In an interview with the Miami Herald published on Monday, Gary Burton announced his retirement: “Right now, part of me says it will become frustrating to talk about music and focus on music if I’m not able to participate in it and enjoy it myself. That may well become frustrating, so I’m kind of assuming that I’m going to move on to new interests in life. I figure I’ve got another 20, 25 years left in another phase of life. My mother’s 101, so at least gene-wise, if I don’t drink myself to death, I’ll be living a fairly long life.”
I’ve last seen him during Chick Corea‘s enormous birthday celebrations at the Blue Note in New York back in November. The interplay between the two was magical, eerie, sensational. The Harlem String Quartet added extra spice on this very memorable night. But, as Gary himself says in the interview: “I’m starting to have moments — what we call senior moments. I have them sometimes when I’m playing. I suddenly forget where I am in the song. So for a few seconds I’m fumbling and having to guess where the heck am I, how do I get back into it, and so on.” I’m pretty sure that 95% of his audience would either not notice that or wouldn’t care. But what a smart move for which I can only bow down.
In the interview, we also learn that his decision has not really come from any health problems as you might want to think after reading his autobiography “Learning To Listen” which came out a couple of years ago. Gary had six heart surgeries in the last 15 years or so but made it plain that he’s “just getting older, a bit forgetful, and no longer at the top of his game.” In the 54 years of his career, he said he has “done at least 2,000 [concerts] with Chick. We’ve been playing together for 45 years. That’s a lot of gigs. We’re not even a full-time band.”
He also said that he wants to “leave at a sensible time with dignity” and that his abilities to sight read and to memorize are changing and slowing down. Totally natural things for a 74-year old. He now wants to focus on traveling with his husband since he “saved up almost three million frequent-flyer miles from all the travel. Our plan is to take a couple of vacations every year. It’s so different when you go on vacation than when you have a concert schedule and you’re carrying hundreds of pounds of equipment, and you have four other people with you that you’re responsible for.” It is also very refreshing to learn that he wants to commit himself to LGBTQ community work: “I’m very interested in gay issues. Never really had time to get involved in fundraising and advocacy and political issues with the gay community, but I’d like to.”
So it’s time to say thank you for all the wonderful concerts over the years, not only with Chick, but also with his own group of course – I remember a brilliant show at Northsea Jazz with Julian Lage on guitar, several amazing concerts with pianist Makoto Ozone and a thrilling set in the mid 90s with vocalist Rebecca Parris, also at Northsea.