There is a lot you can do in five hours. For some college students, five hours is an average night
of sleep. For Kenny Burrell however, five hours is too short for celebrating his birthday the best
way he knows how: jammin’ out. On Saturday night, UCLA students, families, and lovers of
jazz and blues witnessed an incredible night of music and a true celebration of why we are so
proud to say America gave the world jazz.
If a performance by Kenny Burrell and B.B. King, now both 80 and 86 years young, was not
enough to keep all eyes and ears to the stage during the first half, Stevie Wonder appeared from
out of the wings just before intermission to join in the fun with his harmonica. To see those
three musicians on stage at once made the audience question reality. Giddy with the sight we
currently had in front of us and elated with the anticipation of what sounds were to follow. As
true jazz cats do, they made their improvisation look like just the opposite. After speaking with
a friend’s father during intermission, he realized that with UCLA student ticket prices at $15, we
had seen each legend for $5 a piece. I would not be too far off by saying that might be the best
deal of my 21 years thus far and my entire life.
Christopher Waterman, Dean of UCLA School of Arts and Architecture, opened the second half
with a letter from President Obama himself, expressing his sentiment and delight for what he
knew was to be a wonderful show and commemoration of jazz. It seemed as though no other
element could raise the level of the night any higher. Then a recorded video from Tony Bennett
played, and later words from Herb Alpert on the importance of supporting jazz were shared on
stage, specifically thanking Kenny Burrell for all he has accomplished.
When the performance, or “birthday marathon” as Dee Dee Bridgewater coined it, finally came
to an end at five minutes after midnight, a mixture of amazement and deliriousness struck
the audience members who lasted the full length of the show. It was a night to honor a great
performer, professor, and ambassador of jazz. Even more so, it was a reminder that we have a
responsibility to foster the arts and the belief we say we have in it in any way we can.
Co-Director of Education
Student Committee for the Arts