The Year of Tony Bennett honors the arranger Ralph Burns as our musical collaborator of the month for June 2017.
Ralph Burns was a jazz triple threat: a pianist, a composer and an arranger. He was born in Newton, Massachusetts on June 29, 1922 and died on November 21, 2001 in Los Angeles.
Burns said that he learned most of what he knew about jazz by transcribing the works of Count Basie, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. As a young musical student, he lived in a house with other young jazz players and that served as an introduction to greats including Nat King Cole and Art Tatum.
In 1940, Burns moved to New York and began working for Charlie Barnet. In 1944, he joined Woody Herman’s band and it was there he began to master his muscular jazz sound. By 1950, he was playing solo piano in the evenings and working during the day with artists including Billy Strayhorn and Ben Webster. During that period he began his work with Tony Bennett, starting in 1958 on Hometown, My Town.
By the 1960s, Burns seemed to be working everywhere. He arranged scores for Broadway musicals including Chicago, Funny Girl, No, No, Nanette, and Sweet Charity. He partnered with Bob Fosse on the film version of Cabaret, for which he won an Academy Award. He composed the scores for Fosse’s Lenny and Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York. He worked again with Bob Fosse on All That Jazz and other films including Urban Cowboy and Annie and continued working on Broadway as well.
This month we’ll be featuring the arrangements he did for Tony Bennett and I hope you’ll enjoy them I much as I do.