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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Grammy-winning Gay jazz artist Gary Burton
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Grammy-winning Gay jazz artist Gary Burton

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

Gary Burton
and Chick Corea
April 13-14
Dimitriou's Jazz Alley


Think of Gary Burton as the Paul Simon of jazz. He's won six Grammy Awards (out of 15 nominations), worked with the genre's top brass (no pun intended), played on the world's most prestigious stages, collaborated on kd lang's timeless album Ingenue, and was regarded as a trailblazer in the industry for igniting the fusion style of jazz in the late '60s. Also of note: Burton is Gay. For over two decades of his career, the maestro has been completely open with his sexuality on- and off-stage, jamming with the genre's biggest names and never once having to deal with a problem. A retired music professor, Burton continues to record albums and hit the road, evidenced by his upcoming two-night stand at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley with fellow jazz giant Chick Corea on April 13 and 14 (visit www.jazzalley.com for ticket information). I caught up with Gary Burton this week from his Florida residence, and here's what this highly praised musician revealed to me inside "The Music Lounge."

Rodriguez: You're coming to Seattle - one of the Gayest cities in America.

Burton: That's what I hear. I haven't spent much time in Seattle. In fact, the last time I was there was about 10 years ago, with Chick. We were playing at Jazz Alley also.

Rodriguez: Are you active in your local Gay community in Ft. Lauderdale or Miami?

Burton: A little bit. I have a lot of Gay friends and we're out a lot. My partner and I are members of the Stonewall Library Association, but I must admit that I don't play a real active role, in the political sense, in the community.

Rodriguez: Has the jazz community of musicians always been open to all types?

Burton: There are very few openly Gay jazz musicians. But on the other hand, I've never had any negative feedback or reactions from people, either from musicians or fans. I've been openly Gay for the past 20 - almost 25 - years in my career, and I expected to catch some situations where people spoke rudely, or that sort of thing. I even worried some musicians might be uncomfortable about collaborating with me on records or tours. But none of that happened. All the people I used to play with I still play with, and the audiences that come don't seem to care at all. I will make one point, which is that some Gay performers use their Gay identity as part of their onstage Gay persona, such as Elton John or kd lang. & On the other hand, other performers, such as me, you wouldn't have reason to guess I was Gay when I'm on stage performing because there's nothing in the way I dress or music that I play to indicate that. So, there is some difference, depending on the individual performer.

Rodriguez: Is that the case in the jazz-pop world, which is pretty much a different genre all its own?

Burton: Interestingly, the rock world has been more open about having Gay celebrities in their midst than jazz. Of course, the classical world has also been very open about this. Probably the least Gay-friendly genres in music are country and Latin, just because culturally there's more lack of understanding.

Rodriguez: Although - and he's from your neck of the woods - Ricky Martin recently came out.

Burton: I know. In fact, I was saying to somebody the other day that that was particularly brave on his part because he is identified as Puerto Rican and having a Latin music following, although he's kind of a pop name as well. But I appreciated the fact that he had become a father of two little boys that he felt he had to be more honest about the way he lived his life. And that was the same explanation Clay Aiken gave when he went public after he became a father. Whatever the case, it's good they were able to get comfortable with it.

Rodriguez: Being open about your sexuality onstage is one thing, but did you ever come across any conflicts from sharing a dressing room with any fellow musicians?

Burton: No, I haven't. And I'm always sensitive and alert to whether someone else shows discomfort in an intimate situation, so if that was the case I could step back or go somewhere else. But you know, that's never happened. In many cases, we are traveling together, eating together, and changing together, and it hasn't seemed to have been an issue for anyone.

Rodriguez: At the show here in Seattle, will you and Chick be doing music from several decades back, or sticking to material that's more recent?

Burton: The purpose of this tour, actually, is to prepare new material for our next record, and we've been working on it for some weeks now. We're still playing some of the old repertoire to balance out the selection of songs, but we play two sets a night and we have 10 new songs, so we'll be doing about half of them in each show. A lot of times you'll rehearse these songs and it sounds fine, and then you play them in front of an audience and become aware of little things that need to be altered.

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