Weve seen so many elder statesmen of jazz go on way past the point of really being able to play even halfway decently,” he said, “and no one will tell them.”

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by NATE CHINEN

For a long stretch of his early performing career, vibraphonist Gary Burton was always the youngest man on the bandstand. A child prodigy from Indiana, and then an onrushing force on the scene, he apprenticed with the great Nashville guitarist Hank Garland before going on tour with pianist George Shearing, followed by tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. He was all of 18 when he released his debut album, New Vibe Man In Town, on the RCA label.

In short order, he would change the technical vocabulary of mallet instrumentsperhaps you’ve heard of the Burton gripand create one of the early prototypes for fusion. He would become an important pioneer in jazz education. He’d win an armload of Grammy Awards, and come out as gay at a time when few jazz artists of his stature had done so. He’d also become a mentor, to more than a few young phenoms like his former self.

This spring Burton became something else altogether: a retiree. With little warning and a bare minimum of fuss, he announced his intention to step away from music. And at 74, still in possession of his quicksilver fluidity and deep intuition, he went on a farewell tour, bringing one of his old protégés and duet partners, the pianist Makoto Ozone. They played in a small handful of cities that mean something to Burton, playing material that fit the same criteria.

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