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Charles Burrell

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Information about Charles Burrell

Profile image of Charles Burrell

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Classical Bassist

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Beige
Favorite Food:
Beans
Favorite Time of Year:
None
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Denver, Colorado
Favorite Quote:
When you go through life, be serious but not too serious.

Birthplace

Born:
10/4/1920
Birth Location:
Toledo, Ohio

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Classical Bassist

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Beige
Favorite Food:
Beans
Favorite Time of Year:
None
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Denver, Colorado
Favorite Quote:
When you go through life, be serious but not too serious.

Birthplace

Born:
10/4/1920
Birth Location:
Toledo
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Biography

Charles Burrell has enjoyed an outstanding career as a bassist for the Denver Symphony Orchestra and is also considered a master jazz bassist; one of the few musicians to have mastered both genres. Born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1920, Burrell was raised in Depression-era Detroit, Michigan. His mother, Denverado, the daughter of an A.M.E. minister from Denver, Colorado, provided inspiration and direction despite the family's poverty.

In grade school, Burrell excelled in music. When he was twelve, he heard the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under renowned conductor Pierre Monteux on the family's crystal radio. He resolved to play one day for an orchestra under the direction of Monteux, whom he began to idolize. He developed his skills on the bass at Detroit's famous Cass Tech High School, where eighteen of the principal musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra taught. Principal bassist Gaston Brohm agreed to teach Burrell if he would promise not to play the classics for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Burrell considers Oscar Legassy of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra his best teacher and greatest influence. After high school, Burrell landed a job playing jazz in Detroit's Paradise Valley at a club called B.J.'s.

At the start of World War II, Burrell was drafted into the all-black naval unit at Camp Robert Smalls, at Great Lakes Naval base near Chicago. There, he played in the unit's all star band with Clark Terry, Al Grey and O. C. Johnson and took classes at Northwestern University and with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. After the war, Burrell used the G.I. Bill to attend Wayne State University in Detroit. He excelled in his music courses, but was discouraged by the racism of his advisors. In 1949, Burrell joined his mother's relatives in Denver, Colorado, and was soon hired by the Denver Symphony Orchestra. Eventually, he fulfilled his dream of playing for Pierre Monteux by joining the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. In 1965, he returned to the Denver Symphony Orchestra and met his wife, Melanie, a cellist.

One of the first blacks admitted to the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Burrell has mentored and taught some of the finest musicians in the country. Among his students are bassists Tony Knight of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, Major Holly, and the late great Ray Brown. Other musicians guided by Burrell are jazz pianist George Duke and Burrell's niece, jazz vocalist Diane Reeves.

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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Charles Burrell interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Charles Burrell lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Charles Burrell talks about his family origins
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Charles Burrell talks about his siblings
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Charles Burrell recalls his neighborhood in Detroit as a young boy
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Charles Burrell talks more about the Detroit neighborhood of his youth
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Charles Burrell talks about his exposure to music as a child
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Charles Burrell talks about his childhood personality
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Charles Burrell recalls his mother's personality and his religious upbringing
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Charles Burrell talks about his interest in music as a boy and his first exposure to the bass violin
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Charles Burrell talks about his siblings and about his weight as a child
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Charles Burrell recalls the schools he attended in Detroit
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Charles Burrell talks more about high school and the teachers who influenced him
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Charles Burrell recalls his early interest in classical music and his personality
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Charles Burrell recalls his first jobs playing music
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Charles Burrell talks about his music education and recalls one of his first teachers
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Charles Burrell talks more about his early jobs in music
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Charles Burrell recalls his enlistment in the Navy
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Charles Burrell talks about his music career while in the Navy and the jazz musicians he met there
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Charles Burrell recalls his experiences in the military
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Charles Burrell talks about his experience at Wayne State University and his move to Denver
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Charles Burrell details his experiences in Denver
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Charles Burrell talks more about his experience with the Denver Symphony Orchestra
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Charles Burrell discusses his wives
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Charles Burrell recalls the highlights of his musical career
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Charles Burrell talks about his favorite classical music
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Charles Burrell talks about his music techniques
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Charles Burrell talks about classical bass players and his mentor
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Charles Burrell talks about his move to the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Charles Burrell talks about what it means to be a Principal musician
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Charles Burrell recalls some of his more notable students
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Charles Burrell talks about classical music and the treatment of blacks in the industry
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Charles Burrell describes his personality and talks about his current family
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Charles Burrell discusses his hopes for the black community
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Charles Burrell talks about his mentor Al McKibbon
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Charles Burrell talks about other jazz musicians from his past
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Charles Burrell gives his opinion about the classical music scene
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Charles Burrell talks about his practice regimen
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Charles Burrell talks about Charles Mingus
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Charles Burrell talks about his early move to Denver
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Charles Burrell recalls his classical music experiences in the 1950s
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Charles Burrell reflects on how he might be remembered and his music legacy
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Charles Burrell recalls the first time his father saw one of his performances
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Photo - Charles Burrell with his wife Melanie Markay Burrell, Denver, Colorado, 1990
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Photo - Newspaper clipping of Charles Burrell performing, Denver, Colorado, August, 1984
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Photo - Charles Burrell posing with his bass violin by Fred Larkin, Denver, Colorado, 1980
  • Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Photo - Charles Burrell with his bass violin and smoking a cigar by Fred Larkin, Denver, Colorado, 1980
  • Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Photo - Charles Burrell's niece, singer Dianne Reeves, age seventeen, 1973
  • Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Photo - Publicity photo of Enrique Jorda, Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco, California, 1959
  • Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Photo - Publicity photo Charles Burrell with his bass violin, San Francisco, California, 1960s
  • Tape: 5 Story: 14 - Photo - Concert program from the Denver Symphony Orchestra, March, 1967
  • Tape: 5 Story: 15 - Photo - Charles Burrell performing with Kevin Smith at a noontime concert on the Mall, Denver, Colorado, 1982-1983
  • Tape: 5 Story: 16 - Photo - Charles Burrell performing at a jazz club with Billy Horner, Al Hayes, and others, Detroit, Michigan, 1946-1947
  • Tape: 5 Story: 17 - Photo - Charles Burrell with Conductor Allan Miller, Denver, Colorado, 1982
  • Tape: 5 Story: 18 - Photo - Charles Burrell performing with his bass violin, 1984-1985
  • Tape: 5 Story: 19 - Photo - The Great Lakes Naval Training Center band with Charles Burrell on the tuba and Al Grey on trombone, Grosse Ile (Detroit), Michigan, 1945
  • Tape: 5 Story: 20 - Photo - Charles Burrell with his wife, Melanie Markay Burrell, and members of the Denver Symphony Orchestra, Denver, Colorado, 1980
  • Tape: 5 Story: 21 - Photo - Charles Burrell at the organ, 1961
  • Tape: 5 Story: 22 - Photo - Donald White, cellist with the Cleveland Orchestra, posing with Charles Burrell's car, 1965
  • Tape: 5 Story: 23 - Photo - Charles Burrell and Louise Duncan, Denver, Colorado, 1985
  • Tape: 5 Story: 24 - Photo - Charles Burrell and Philip Fath before a performance with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco, California, 1960
  • Tape: 5 Story: 25 - Photo - Charles Burrell posing with his bass for the 'Rocky Mountain News' newspaper, Denver, Colorado, June, 2002
  • Tape: 5 Story: 26 - Photo - Charles Burrell with members of his Navy jazz band, Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois, 1941-1942