Euan Burton - developing occurences
Euan Burton is recalling the impact that a workshop and talk given by Dave Holland made on him during his time at Birmingham Conservatory. For a fellow bassist like Burton, the story of how Holland progressed in relatively short order from playing around the Midlands to leaving for America to tour the world with Miles Davis is a model lesson in what can happen if you work at your music.
“It wasn’t just the highs, like his time with Miles, that were inspiring,” says Burton. “He went through really hard spells later, struggling to make a living in free jazz with Chick Corea, and just telling us how he was feeling at various points in his life and what he was working towards at any given time gave us a feel for the realities of life as a musician. It was great preparation for us as students. I took a lot from it, just as I took a lot from all the other people who came to work with us. It’s like the music itself; you learn from everyone and try to put all the bits together into something of your own.”
Burton won’t be following Holland, who as a Wolverhampton boy made a great visiting artistic director at Birmingham, into Miles Davis’s band. But he too experienced the New York jazz scene before returning to live in Glasgow and has made international connections, working with New York drummer Ari Hoenig and guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg’s groups, and has just released his third album as a leader, Occurrences, featuring a band of musicians based in the U.S., Ireland, London and Scotland.
Being a jazz bassist wasn’t what he set out to do. At home in East Kilbride, where his father played in a covers band, there were bass guitars lying around. They were pretty much ignored by the young Burton, though, who was more interested in becoming a rock guitarist and listened to the Beatles and Queen and whatever else was on pop radio. Once he moved up to Claremont High School, which has become quite a production line for the Scottish jazz scene – former Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year John Fleming, his brother, Scottish National Jazz Orchestra baritone saxophonist Bill and bassist Brodie Jarvie being among the jazzer-FPs – he discovered that playing guitar and not being able to read music weren’t going to get him far in the school’s highly regarded music department.
“There was a vacancy for a bassist with the wind band, so I offered to bring in my dad’s old Fender and that’s how I got started,” says Burton. “We had a trio with Bill Fleming on piano and his brother, John, who was about twelve at the time, on drums, and we all got into jazz. I can’t remember how it happened but I do remember a school bus trip to see Stan Tracey because our music teacher would take us to see things that we expressed an interest in. I also remember my first experience with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland a year or two later because I thought I was quite a good guitar player until I heard Mike Walker, who was the visiting musician and was better than any of the guitarists I’d heard on the radio. He made me realise that I had to really study jazz if I was going to do anything with it.”
During his four years at Birmingham Conservatory Burton became a self-confessed jazz geek, buying five or six CDs a week, and vying with his fellow students who would have competitions to see who could name most quickly the line-ups featured on randomly selected Blue Note albums and which studio they were recorded in. He also became a purist, frowning on anything that featured electric instruments and having nothing to do with pop, rock or pretty much any other kind of music other than jazz.
This, he’s quick to reassure everyone, is no longer the case. As a working musician, playing both acoustic and electric basses, he can be found playing on – and thoroughly enjoying - pop sessions. He’s toured with popular Irish chanteuse Camille O’Sullivan, worked with Phil Cunningham & Aly Bain and is a member of harper Rachel Hair’s folk-roots trio. On top of this there are his involvements in various jazz projects such as his Wee Jazz Promotions, which keeps him busy at home organising gigs and recordings, and foreign and UK tours with the aforementioned Hoenig and Kreisberg.
“A lot of the work I’ve done has come, not so much through networking but as a result of hearing someone I really like and wanting to get to know them,” says Burton. “With Ari Hoenig, I was lucky enough to get to study with him in New York and learned so much from him. He’s really developed his own personal musical language, which he passes on to his students, and he likes to play with people who understand that, which is why I got the call to join his band in Europe.”
The band that Burton has put together to play on Occurrences comes from that same approach of getting to know musicians whose playing appeals strongly. London-born, New York-based saxophonist Will Vinson and Burton first worked together five years ago and have since toured together several times. It was Vinson’s sound that Burton had in his head while he was writing most of the melodies on the album. Similarly with Irish guitarist Mark McKnight, whose band Burton works with regularly, top London drummer James Maddren and Steve Hamilton, the Edinburgh-based pianist currently also appearing with Tommy Smith’s group Karma and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra; all were in Burton’s thoughts as he composed.
“They all have their own distinctive sounds and approaches and I’d like to see Occurrences, the album, as the first stage in the development of Occurrences, the band,” he says. “It’s been great having Whirlwind Records behind us as this is the first time I’ve had a label working on my behalf and Michael Janisch, who runs the label and is a really energetic presence, is a great person to bounce ideas off, possibly because he’s a musician himself. I’m really looking forward to getting out on tour and seeing how the music develops and although we’re all living in different cities in four different countries and it’s not going to be easy getting everyone together at the one time, I’m hoping that I can keep this band together and work on more music with it for a good long time.”
From The Herald, April 2, 2012.