Monthly Archives: January 2015

Charlie Burrell knows jazz and a thing or two


Charles Burrell, Jr. left, Charlie Burrell on right. Photo taken at First Friday Jazz brunch, January, 2015. (Purnell Steen can be seen heading toward the piano for the brunch concert)

You’d think he’d write exclusively about playing the stand up bass or, jazz or, Denver Symphony Orchestra or, Five Points in the 1930-40’s.  He does. Yet Charlie gives that and more to his readers. What you won’t read is the typical WWII musician’s escapades on drugs, jail, or complaints about the situation.  Don’t be fooled though, he was not an unobservant slouch. This musician took it all in, like, it was better to avoid small town America if you’re a black man. He knew, if he were stopped, it was likely he would miss his gig. It wasn’t easy for a black man to get out of jail in those days for just driving through rural America or, East Denver for that matter. Despite a less than perfect childhood, Charlie Burrell went on to share the stage with Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Count Bassie, Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton.

His book, The Life of Charlie Burrell, Breaking the Color Barrier in Classical Music, is testimony to a fine man and true artist. The book proves without a doubt that Charlie Burrell is a gentleman, a hero, a kind educated man, a talented musician, the no-bull-shit-don’t-you-mess-with-me-or-my-friends-you m-f, kind-of-guy.  Born into the ghettos of Detroit, Charlie Burrell, in my opinion, is in every sense of the word – a hero and a legend.

Burrell had the passion and where-with-all to learn everything he could learn about classical music & instruments, rifts, rhythms, tone, style & music etiquette while dragging a huge-ass instrument all over the world. His set-backs and struggles, he made them interesting. Still, he overcame more than you or I could imagine. Once you read the book, you will wonder as I did. ‘Would I have done what Charlie did for his art?’

At 12 yrs old, Charlie took the only instrument that was offered to him in his school, the huge stand up bass. It became the love his life, his lone mistress, his joy and his road to a well-respected career at the Denver Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony and jazz joints around the world.

There’s genuine depth and intellect woven through the book and, there’s much to know about Charlie Burrell, inside & outside.  Not only about his music, memories and anecdotes but about perseverance and pride in giving of oneself.  His niece, Grammy Award winner Dianne Reeves and nephew Purnell Steen (jazz pianist) have much to say about Uncle Charlie. He recognized their talent and encouraged them with the love and knowledge of music and his well-honed skills in ‘becoming a person.’ You have to read the book to understand how this phrase was important in the making of Charlie Burrell.

Charlie Burrell received a Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award in Denver last week. I can not think of a more deserving person.

Rock on, Charlie Burrell.

The Life of Charlie Burrell, Breaking the Color Barrier in Classical Music, by Charlie Burrell and Mitch Handelsan, Foreward by Dianne Reeves. #CharlieBurrell

ISBN: 1502896451

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YeeHaw, Ya’ll

You’re probably not a cowboy or cowgirl but that’s ok. When January rolls around in the West, everyone wants to be one.

Coincidentally, the 109th National Western Stock Show opened January 10, 2015, with one of the best displays of Western art in the world. The Coors Western Art Exhibition & Sale premiered to rave reviews and enormous sales. That seems to be the case each year. And here’s to tell you the historic stock show has much more than livestock and boots to experience and purchase.

Featured Coors 2015 artist is Teresa Elliott. She’s in good company with: Tony Angell, Duke Beardsley, Allen Birnbach, Gordon Brown, Sophy Brown, George Bumann, Kenneth Bunn, G. Russell Case, Dan Chen, Len Chmiel, Neil Clifford, Don Coen, Mark Daily, Glenn Dean, John Demott, Caroline Douglas, Sharron Evans, Scott Fraser, Terry Gardner, Ulrich Gleiter, Brent Greenwood, David Griffin, David Grossmann, William Haskell, Rocky Hawkins, Quang Ho, Tony Hockstetler, T.D. Kelsey, Steve Kestrel, Amy Laugesen, T. Allen Lawson, Richard Loffler, Kim Lordier, Leon Loughridge, Michael Lynch, Jerry Markham, Walter Matia, William Matthews, Dean Mitchell, Jim Morgan, Julia Mulligan, Arlo Namingha, Dan Namingha, Joel Ostlind, Howard Post, Susan Raymond, Karen Roehl, Brad Rude, Jo LeMay Rutledge, Tim Shinabarger, Preston Singletary, Jill Soukup, Michael Stano, Don Stinson, Karmel Timmons, Susan Tirrell, Kent Ullberg, Barbara VanCleve, Skip Whitcomb, Laura Wilson, Seth Winegar, Dinah Worman, Melanie Yazzie, Dan Young.

Here’s a sprinkling of the fabulous art to be seen at the stock show’s Coors Western gallery.

• High Noon, Teresa Elliott

• Duke Beardsley

• Leon Loughridge

• Skip Whitcomb

• Seth Winegar

• Barbara VanCleve

Downtown at Abend Gallery, the gallery that miraculously stays on top of the West’s best emerging artists and, the best selling like Dave Santillanes, Elsa Sroka, Lorenzo Chavez, Lindsey Bittner Graham, Bruce Gomez, Stephanie Hartshorn, Elizabeth Sandia, Clyde Steadman, opened their Western show featuring pop and tradition.

The stylistic paintings of David Kammerzell, Travis Walker and Stephanie Hartshorn are a stretch from the very traditional Dave Santillanes or Bruce Gomez classic western genre. A comprehensive taken from this show is temperament. The show has personality created by first class painter’s narratives which follow a Western theme.

Old Traditions / New Frontiers, was no doubt designed to coincide with the stock show and, without gushing, it’s a very good show. The West is ‘in’ in January. Christine Serr, gallery owner, just gets it. Traditions/Frontiers combines classic Western landscapes intermingled with campy, retro styles and subject matter reminiscent of Gene Autry and Pecos Bill illustrated story books. The interesting mix creates a full bodied show of classic landscapes topped with humor and color.

• David Kammerzell

A real cowboy! (Model for Lindsey B Graham)

• Dave Santillanes

• Lindsey Bittner Graham

• Stephanie Hartshorn

• Michelle Conrad

• Bruce Gomez

Denver galleries are numerous and the owners have great taste in art and artists. If you’re thinking rodeo, think art too. An art trip to Denver is a trip in itself.

The Coors Exhibit is at the National Western Complex off I-70 & Brighton Avenue; from downtown, just north of Coors Field. Abend Gallery is at Colfax & York, east of the Capitol Building.


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