Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Kenny Burrell - Have Yourself A Soulful Little Christmas

For the past several years, my family and I have travelled to Chicago every December to experience the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the selections that only Chicago can offer at Christmas.

One of the highlights for myself is browsing through massive record stores like the Virgin Music Store or Tower Records. Their selection of Christmas CDs were so varied that you can easily spend nearly an hour in each store (both stores are closed now - victims of the iPod revolution). Last December, I visited a FYE store and found the CD you are looking at and put another Christmas CD back in favor of this one.

Sealed in a polywrap CD bag, this CD came in a simple cardboard sleeve with ALL of the original LP cover art intact. Upon its opening, the CD is stamped with a faithful reproduction of the original LP label and an insert of the back cover of the album! Thankfully, this CD was prominently placed above the racks because if was filed among their other CDs, it would have easily been overlooked.

As I stood in the FYE store in downtown Chicago, I thought "if I were to take a cab about 1 mile south of where I was standing, I would be at the doorstep of the studio where this was recorded". Cadet Records was located at 320 E. 21st Street - just around the corner from its parent home of Chess Records at 2120 S. Michigan Ave.

And now, the bio:

Born in Detroit, Kenny Burrell was raised in a musical family. His mother sang in the church choir and played the piano around the house. His father was fond of the banjo and the ukulele which Kenny recalls, - "It kinda rubbed off on us."

While growing up, Burrell heard fellow artists Django Reinhardt, T-Bone Walker, and Muddy Waters and was greatly influenced by them. By the time he played on his first major recording session in Detroit in 1951 with a Dizzy Gillespie combo that included John Coltrane, Milt Jackson, and Percy Heath, Burrell was one of the best up-and-coming guitarists on the jazz scene.

Even though Kenny was rubbing shoulders with some of jazz's legendary artists, he remained in Detroit to study at Wayne State University, from which he earned a B.A. in music composition and theory in 1955. Later that year, he set off on a six-month tour with the Oscar Peterson Trio and set his sights on New York City.

By 1956, Burrell was the city's most in demand Jazz guitarist, recording his first solo album entitled "Introducing Kenny Burrell" and playing with jazz greats like John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Billie Holiday, Art Taylor, Wes Montgomery, Stanley Turrentine, Jimmy Smith, and Gene Ammons to name a few.

Kenny also played on pop sessions with the likes of Tony Bennett, James Brown and Lena Horne. If that wasn't enough, he also worked in the pit bands of such Broadway shows as Bye Bye Birdie and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying!

By the time Burrell landed at Cadet in October of 1966 to record this Christmas album, he was firmly entrenched as one of the finest jazz guitarists of his era.

(Click on image to enlarge)

From the beginning soul beats of "The Little Drummer Boy" to the brassiness of "My Favorite Things" or to probably the hippest, swingingest versions of "Go Where I Send Thee", this is a phenomenal album that can be listened to year round - a rare feat for Christmas music!

There isn't one sour note or bad version on this album - a timeless album that infuses energy and soul into Christmas music and improves on it immensely.

As the years went on for Kenny, he continued to record albums, sit in with jazz friends, and even began to put his B.A. in music to full use. Burrell began teaching in the 1970s with extended seminars on the life and work of Duke Ellington. This led him to UCLA where he continues to teach as a professor of jazz studies.

I'm grateful I picked this CD instead of the Billy Idol Christmas CD that I've now passed on twice in Chicago - first for Ramsey, now Kenny. Hope you understand Billy!



stubbysfears said...

Trust me, there is ALWAYS going to be a better Christmas CD than Billy Idol's. In this case, you picked one that's virtually indispensable. Kenny Burrell's Christmas CD ranks right up there with the two Ramsey Lewis Christmas efforts. I'm so in love with my vinyl copy, I haven't even looked for the CD version. Maybe some day, you'll "upgrade" to vinyl. ;-)

CaptainOT said...

Stubby - That late 1960s Chess/Cadet jazz sound is pretty hard to top.

Don't forget the Soulful Strings - they too were a Cadet band and their "Magic Of Christmas" album ranks right with Ramsey & Kenny!