Burke played violin and guitar early in life, but he lost the use of his pinky finger in a munitions factory accident and switched to bass. In the second half of the 1940s he played with Joe Mooney, Tony Scott, and Cy Coleman. Later he played with the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, Tal Farlow, Marian McPartland (1953), Don Elliott, Vic Dickenson, Gil Melle, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Mehegan, Chris Connor, Eddie Costa, and Bobby Hackett. He led his own band in 1956, and led small combos into the 1980s.
Burke's sound and technique was remarkably similar to his better-known contemporary, bassist Wilbur Ware who famously recorded with Thelonious Monk. Sonny Rollins, Tina Brooks. Grant Green and many other top artists. This said, there is no evidence that Burke copyied Ware's style or vice versa. The fact that Burke was unable to use his fourth finger required him to adopt an unorthodox fingering posture whereby he would be unable to shift the left hand normally forcing him to either stretch the left hand or contract it in order to use this third finger in place of the fourth and requiring more left arm movement. Ware, who was completely self-taught, also used an unorthodox left hand fingering technique requiring a lot of left arm movement. These factors most likely caused Burke and Ware to produce a very similar sound on the bass. Ware, however, was a more percussive bass player and this is discernible in any comparison of the two musicians on recordings
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The Vinnie Burke All-Stars (ABC-Paramount, 1958)
Eddie Costa/Vinnie Burke Trio (Fresh Sound Records, 1956) with Nick Stabulas
With Chet Baker
With Gil Mellé
- Gil's Guests (Prestige, 1963)
Vinnie Burke's String Jazz Quartet
ABC Paramount ABC-170 and in Canada on Sparton ABC-170 (1957) A Night In Tunisia; Let's Do It; Topsy; Blues For Skeeter; Solar; Blues For Esquire; C and V; Sweet And Lovely; Blues In The Closet. Vinnie Burke, bass; Dick Wetmore, violin; Calo Scott, 'cello; Bobby Grillo, guitar; Kenny Burrell, guitar; also Paul Palieri, guitar and Jimmy Campbell, brushes on Manhattan telephone directory. Details of this LP from "Black Shellac, Records for Collectors", Spring City, PA.
- Leonard Feather & Ira Gitler The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz Oxford University Press (1999) p94