The jazz vibraphone player inspired Pat Metheny to take up jazz guitar and to later join his Quartet in the 1970s. Burton tells us what it’s like to play again with this line-up after 30 years…
What made you decide to revisit your classic Quartet line-up?
It was intended to be a one-time only thing. Pat Metheny (pictured below with Burton) was the guest artist at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2006 and he thought it would be fun to put the old group together – the group he started his career with – my Quartet. When we came off the stage we looked at each other and said ‘wow, we should do this some more'. That led to the first tour and now we’re about to start our third.
How was the playlist for the disc worked out?
The concept was to play the music from the mid-70s when Pat Metheny was in the band. So we took a look at the old records and came up with about 20 songs that we thought were the most viable to play 30 years later. Some are written by Pat Metheny, some by Steve Swallow, and some by Carla Bley, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett. I was trying to bring in the important composers who were writing for our repertoire at that time.
Your early track ‘Walter L’ is on the album. Why is that included?
I wrote that in honour of the guitar player who helped me start my career. His name was Hank Garland, ‘Walter L Garland’. He was a famous player in Nashville and he wanted to make a jazz record with vibes. I was only 17 and lived in another state [Indiana], nonetheless not too far away, about four hours by car. I came down to Nashville and we played a little and he said: ‘It sounds great, let’s work at this club for a while and then we’ll make the record’. And that launched my career. Pat Metheny heard this track on one of my early records and said it was one of his favourite pieces. In fact he says that it was my band that convinced him to take up the guitar and go into jazz. After joining the group the first thing he asked was: ‘Can we play “Walter L”?’
Do you have a personal highlight on the disc?
‘Question and Answer’ is iconic, it’s one of Pat’s best known compositions. It’s our closing song on the concerts. It’s one of those songs that however many times you play it, it still feels fresh each time you start and you can play pieces like that for decades and never get tired.
What got you into jazz in the first place?
I started playing the vibraphone when I was six. There just happened to be a lady in my small town that gave lessons so that’s where my parents took me. I discovered jazz when I was probably 12 or 13. I got a small record player for Christmas and started buying records, and one of them happened to be a song by Benny Goodman – ‘After You’ve Gone’. It was so exciting rhythmically. There was all this improvising going on and it just grabbed me. All I wanted to do was play jazz – through high school that became my passion.
Interview by Neil McKim
For a full review of Quartet Live, take a look at the July issue of BBC Music Magazine, on sale now
CD: Quartet Live
Gary Burton (vibraphone), Pat Metheny (guitar), Steve Swallow (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
UCJ 723 1303 79:16 mins
Audio clip: Quartet Live – 'Walter L'
Image: Denis Alix
BBC Music July Jazz choice