In the early 1990’s Kenny Burrell participated in some Ellington conferences.
The first one was Ellington ’90 in Ottawa, where he was was an important part of the music program. Together with Harold Ashby, Wild Bill Davis, John Lamb and Butch Ballard, Burrell formed the Ellingtonians group and also appeared as soloist with the Andrew Homzy Jazz Orchestra.
The concert with the Ellingtonians has been published on the website.
Kenny Burrell was back at the Ellington ’93 conference in New York, where he once again was part of the music program but also made a presentation on Teaching Ellingtonia the second day.
Burrell first became involved in jazz education in 1978, when he started to teach a 10-week overview of Duke Ellington for UCLA’s Center for African American Studies.
By that time his two first LP album dedicated to Duke Ellington’s music – Ellington Is Forever (Fantasy F 79005) and Ellington Is Forever vol 2 (Fantasy 79008) had been issued.
Burrell’s love for Duke was not obvious in his early career. He belonged to the part of the hardbop generation that came out of Detroit and joined those coming from New York or Philadelphia in recording the new style of jazz for labels like Blue Note and Prestige.
They occasionally included an Ellington song like Cotton Tail, Caravan, The The A Train, Perdido etc in what they recorded but if it was thanks to Kenny Burrell is hard to say.
An interest in Ellington could possibly be spotted in the 1961 Taft Jordan Plays Ellington album (Moodsville MVLP 21). It is not known to which extent Burrell participated in the selection of songs but he certainly played a lot of Ellington music when the album was recorded.
In an interview on the WBUR jazz program in Boston in 1985, Kenny Burrell told the interviewer Tony Cennamo that it was the publicist Al Morgan who had introduced him to Ellington’s music. Unfortunately no date for this is given.
In an interview for National Public Radio in 2014, Burrell said: When I was at Wayne State University in the ’50s, it was a problem studying jazz, even talking about it in some cases, so I decided if I had a chance, I would teach jazz.” And this he did for many years.
In his presentation at Ellington ’93, he explains his approach to this as regards Ellingtonia.