Kenny Burrell is an American jazz guitarist best known for his 1963 solo album Midnight Blue as well as his collaborations with Jimmy Smith including the 1965 Billboard Top Twenty hit album Organ Grinder Swing. Burrell also serves as a professor and Director of Jazz Studies at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.
Burrell was born in Detroit, Michigan, to a musical family and began playing guitar at the age of 12. Guitarists who influenced him include Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, and Wes Montgomery. While a student at Wayne State University, he made his recording debut as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's sextet in 1951, following which he recorded the "Ground Round" single at Fortune Records in Detroit. He toured with Oscar Petersonafter graduating in 1955 and then moved to New York City in 1956.
A consummate sideman, Burrell has recorded with a wide range of prominent musicians. He has also led his own groups since 1951 and recorded many well-received albums.
In the 1970s he began leading seminars about music, particularly Duke Ellington's. Although the two never collaborated directly, Ellington called Burrell his "favorite guitarist", and Burrell has recorded a number of tributes to and interpretations of Ellington's works.
A highly popular performer, Burrell has won several jazz polls in Japan and the United Kingdom as well as in the United States. He has recorded approximately 106 albums, including Midnight Blue (1963), Blue Lights, Guitar Forms, Sunup To Sundown (1990), Soft Winds (1993), Then Along Came Kenny (1993), and Lotus Blossom (1995).
As of 1996, Burrell has served as Director of Jazz Studies at UCLA, mentoring such notable alumni as Gretchen Parlato and Kalil Wilson. Burrell teaches a course entitled "Ellingtonia", examining the life and accomplishments of Ellington.