until last.

When The Sound Of Music was released in March 1965, it became one of the most popular films of the sixties. The soundtrack reached number one in America and Britain. In Britain The Sound Of Music was the second biggest-selling of the sixties. Alas, Gary Burton’s The Groovy Sound Sound Of Music never came close to replicating the success of the soundtrack. However, The Groovy Sound Sound Of Music introduced Gary’s music to a wider audience. This bode well for the future.


The Time Machine.

After releasing The Groovy Sound Sound Of Music in 1965, Gary spent much of 1965 touring with Stan Getz. It wasn’t until April the 5th and 6th that Gary found time to return to RCA Victor’s Studio B in New York. That was where ten tracks that became The Time Machine were recorded.

For The Time Machine, Gary Burton had written four tracks; The Sunset Bell, Six-Nix, Quix, Flix, Interim I and Interim II. There were also two tracks penned by Michael Gibbs, Childhood and Deluge; while bassist Gary Swallow contributed Falling Grace. Other tracks included Lennon and McCartney’s Norwegian Wood; Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius De Moraes’s Chega De Suadade (No More Blues) and Rogers and Hart’s My Funny Valentine. These tracks were recorded by Gary’s slimmed down band.

Just a rhythm section of drummer Larry Bunker and bassist Gary Swallow accompanied Gary during the recording of The Time Machine. These sessions were produced by Brad McCuen. Once the rhythm tracks and Gary’s vibes were laid down, Gary overdubbed piano and marimbas. Only then was The Time Machine complete.

Before The Time Machine was released in 1966, critics had their say on Gary Burton’s sixth album. They noted the addition of the marimba and piano, which added a new dimension. Still there was considerable interplay between Gary and his rhythm section. However, it was as if Gary was keen to move his music in a new direction, and The Time Machine was the start of this. 

The four new tracks penned by Gary hinted at this. Six-Nix, Quix, Flix, Interim I and Interim II were just short tracks, but gave a tantalising taste of what was to come from Gary Burton. Especially Interim parts I and II. The Sunset Bell however, was one of the highlights of The Time Machine. It’s not alone.

So is the cover of Chega De Suadade (No More Blues). The meandering, wistful take of breathes new life into Norwegian Wood. Meanwhile Michael Gibbs’ Childhood and Deluge are the perfect platform for Gary Burton. Both tracks allow Gary to express himself.The same can be said of Falling Grace which Gary’s bassist Gary Swallow contributed. It allows Gary and the his band to stretch their legs. My Funny Valentine which closes The Time Machine, takes on an almost ruminative sound. Again, it’s a case of a familiar song taking on new meaning. 


Already, Gary Burton had plenty of experience reinventing familiar tracks. The Time Machine was his sixth album, and Gary was still only twenty-three. He had released six albums since his eighteenth birthday. Each of these albums saw Gary’s sound evolving and changing. By the time Gary released The Time Machine, he was experimenting with overdubbing. This allowed him to layer instruments, and resulted in a much more dense sound. Still, though, his vibes glistened and sparkled. Sometimes, though they had company, with the marimba and piano being overdubbed. This added a new dimension to Gary’s music. 

Throughout his career, Gary Burton’s music would continue to evolve. He would later pioneer fusion, and would help popularise the duet in jazz. Gary Burton it seemed, was not willing to accept the status quo. He was a realist, and knew that unless jazz evolved, it risked becoming irrelevant. Especially since pop and rock were overtaking jazz in the popularity stakes. If jazz musicians weren’t careful, then jazz risked following in the footsteps of the blues. By 1966, it was fast becoming irrelevant, despite the best efforts of the British Invasion groups to give the blues a boost. There was no way Gary wasn’t going to stand back and watch the same thing happen to jazz.

That didn’t happened, and Gary Burton went on enjoy a long and successful career. His recording career continued until recently. This means that Gary’s career has spanned five decades and over fifty years. That’s pretty good for a musician who was full of self doubt after recording Something’s Coming! It’s recently been released alongside The Groovy Sound Of Music and The Time Machine as a remastered two CD set by BGO Records. The sound quality is stunning on this three album set. They’re the perfect introduction to jazz prodigy and pioneer Gary Burton as his sound evolves during the early years of his long and illustrious career.



1 Comment

  1. A re-issue to watch out for.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: