Arts + Culture

Jazz supporters help endow UCLA faculty chair honoring guitar great Kenny Burrell

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Kenny Burrell UCLA
Elena Zhukova

More than 150 donors contributed to establish the faculty chair named in honor of jazz legend Kenny Burrell.

The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music has received $1.2 million to establish the Kenny Burrell Chair in Jazz Studies. The Herb Alpert Foundation provided the lead gift of $500,000, which was matched by funds from the UCLA chancellor’s office. An additional $200,000 came from more than 150 donors, including members of the Friends of Jazz at UCLA, which was established in 2003.

The new endowed chair, which is expected to be filled by fall 2019, will help attract a senior faculty member who will add teaching power to UCLA’s new global jazz studies bachelor’s degree program.

“This endowed chair rightly honors Kenny’s legacy as a distinguished teacher and a legend of jazz,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “It also demonstrates our commitment to music education and American culture, further advancing UCLA’s role as a leader in the arts.”

Judith Smith, dean of the music school, initiated the effort to establish the chair in celebration of Burrell’s 85th birthday and his 20 years (from 1996 to 2016) as director of the UCLA Jazz Studies program. The foundation’s lead gift was announced at a tribute concert on Dec. 3, 2016, and friends and fans of the legendary jazz guitarist and composer were inspired to make contributions to support the effort.

“Creating this chair is a crucial step forward for jazz studies in the Herb Alpert School of Music,” Smith said. “It will continue Kenny’s tireless advocacy work for jazz as an American art form and ensure the highest caliber of jazz instruction and exploration at UCLA for generations to come.”

Burrell joined the UCLA faculty in 1978 to create and teach a course dedicated to the music and legacy of Duke Ellington. In 1996 he was named the founding director of the UCLA Jazz Studies program, and in 2004, he created the Kenny Burrell Archive of African American Music at the UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

Burrell made his first professional recording in 1951 as part of a combo with Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Milt Jackson and Percy Heath. Burrell, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, has released more than 100 records and performed and recorded with many of the great jazz musicians — among them, Billie Holiday, Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Ray Charles, Art Blakey and Louis Armstrong. A prolific composer, Burrell wrote “Dear Ella,” the title song on the 1997 Grammy-winning album by Dee Dee Bridgewater. In 2010, the Recording Academy paid tribute to Burrell, naming him that year’s Salute to Jazz honoree.

It is to Burrell’s credit — and a measure of his devotion to jazz — that the school of music has a world-class jazz studies program that continues to expand and grow.

“When I was in college, I was disturbed by the fact that jazz was not getting legitimate attention like other forms of music,” Burrell recalled in a 2011 interview. “I made a pledge to myself that if I ever had the chance, I would try to do something to help solve that problem.” 

The funds raised for the chair are part of the UCLA Centennial Campaign, which is scheduled to conclude in December 2019 during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year.

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