One of the two great vibraphonists to emerge in the 1960s (along with Bobby Hutcherson), Gary Burton's remarkable four-mallet technique (best displayed on an unaccompanied version of "No More Blues" from 1971) can make him sound like two or three players at once.
He has recorded in a wide variety of settings and always sounds distinctive. Self-taught on vibes, Burton made his recording debut with country guitarist Hank Garland when he was 17. From there, he started recording regularly for RCA in 1961, beginning with his debut, New Vibe Man in Town.
Despite his burgeoning solo career, he continued work as a sideman, touring with George Shearing's quintet in 1963. He also gained some fame while with Stan Getz's pianoless quartet during 1964-1966, and then put together his own groups. In 1967, with guitarist Larry Coryell, he led one of the early "fusion" bands, releasing albums like A Genuine Tong Funeral, Duster, and Gary Burton Quartet in Concert. Coryell would later be succeeded by Sam Brown, Mick Goodrick, John Scofield, Jerry Hahn, and Pat Metheny.
During the '70s, Burton continued to release a steady stream of albums including the impressive solo session Alone at Last, Ring with Eberhard Weber, and the quintet date Dreams So Real: Music of Carla Bley. He also collaborated often during the '70s, touring and recording duet sets with Chick Corea such as 1972's Crystal Silence for ECM. There were similarly influential dates with Ralph Towner, Steve Swallow, Paul Bley, Keith Jarrett, and others. Among his sidemen in the late '70s and '80s were Makoto Ozone, Tiger Okoshi, and Tommy Smith. Very active as an educator at Berklee upon joining its faculty in 1971, Burton remained a prominent performer over the next few decades, releasing albums like 1982's Lyric Suite for Sextet, 1986's Whiz Kids, and 1988's Times Like These for GRP.
Moving into the '90s, Burton stuck with GRP, issuing albums like the Paul Bley duo date Right Time, Right Place, 1993's It's Another Day with vocalist Rebecca Parris, and 1995's Face to Face. He then shifted to Concord for a bevy of well-regarded efforts, including 1997's Departure and 1998's Like Minds. Two years later, Libertango, his tribute to tango master Astor Piazzolla, arrived. The very personal album For Hamp, Red, Bags, and Cal was issued in 2001, and in 2002 he explored classical music with the duet album Virtuosi, recorded with pianist Makoto Ozone.
The year 2004 found Burton back on familiar ground with the release of Generations, a bop-influenced album featuring a quartet of younger musicians. Burton paired with the same group for 2005's Next Generation. In 2009, Burton released Quartet Live featuring guitarist Metheny and bassist Swallow on Concord. In 2012, he released Hot House, another duet recording with Corea. In August of 2013, the vibraphonist released Guided Tour by the New Gary Burton Quartet on Mack Avenue Records. His new bandmates included drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Scott Colley, and guitarist Julian Lage. Two years later, he joined Metheny, Jan Garbarek, Paul McCandless, the SWR Big Band, and others in a concert marking bassist Eberhard Weber's 75th birthday. It was released as Hommage à Eberhard Weber on ECM. After a 50-plus-year career, Burton retired from performing in 2017, following a farewell tour with pianist Ozone. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi