The Kennedy Center

George Burton


Even before the first downbeat, pianist George Burton, head bent, hands splayed wide on the board, radiates a sense that something special is about to go down. And when he begins, it quickly becomes clear that what’s special is that his sound is all his own. His haunting melodies, startling harmonies, and sideways rhythms create a complex soundscape that gives audiences a glimpse of jazz’s past, present, and future.

Raised in Philadelphia by musician parents, Burton began his musical training as a classical violinist and violist but turned to jazz while a student at CAPA, Philly’s renowned Creative And Performing Arts High School, which ultimately led to him studying Jazz Performance at Temple University.

After Temple, Burton’s career took off. He won the prestigious Peter Nero Piano Competition, soloed with the Philly Pops, was the featured musician in Leslie Burrs' acclaimed opera "Vanqui," and became the pianist for Odean Pope's world-famous Saxophone Choir.

Over the last decade he has traveled the world sharing the stage and sideman duties with some of jazz’s greatest musicians, such as Michael Brecker, James Carter, Joe Lovano, Wallace Roney, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Me’Shell NdegeOcéllo, Sean Jones, and Odean Pope, and is currently the pianist for the Sun Ra Arkestra. He is also known as an innovative, risk-taking bandleader and a mainstay on the New York music scene with his three groups, The George Burton Quintet, Group 5, and the Holiday Yule Log Series.

His playing and compositions clearly reveal his roots in Philly’s catchall music scene, where alternative hip-hop, R&B, straight-ahead jazz and the avant garde don’t just peacefully coexist but cross-pollinate. Burton’s playing and compositions blend, deconstruct, and rearrange these diverse influences into a style that Jazz Times calls “straight-but-not-straight,” reminiscent of jazz legend McCoy Tyner. The Philadelphia City Paper raves, “it’s not about virtuosity so much as vibe, which Burton has in abundance.” The New York Times laments “...he isn’t as well-known as he should be.“

Watch Past Performances

Video 5/28/2017: George Burton

Jazz pianist and composer George Burton will perform selections from his debut album, The Truth of What I Am > The Narcissist. For the album, Burton collaborated with Derrick Hodge to produce 10 original compositions that fuse traditional hard bop, avant-garde, post-bop, R&B, and other genres. Recognized for his inventive artistry as a pianist/composer, Burton’s sound is an experience that connects listeners in forging the frontier of improvised music. His genre-defying Quintet is revered for its haunting melodies and uninhibited groove.

This artist’s performance honors JFK and exemplifies Gratitude.
A special performance selected by Jason Moran.
Presented in collaboration with JFK Centennial Week.

Please visit the Kennedy Center's YouTube or Facebook pages to view this broadcast.

George Burton