As Gary announced his retirement from Berklee College of Music in 2003 after 33 years at the college, he formed a new band and began touring regularly. The “Generations” band featured a line-up of talented young musicians including then sixteen-year old guitarist Julian Lage and Russian-born pianist Vadim Nevelovskyi. Gary recorded two CDs with the group titled Generation and Next Generation and the band toured steadily from 2003 through mid-2006.
Since then, Gary has focused his recording and performing efforts on collaborations, with old friends and new, including tours and recordings with Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Makoto Ozone, Spanish pianist/composer Polo Orti, and French accordionist Richard Galliano. Armistad Suite with Polo Orti and the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra was released in spring 2007. L’hymne a L’amour with Richard Galliano was released on the Camjazz label in August 2007. The double-CD live concert recording with Chick Corea, The New Crystal Silence, came out in 2008, resulting in the sixth Grammy for Gary Burton at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Chick and Gary toured full-time from September 2006 through spring 2008, and continued off and on playing concerts in the USA and Europe in 2009.
Born January 23, 1943, in Anderson, Indiana, Burton began music lessons at an early age upon the insistence of his parents, who wanted all of their children to study an instrument. Intrigued by one particular instrument's size and method of play — namely, the use of mallets to create its rich sound — the six-year-old Burton chose the marimba. However, his venture into music seemed ill-fated when he refused to budge from his seat at his first lesson. Upon returning home with his mother, he begged her to let him try again and within a short time mastered both the marimba and the more modern vibraharp.
Soon Burton was adapting both piano and violin music for his instruments. By the age of eleven, he was performing around his hometown of Princeton, Indiana, with a band that consisted of his father, brother, and sister. Four years later, when his piano teacher loaned him an Erroll Garner record, Burton developed a serious interest in jazz. In 1959, at the age of 16, Burton attended the first summer jazz band camp at Bloomington, Indiana, and decided on the spot that he wanted to be a professional musician. "Before that I thought I was playing for fun," Burton told High Fidelity, "and I always pictured myself playing weekends to make some money, but I intended to be something serious — like a doctor, lawyer, or an engineer."
On graduating from Princeton High School in 1960, Burton planned on entering the Berklee College of Music in Boston but was sidetracked by a chance to play gigs in Nashville. As a teenager Burton had met "Yakety Sax" man Boots Randolph. A mentor to Burton with close ties to Nashville, Randolph introduced the budding musician to Hank Garland, who then asked Burton to join him playing clubs and recording in Nashville that summer. "That one sojourn to Nashville was more of an aberration than anything else," Burton said in the High Fidelity profile. By 1961 Burton was anxious to leave for Boston, where he studied jazz at Berklee and classical composition at the Boston Conservatory.
He recorded with country guitarists Hank Garland for the highly influential album Jazz Winds in 1961 and he also recorded with Chet Atkins for the 1960 album After the Riot at Newport. The Newport album was recorded on the back of mansion porch that RCA Records had rented during the festival. Unfortunately, the band's performance earlier that day had been cancelled due to crowd riots. In particular, Jazz Winds from a New Direction had a profound impact on musicians including Pat Metheny and George Benson, both of who have cited the album as being a key recording for starting their interest in playing jazz guitar.
Also during this time, Burton attended the Berklee School of Music but he only stayed for one year, from the fall of 1960 to the spring of 1961. While in Boston, Burton studied with trumpeter Herb Pomeroy as well as conductor/arranger Michael Gibbs. Burton's career by this time was in full swing; he released his debut solo album New Vibe Man in Town on RCA Records in 1961 and followed this up with 1962's Who is Gary Burton?