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Gay Grammy-winning vibraphonist Gary Burton recounts his jazz journey in new autobiography


burtonJames Gary Burton was 6, growing up in a small town in Indiana, when his father decided he should have music lessons. Looking for the appropriate instrument, the family attended several music performances, including one by a marimba and vibraphone teacher.

“I don’t really remember this experience, or even the fact that I apparently showed sufficient interest to convince my parents this was the instrument I wanted to play,” Burton says in his autobiography, Learning to Listen: The Jazz Journey of Gary Burton, to be published in September by Berklee Press.

But vibraphone it was. And just like that, the improbable path of one of the great jazz musicians of his generation was set. Burton, 70, grew up to be a master vibraphonist and bandleader, the winner of seven Grammy Awards and an influential educator at one of his field’s leading schools, the Berklee College of Music in Boston. ...

And that is only part of the story. There’s also the tale of the kid who “around high school age … first sensed confusion about sex,” and felt he was “somehow different from the other boys.” With no one to confide in, he writes, “I coped with the confusion as best I could, given I was growing up in ’50s rural Indiana.”

“It was just scary,” he says now. “I had these feelings and I knew they weren’t accepted, so I was terrified about them. I spent the next several decades burying those feelings.”

And so Burton would go on to live, as he puts it, two lives: the first one as a twice-married man, father of two; the second, beginning in the 1980s, as an openly gay man.

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