Chris Burnett (born Christopher LeRoy Burnett on November 2, 1955) is an American saxophone player, composer, veteran of US military jazz bands and band leader. Born in Olathe, Kansas, Burnett’s family moved relatively frequently during his early childhood due to his father being a member of the active US military service. His sibling family lived at places such as: France, Michigan, and Colorado prior to settling permanently back home in the Kansas City metro area. His brother, Richie Pratt (March 11, 1943 – February 12, 2015), who was also a musician (Lionel Hampton, Junior Mance, Aretha Franklin, New York Jazz Quartet, Broadway, films, studios …), and the eldest sibling in his family continually served as a significant professional role model and mentor. Chris Burnett currently works with the Leavenworth High school Jazz And Marching band
Burnett has noteworthy college-level teaching experience as a former director of the jazz ensemble program at Missouri University of Science and Technology, formerly University of Missouri-Rolla, where he was employed as an Adjunct Lecturer in Music for more than 10 years (academic years: 1984–1990 and 1996–2000) until returning home to the Kansas City area. He was bestowed as an honorary member of Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma chapters at the University of Missouri-Rolla. He was also one of the principal artist/educators featured at the First Annual Jazz Education Forum and Jazz Festival in 1998, which was held in Jefferson City, Missouri. At which, he performed with his own quartet, as well as with another stellar group composed of: Bill Cunliffe (piano), Kristin Korb (bass), and Yoron Israel, (drums). Burnett has taught several hundred students over the years. Some have gone on to study music at the college level, then engage professional careers in music as performers, recording artists or educators themselves.
Burnett’s study of the Schillinger System of Musical Composition under O’tress L. Tandy from 1983–1985, has proven to be a cornerstone of his original artistic and compositional concepts. He is the 1995 5-Star Award of Merit winner of the National Federation of Music Clubs for his original composition and arrangement for big band titled, “Daedalus”. Burnett has also stated that his main concern as a performer, who is also a legitimate composer, is to present his own original music parallel to the traditions of the generations before him. He states that approaching this goal requires that one become a teacher of sorts by developing one’s own approach to the musical language – not merely to imitate the melodic and harmonic statements of the established masters as a less mature student might be satisfied to do.
Burnett’s work around 2001, such as Time Stamps, is significant for a melding of his more mature style of writing with his ability to place emphasis on both the improvisational and composition structural aspects of jazz music. He achieves this by giving each instrumentalist the inherent responsibilities and enough freedom to create musical content over rich harmonic and melodic compositional bedrock. He continues to explore these and other concepts with his own ensembles.
Burnett is of a generation that brings much substance to American music because his is the first generation who grew up as adults with full Civil Rights and full access to the bounties of US society. He is one of the musicians of this generation who: have successfully served their country, have successfully raised families, are productive citizens, and continue to grow their gifts as an original artist. With over 150 original compositions, 30 of which are registered BMI Works, it is logical to assume that there will be much more music to investigate from Chris Burnett for many years to come. He has proven business experience, and has recorded a highly successful debut album titled, “Time Flies”. Initially influenced by the work of saxophonists Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and the stylings of trumpeter, Miles Davis; Burnett has also performed and been influenced by many other artists and styles of music beyond the genre of jazz.
Burnett incorporates many elements from his classical studies on saxophone and clarinet, along with his knowledge as a trained composer and arranger of music, into the current improvisational and compositional language he presents to listeners. Burnett does not believe that music is limited in the way that most of the commercial marketing of it often presents to the majority of the world. He also believes that any person of his generation and age, (or younger,) can only “get so close” to the jazz music that was made before they were born without having a direct relationship with a person who was actually living during that particular musical era. His artistic motivations are dedicated to presenting jazz music from his generational perspective and context, within a paradigm of creativity as the focus. Thus, Burnett’s own work is focused on contributing to the music of his African-American heritage and Midwest traditions in such a manner that it is approachable by most listeners, yet not so watered down to the point of having little remaining genuine artistic substance.