Gary Burton’s Tennessee Firebird

Jimmy Colvard was a teen in 1963 when he played those distinctive snapping and popping guitar sounds that helped make “Six Days on the Road” a runaway hit for Dave Dudley.  I have since learned that Colvard played guitar on a number of albums in the 1960s and 70s by such artists as Wynn Stewart, Waylon JenningsJohn Hartford, Ferlin Husky, Vassar Clements, Doug Kershaw, Kris Kristofferson, Ivory Joe Hunter, Dick Feller, Doc & Merle Watson, Guy Clark, Dolly Parton and French rocker, Eddy Mitchell.  Colvard was also part of the later lineup of Barefoot Jerry. (1975’s You Can’t Get Off With Your Shoes On).

One of Colvard’s more interesting associations was the 1966 country jazz experiment, Tennessee Firebird, by Gary Burton & Friends (near and far) on RCA.

Check out the musicians who played on this session:

Banjo:  Sonny Osborne
Bass:  Henry Strzelecki & Steve Swallow
Drums:  Kenneth Buttrey & Roy Haynes
Fiddle:  Buddy Spicher
Guitar:  Chet Atkins, Jimmy Colvard & Ray Edenton
Harmonica:  Charlie McCoy
Mandolin:  Bobby Osborne
Organ:  Gary Burton
Piano:  Gary Burton
Saxophone:  Steve Marcus
Steel Guitar:  Buddy Emmons
Vibraphone:  Gary Burton 
Producer:  Brad McCuen & Chet Atkins

This heavyweight assemblage of talent recorded a country jazz take on Bob Wills standard “Faded Love” that, of course, included some space for the vibraphone:

“Faded Love”      Gary Burton & Friends     1966

“Jazz encounters the world of Country Music. An exciting Jazz Quartet together with great Country instrumentalists” — LP cover.

Recorded September 19-21, 1966 in RCA Victor´s “Nashville Sound” Studio.  RCA issued a DJ promo 45 of the title track in 1967 to get the word out (would be curious to know of any recordings by earlier artists that also feature the unlikely pairing of banjo and vibraphone).

Billboard selected Tennessee Firebird as a “Jazz Spotlight” in the album reviews for their March 18, 1967 edition:

An interesting, enjoyable experiment — country music artists supporting an accomplished jazz musician — and it works.  The effect is countrified, but solid jazz.  Tunes country fans would recognize include “Born to Lose,” “I Can’t Help It,” and “Gone.”  This album will sell well in the jazz field and many country music fans will purchase it, too.”

Cash Box‘s review from their April 8, 1967 edition:

An interesting and effective blend of jazz and country sounds, this striking album by Gary Burton and Friends could win the approval of an extremely diverse audience.  Alternately playing vibes, piano, and organ, Burton leads his group through twelve rousing instrumentals including “Gone,” “Just Like a Woman,” “I Can’t Help It,” and “Alone and Forsaken.”  Deserves close attention.

Interesting to note that a few months later, Burton “was beating out melodies from his RCA Victor Tennessee Firebird LP with [Larry] Coryell’s searing guitar driving each phrase home” at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival, as reported in the July 15, 1967 issue of Cash Box.

Looking back at Nashville’s history as a world-class recording center for a diverse range of musical sounds and styles — not just “folk” and country — Billboard‘s Nashville Bureau Chief, Gerry Wood, would write about jazz’s under-acknowledged contribution in the April 26, 1980 edition for a feature piece entitled “Music City No Limits – A Billboard Spotlight” (p. 41):

Nashville’s radio clout with two 50,000-watters has had an immense effect on the music industry.  Thousands of present day music business performers and executives cut their teeth on the late night offerings of WLAC or its down-the-dial counterpart, WSM, home of the “Grand Old Opry.”  WSM can be heard in all 48 continental states — as a mail-in contest proved a few years ago.

And then, along came jazz.

In the late ’50s, the music scene drew a very young Gary Burton to Nashville from Indiana, and he impressed no less an expert than Chet Atkins, who won the Playboy Jazz Poll guitarist award for nearly a decade.

Monday night jam sessions were held for years in Printer’s Alley at the Carousel Club — an off night when the country musicians would sit in and play jazz.  The leading picker was always Hank Garland, but the rest of the jazz lovers were on hand — and they included Gary Burton.

The first jazz LP to be cut in modern Nashville probably was the Tennessee Firebird album that Brad McCuen produced with Burton for RCA.  “We used Burton’s quartet and a large number of local pickers,” recalls McCuen.  “The men had a good time and this experience led to the formation of the band Area Code 615 which cut several commercially successful albums in the late ’60s and early ’70s.”

Nashville is the home of of the statewide Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society, an organizations that for the past seven years has held a Jazz Festival that has brought Nashville such attractions as Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Stan Getz and their groups.

McCuen and Bruce Davidson have a National Public Radio network show on jazz that originates from the studios of WPLN-FM, Nashville, and is syndicated.

Burton and Garland had already worked together in the studio six years earlier on Garland’s second solo album, Jazz Winds From a New Direction, recorded August 23, 1960.  Rich Kienzle explains how the musicians initially connected in his first-rate liner notes for Sundazed’s 2001 CD reissue:

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“[Hank’s first] album appeared in January, 1960 on Columbia’s Harmony budget label, not a first-priority release but one that got his foot in the door.  As the Carousel jams continued [i.e., after-hours improvisations with fellow Nashville A-teamers at Jimmy Hyde’s Carousel Club in Printer’s Alley], the club became a magnet for every jazzman passing through town.  One night, Dave Brubeck showed up.  Another night, members of Stan Kenton’s Orchestra stood awestruck as Hank tore through “Back Home in Indiana.”  RCA executive Steve Sholes, Chet Atkins’s boss and close friend, brought Newport Jazz Festival producer George Wein to the Carousel.  Wein booked the group, Hank, Atkins, [Floyd] Cramer, Boots [Randolph], [Bob] Moore, [Buddy] Harman and a few others for Newport in July.  RCA would record the live performance [1961’s After the Riot at Newport LP].

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Billboard’s Oct. 31, 1960 review: “The country acts acquit themselves with distinction on seven tracks, with honors going to vibest Gary Burton, guitarist Hank Garland and pianist Floyd Cramer.”  

“Hank needed a vibes player for his band that summer.  Boots brought him talented 17-year-old Princeton, Indiana native Gary Burton.  Preparing to begin classes that fall at the famed Berklee College of Music (where in 2001 he serves as Executive Vice-President).  Burton played locally with Hank and became a Carousel regular who accompanied the group to Newport.  After rioting ended the festival prematurely, they recorded an impromptu session at the rented mansion they stayed at.  Two songs, “Relaxin'” and “Riot-Chous,” an extemporized bop piece that Boots and Hank created, figured prominently in Hank’s next Columbia session, scheduled for August 24.

[Incident at Newport — Billboard’s “Nashville” beat — July 11, 1960 edition“Newport Jazz Festival was musically successful but hectic for local musicians who had little to do with which way they were going when they met a milling mob of thousands head-on.  Group, including Floyd Cramer, Brenton Banks, Buddy Harman, Bob Moore, Boots Randolph, Gary Burton and Hank Garland, was going one way when they met the mobbing crowd going the other.  The Nashvillians joined the crowd and helplessly went along with them.  They finally managed to identify themselves, however, and recorded with RCA Victor’s Chet Atlkins before leaving for home.”]

“That day, Hank Garland realized his dream when he recorded the album that became Jazz Winds From a New Direction.  Burton was along for the auspicious occasion.  So were two established New York jazzmen:  bassist Joe Benjamin and Hank’s old [Paul Howard & His Arkansas] Cotton Pickers buddy Joe Morello, now well-known as drummer with the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  Though listed as producer, Don Law held the title in name only.  Grady Martin, Hank’s friend and friend session partner, actually ran things in the studio.”

Bear Family’s 1989 CD reissue, by the way, includes “Panhandle Rag” as a bonus track.  More recently, Tennessee Firebird was issued in 2014 on CD in Japan.

Five Years Ago:  Gary Burton & Hank Garland featured prominently in Zero to 180’s piece from March 2016, “Lost Album of ’60

History Bonus!

Presenting Gary Burton” by Ted Williams — Record World — Apr. 24, 1965

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