Kenny Burrell

Kenny Burrell
Kenny Burrell
“My style evolved, not changed, but I think evolved as I grew and matured. I don’t think there was any kind of change I did in a deliberate way – I think I just evolved.”
-Kenny Burrell

Kenny Burrell is a legendary jazz guitarist who has been captivating audiences with his smooth, bluesy style for over six decades. Known for his unpretentious demeanor and deep respect for the jazz tradition, Burrell has had a long and storied career that has earned him a place among the greats in the pantheon of jazz music.


Born to a musical family in 1931 in Detroit, Michigan, Burrell was exposed to a variety of musical styles from a young age. His father, a factory worker, played banjo and guitar, while his mother was a pianist and organist. Growing up in Detroit, a city with a rich and diverse musical heritage, Burrell was influenced by various genres, including blues, gospel, and classical music.

Burrell began playing the guitar at the age of 12 and soon developed a deep passion for jazz. As a teenager, he was captivated by the recordings of Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, and T-Bone Walker. Inspired by these guitarists, Burrell honed his skills by performing in local clubs and studying music at Wayne State University.

In 1951, Burrell moved to New York City to pursue a professional music career. His big break came when he was invited to join the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band in 1951. Over the years, Burrell played with some of the most celebrated names in jazz, including Oscar Peterson, Benny Goodman, and John Coltrane. 

Kenny Burrell was named a 2005 NEA Jazz Master.


Kenny Burrell’s influence on jazz guitar is immeasurable. His smooth, blues-inflected style has inspired countless musicians, including guitarists George Benson, Pat Metheny, and Bill Frisell. Burrell’s discography, spanning over six decades, is a testament to his enduring appeal and relevance in the ever-evolving world of jazz.

Kenny Burrell’s illustrious career as a jazz guitarist, educator, and advocate for social justice has left a lasting impact on the music world. His quiet, humble demeanor, combined with his undeniable talent, has made him a revered figure in jazz history. As we celebrate his contributions to the genre, we are reminded of the power of music to inspire and unite us all.


Listen to this mesmerizing rendition of Gershwin’s standard Summertime, performed in New York City’s Townhall in 1985 by Kenny Burrell (guitar),  Grover Washington (soprano sax), Reggie Workman (bass), and Grady Tate (drums)



In addition to being a skilled musician and a composer, Kenny Burrell is a passionate educator. Burrell taught at at UCLA, started the jazz program at the university, and received the 2004 Jazz Educator of the Year Award from Down Beat. Chris M. Slaweki interviewed Kenny Burrell for All About Jazz. Kenny talked about growing up in Detroit, developing a distinct musical style, and passing on his knowledge and experience to the next generation. 

“First of all, we are suffering overall in our society from what I believe is a lack of education about American music. Jazz is a large part of American music and I think it’s important to me, not only as a jazz musician but as also as an educator, to help people understand how valuable and how important this music is, and also to make them understand that this music is theirs, that it’s a part of them. It’s all part of us here. When more people learn to understand and appreciate it, it’s going to be a win-win: They will enjoy it more, which will give musicians more chances to play and grow, more opportunity to experiment and compose and arrange and perform, and, as a result, make better music. Education is really the key to making everything better in terms of the music of our country.”
-Kenny Burrell

Read the full interview HERE

Kenny Burrell


Kenny Burrell Moon and Sand cover
Arkadia Records had the pleasure of recording NEA Jazz Master, guitarist Kenny Burrell, along with renowned vocalist Ernie Andrews, in a beautiful performance as a part of the Ad Lib International TV Series in 1980. This recording, “Moon and Sand,”  is now available on all digital platforms. Listen to it HERE.
Learn more about “Moon and Sand” on the Album’s page

“I strive for honesty in playing what I feel.”
-Kenny Burrell


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