Kenny Burrell has been active in music since 1951. Since the early 60’s he has led his own group, played in guitar trios, combos, duos, big bands, symphony orchestras and performed solo. He has 95 albums under his name alone and around 300 titles in which he is listed as a sideman. Some of his most popular albums include Guitar Form, Midnight Blue and Ellington is Forever. He has worked as a producer and composer as well as performed as a guitarist and singer around the world. He was written two highly acclaimed books, Jazz Guitar and Jazz Guitar Solo.
In 1978, Kenny Burrell came to UCLA as a visiting professor and taught “Ellingtonia” through the Center for African American Studies and the Music Department. This course on the legendary Duke Ellington was the first regularly taught college course on Ellington in the United States and worldwide. Kenny has also instructed several jazz combo classes each quarter during his tenure at UCLA. His academic specialties include Jazz performance, improvisation, composition and Jazz history. He is the founder and director of the UCLA Jazz Studies Program, which began in 1996. Kenny created and continues to organize the “Jazz at Noon” concerts at Schoenburg Hall and has also performed at the UCLA Jazz & Reggae Festival and in concerts at Royce Hall.
He has served as a lecturer, master of ceremonies, performer and organizer of many events on campus. He has also instructed private guitar lessons for his students. He celebrates 25 years of academic service to UCLA in 2002-03 and has been honored with the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award from the UCLA Black Alumni Association among many other honors. He has served as the co-founder and President Emeritus of the Jazz Heritage Foundation since 1979. Kenny is also a leading authority on Duke Ellington and is one of the contributors to the Ellington Archive at the Smithsonian Institute. At the age of seventy-one he continues to perform and record in Los Angeles and around the world. The UCLA Ralph Bunche Center for African American Studies is proud to announce that it has launched an archive of African American music that bears the name of this legendary jazz artist and will serve as a new resource to the campus and surrounding communities.
On October 31, 2011, Kenny Burrell received special recognition from President Barack Obama regarding the Royce Hall program, “Kenny Burrell: 80 Years Young.”