Any story of jazz in Colorado must begin with Charles Burrell, also known as the Jackie Robinson of classical music.
He was the first African-American to be hired under contract with a symphony orchestra. He was also a brilliant jazz musician, playing with all of the luminaries of his time.
Charles Burrell learned from some of the best,
and he passed it on in so many ways, most notably in tutoring his cousins George Duke, who became a world-famous keyboard player and producer, and Purnell Steen, also a well-known keyboard player, as well as his niece, the celebrated singer Dianne Reeves. Burrell, who turned 99 in 2019, has had an enormous impact on music during his lifetime, especially on jazz in Colorado.
Charles Burrell received the Denver Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Arts & Culture and the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, and Congresswoman Diana DeGette led a tribute to him on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, referring to him as “a titan of the classical and jazz bass.” Charles Burrell was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame Jazz Masters class of 2017.
A titan of the classical and jazz bass, Charles Burrell was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall Of Fame, with Jazz Masters class of 2017.