In the mid-1980s, Gary Burton was just entering middle age, but he’d had experiences as a jazz player to fill several lifetimes. Duke Ellington had treated him with kindness, Milt Jackson with suspicion, Miles Davis with a death threat. He’d endured the mercurial tendencies of Stan Getz, in whose band he played in the 1960s and who, like so many, fought the battle between creative genius and substance abuse.
Burton’s memoir, “Learning to Listen,” tells these stories and situates its author’s own major contributions in jazz’s history. After leaving Getz in 1966, Burton — with guitarist Larry Coryell and others — pioneered jazz-rock fusion and played venues like the Fillmore in San Francisco. As a player, he brought his four-mallet technique and “Burton grip” to the vibraphone and marimba, expanding the potential for those instruments in both lead and support settings. As a bandleader, he spotted and mentored the likes of Pat Metheny.