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MAL SANDS ARTICLE
Patrick J Burke
Patrick J Burke is without a doubt, San Diego’s best vibraphonist as well as that city’s most talented and versatile all-around percussionist. He is highly sought after and very much in demand by a wide variety of local groups and band leaders due to his ability to play all mallet, stick, and hand percussion instruments, including the steel pans. He is also knowledgeable and comfortable in many different musical styles and idioms. Be it latin, jazz, rock, country, blues, caribbean, or classical. He has studied it and is quite capable of playing it.
For years I have marveled at his chameleon-like ability to adapt to any musical environment or situation at a moments notice and still be capable of contributing something fresh, creative, and completely original.
As impressive as Burke’s skills are as a drummer, hand percussion, and steel pan player, l feel that it is as a vibraphonist and marimba player that his genius truly shines through. His primary influences encompass almost three generations of the history of the instrument. His first influence, is of course, the man who revolutionized the vibraphone in the mid 40’s by bringing it out of the swing era and straight into a new style called Be-Bop. I am speaking of the late Milt Jackson who is and always will be considered the greatest and most influential vibraphonist of all time.
Burke has tremendous respect and admiration for Jackson and has memorized a vast number of tunes, either written by him or associated with him, a well as The Modern Jazz Quartet. The Modern Jazz Quartet was the world renowned chamber-jazz ensemble which Jackson co-founded along with pianist John Lewis. They performed for nearly fifty years. Burke has over the years presented performances leading his own special hand picked quartet paying homage to Jackson and the MJQ. I had the pleasure of attending one such concert in the Gas Lamp in San Diego. The capacity crowd enjoyed a rare and special treat due to the fact that this music is seldom, if ever, played anymore. The citizenry of San Diego, who are fans of Milt Jackson and The MJQ, should consider themselves extremely fortunate to have Burke living and playing here.
Burke’s next influence happens to be my own personal favorite jazz musician and vibraphonist, the late, great Cal Tjader. Tjader did for the vibraphone in the latin idiom what Jackson did for it ten years previously in the bebop era and what Lionel Hampton did for it a decade earlier during the evolution of swing. Although it was Tito Puente who first utilized the vibraphone in latin music, it was Tjader who refined and redefined its sound and use in latin music with more of an emphasis on a strong jazz foundation. Tjader’s various quintets and sextets beginning in 1954 and going all the way up until the time of his death in 1982, set the standard for all small group latin ensembles that included vibes in its instrumentation. The distinct and immediately identifiable Tjader sound has often been imitated but never duplicated even twenty years after his premature passing.
Here on the west coast there are at least a dozen groups carrying on the Tjader tradition. One of the best is Storm with Patrick Burke.
It is in this an aggregation that I enjoy Burke’s playing the most. His knowledge of Tjader’s repertoire is impressive to say the least. He plays the gamut of only the best Tjader tunes encompassing his entire career from the 50’s to the 80’s. Some of the tunes are of course tunes that Tjader was famous for, but Burke also plays some of the more obscure gems that are every bit as good as the better known ones. It is to Burke’s credit that he has rescued some of these numbers that nobody else plays from complete and total oblivion.
Although, in my opinion, there is little one can do to improve upon Tjader’s music, Burke has his own individualistic way of interpreting it. He makes pieces that I have heard on record over and over again for the past twenty years seem fresh and new. He allows plenty of room for improvisation by himself and his sidemen. He takes his own inventive original solos, yet never strays too far away from the basic concept of the piece, thus maintaining the compositions over all integrity. I had the honor, good fortune, and pleasure of seeing Tjader perform a half a dozen times during the last sixteen months of his life and it still pleases me to no end that there are gentlemen like Patrick Burke who are keeping the spirit and memory of Cal Tjader alive by playing his music, which to me is the best and most feel-good music there is.
Storm has been much in demand in San Diego over the years. Patrick and Storm have played everything from clubs, concerts, Cinco de Mayo festivals, The Idyllwild Jazz Festival, Kool Jazz Festival of old, to the new Anthology. For anyone who is a fan of latin-jazz in the Tjader tradition, Patrick Burke and Storm are a “must see”.
Burke’s third influence is Bobby Hutcherson, who came to prominence in the early 1960’s just after the advent of the post-bop and avant-garde era. He was yet another pioneer who took the vibraphone in a new and entirely different direction. Although originally influenced by Milt Jackson and later by Dave Pike, who he briefly studied under, Hutcherson developed his own distinct individual style, tone, and technique which he continues to expand and improve upon even after more than forty years as professional musician. I recently saw Hutcherson, who turns 61 this year, at Catalina’s Bar & Grill in Hollywood. He is playing better than ever and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. He has the energy and enthusiasm of a twenty year old. He is one of those very few musicians who is as entertaining to watch as he is to listen to. He has the grace and speed of a panther and watching him is to experience true poetry in motion.
With the passing of Milt Jackson in 1999, Hutcherson, who always ranked second just behind “Bags” has been elevated to the number one spot as the greatest living jazz vibraphonist. A distinction he has truly earned and deserves. Milt Jackson on vibraphone has always had that top spot, but Hutcherson has long been considered the world’s greatest jazz marimba player. He has been recording on marimba for almost the entire length of his career and is one of the very, very few, performers to utilize it in live performances. Burke is very impressed by Hutcherson’s technical abilities and dynamics in the vibraphone, but is even more intrigued by his marimba stylings.
The influence of Hutcherson is quite evident in Burke’s marimba playing which is always an interesting diversion from his vibe playing. The tone of the marimba’s wooden bars add a whole different dimension to what he is playing. Burke’s mastery of both vibes and marimba give his performances the added bonus of even more variety and excitement for the listener. Along with Hutcherson, who I’ve only seen play the marimba when he is close to home for an extended engagement in the San Francisco bay area, and Dave Samuels, Burke is one of only two or three other guys that I have ever seen play the marimba. It is truly one of the most obscure and little used instruments in all of jazz. If it were not for individuals like Hutcherson, Samuels, and Burke, the marimba might not have ever been played at all in jazz. That would be a shame because I think it is a very unique and exciting instrument that deserves more respect and should be in the spotlight more often.
Burke’s fourth influence is yet another innovative pioneer. Gary Burton who came on the scene just behind Bobby Hutcherson, completely revolutionized and redefined the capabilities of the vibraphone and the way in which it could be played. His four mallet technique was a completely fresh, different, and new approach to playing the instrument. Although Red Norvo was the first to play with four mallets way back in the 1930’s, Burton took it to such greater heights and to such an advanced level that this style of playing became virtually his exclusively. It propelled him to an entirely different class, league, and category than any other vibraphone player. Never before had any other players been able to achieve the harmonies and chord structures that Burton was able to create. He is the undisputed king of the four mallet technique and has influenced the last two generations of mallet players. Anyone who plays with four mallets has been directly influenced by Gary Burton. If not for Burton, there might not even be any other four mallet players. Burton is now 58 and like Hutcherson is still at the top of his game. He plays with incredible intensity and creativity and is a wonder to marvel at. What he can do with four mallets is nothing short of phenomenal. Even as you see it, you still can’t quite believe it.
Although Burke only utilizes four mallets occasionally, his playing in this manner is a direct result of his exposure to Burton. Burke greatly admires Burton’s musical virtuosity as well as his generosity in sharing his knowledge as an educator. Burton is Dean of Berklee College of Music in Boston. Burke studied under Alan Dawson on drums and Dave Samuels on vibes and was fortunate to sit in on Burton’s arranging classes in the mid 1970’s. Burke had said that Burton’s arranging is his how he approaches the vibes.
Burke is also a great fan of Dave Samuels. Samuels came to fame in the mid 1970’s as the vibist-marimbist with the cross-over group “Spyro-Gyra”, and more recently as the leader of the Caribbean Jazz Project. Samuels is a four mallet player definitely in the Gary Burton tradition. He plays with a great deal of flair and has a definite affinity for latin and tropical rhythms as is evident from his association with the aforementioned groups. He also recently recorded a tribute to Cal Tjader entitled “Tjaderized”.
Burke is also mesmerized by the tropical and Caribbean rhythm which is one reason he also took up playing the steel pans. In the original Caribbean Jazz Project, Samuels plays alongside Andy Narell, the undisputed master of that instrument and Burke’s main influence.
Besides the aforementioned five mallet masters who he cites as his primary influences, Burke appreciates other players as well. I have known Patrick Burke since 1995 which was also the year I began an event which has become an annual tradition in the Los Angeles area called “Vibe Summit”. The concept of the summit is to get a bunch of vibists together to honor one of the superstars of the instrument. The first three summits posthumously honored Cal Tjader. Since then we have honored terry Gibbs, Milt Jackson, Larry Bunker, Emil Richards, and Dave Pike. Burke participates every year and has been a big hit each and every year. When Burke played the 1964 Terry Gibbs composition “Take it From Me” at Vibe Summit 4, Gibbs and Steve Allen rose to their feet giving him a standing ovation. He also gained the great respect of the famous bassist & club owner Howard Rumsey, who attended most of the Vibe Summits.. Burke became one of his favorite vibe players.
// Howard Rumsey / Kenton’s first bassist in 1941 and the sole surviving member of the original band.- Manager of The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach & owner of Howard Rumsey's Concerts by the Sea in Redondo Beach.
Burke has the uncanny ability to play and sound like other vibists. However, this is not to say that he does not have a sound and musical identity of his own. Indeed he does, but it is to his credit that he has done his homework and spent half a lifetime listening to and studying the work of the masters.
Downbeat magazine used to have a category in its readers poll that was called “ Artists Worthy of Greater Recognition. This most definitely applies to Patrick J Burke.
Hopefully he will get that opportunity soon. He definitely deserves it. Remember you heard it here first.
Mal Sands / January 2002.
I’ve had this article that Mal wrote about me for a few years. I’ve finally decided to post it. He wrote many articles for the paper, The LA Jazz Scene. Many on The Vibe Summits.
Mal would travel around the west coast and sometimes farther just to hear vibe players. That was his lust in life. He had first heard and met Kiko Cornejo, a great friend and vibist,. He then came to hear me play at Chicano Park in San Diego with our group Storm. Both Kiko and I play vibes in that group. Lots of Tjader. Since that time we were the best of friends had gotten together as much as possible. Most of the concerts mentioned in the article that he attended, we went together. Jackson, Burton & Corea, Hutcherson numerous times, Terry Gibbs, Caribbean Jazz Project (Samuels & Narell). Any vibe show he was there.
Mal introduced me to the Vibe Summits. The first Summit for me was for Terry Gibbs. That was real nerve racking at first to be there with the best of the best. Red Norvo and Steve Allen were both there. It really was the most awesome event, not just for the audience, but as a vibe player. It brought together all the players and we’ve all become friends. No competition, just awesome playing every year. Great friends Jim Sabo, that I went to Berklee with / my great friend from Frisco, Yancy Taylor / Onajee Murrey from LA.
I even became great friends with THEE Howard Rumsey. What a thrill. So many friends and artists.
Since the article was written Mal honored the following artists.
Ruben Estrada , Herb Gibson, Tommy Vig, Charlie Shoemake, Victor Feldman & John Rae, Gary Burton & Mal Sands.
Mal organized and hosted 14 Vibe Summits.
The last Summit after his passing we honored him.
Steve Tarango, Mal's best friend and who helped Mal organize and put on the Summits has a Facebook page up under Vibe Summit where most of us check in. I’m sure the info on there will be growing all the time.
Last, we are all still MAD at Mal for leaving us so soon. He passed away in 2007 from pneumonia. The greatest Vibe Ambassador.
Below is a link for the LA Jazz Society page that talks about the summits. They helped Mal quite a bit with all the things that needed to get done to put on these great events every year.
To Mal and all the mallet players out there!