Composer / pianist DAVE BURRELL is a distinguished artist of singular stature on the international music scene. Born in New York City, his father – originally from New Orleans – moved the family to Hawaii in 1946. After majoring in music at the University of Hawaii, he enrolled at Boston’s Berklee College of Music in Boston (where he was “as close as brothers” to Philly’s Byard Lancaster), graduating with degrees in composition/arranging and performance in 1965. He relocated back to New York City, establishing himself as an innovative, original pianist and collaborating with the leaders of “avant-garde” jazz comprising many artists tapped for John Coltrane’s epochal Ascension project: Saxophonists Marion Brown, Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp.
Burrell was involved in an all-star group led by Philadelphian Archie Shepp that played the 1969 Pan-African Festival in Algiers. French journalists there mentioned to Dave the possibility of recording in Paris. Burrell recalls “the sound of the ambulances and the police cars in Algiers and that unstable interval of an augmented fourth and thought that was the interval that I wanted to put into ‘Echo‘,” his first recording as a leader. His dynamic compositions with blues and gospel roots recall the “stride” of Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, combining traditional continuity with “free” playing.
Dave’s Philadelphia connections run deep. He fondly remembers bringing “the NY scene” to concerts at University of Pennsylvania’s legendary Foxhole and Temple’s Owl’s Nest, where “Whole families, generations, including babies” would show up, “kind of like tailgating, except it was Jazz.” Politically, he feels “The poets from Philadelphia were strong…so you always felt like you were part of something that you thought you couldn’t change, but you were going to try anyway.” As composer–in-residence at Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library, his commissions include a monumental 5-year suite, American Civil War: 1861-1865, consisting of Portraits of Civil War Heroes (2011), Civilians during War Time (2012) and Turning Point (2013), the latter of which a live performance CD was released to great critical acclaim. Operatic-yet-improvisational vocalist / lyricist Monika Larsson and Burrell have expanded the score from American Civil War, adding more voices and instrumental soloists.
Dave has over 40 recordings as a leader and 130 as a sideman, performing and lecturing regularly in France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Canada and England. Burrell has received numerous grants and awards including National Endowment for the Arts, Philadelphia Music Foundation, William J. Cooper Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, Pennsylvania State Council on The Arts, MidAtlantic Foundation, John Garcia Gensel Award, and the Pew Fellowship in Jazz Composition; he joined the Steinway Artist Roster in 2007.
Burrell feels music comes from “The soul…a spiritual coma, maybe…the seriousness of practicing.” Regarding the Philadelphia Real Book, Dave says it’s “An excellent concept…just the idea of being able to have music from the people that were selected in a book that’s really a Philly book is, I think, making us all proud. It’s good to be part of something like this.”