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performing at the Three Deuces in New York in April 1947
|Born||Ralph Jose P. Burns
June 29, 1922
|Died||November 21, 2001
Burns was born in Newton, Massachusetts where he began playing the piano as a child. In 1938, he attended the New England Conservatory of Music. He admitted that he learned the most about jazz by transcribing the works of Count Basie, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. While a student, Burns lived in Frances Wayne's home. Wayne was already a well-known big band singer and her brother Nick Jerret was a bandleader who began working with Burns. He found himself in the company of such famous performers as Nat King Cole and Art Tatum.
After Burns moved to New York in the early 1940s, he met Charlie Barnet and the two began working together. In 1944, he joined the Woody Herman band with members Neal Hefti, Bill Harris, Flip Phillips, Chubby Jackson and Dave Tough. Together, the group developed a powerful and distinctive sound. For 15 years, Burns wrote or arranged many of the band's major hits including "Bijou", "Northwest Passage" and "Apple Honey", and on the longer work "Lady McGowan's Dream" and the three-part Summer Sequence.
Burns worked with numerous other musicians. Stan Getz was featured as a tenor saxophone soloist on "Early Autumn", a huge hit for the band and the launching platform for Getz's solo career. Burns also worked in a small band with soloists including Bill Harris and Charlie Ventura.
The success of the Herman band provided Burns the ability to record under his own name in the 1950s. In the 1950s Burns played nightly from 5pm -9pm in The Baroque Room at Oscar's Delmonico restaurant in Downtown Manhattan. He collaborated with Billy Strayhorn, Lee Konitz and Ben Webster to create both jazz and classical recordings. He wrote compositions for Tony Bennett and Johnny Mathis and later Aretha Franklin and Natalie Cole. Burns was responsible for the arrangement and introduction of a string orchestra on two of Ray Charles's biggest hits, "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "Georgia on My Mind".
In the 1960s, Burns was freed from touring as a band pianist, and began arranging/orchestrating for Broadway including the major show Chicago, Funny Girl, No, No, Nanette, and Sweet Charity. In 1971, Burns first film assignment was for Woody Allen's Bananas. Burns worked with film-director Bob Fosse and in 1972 won the Academy Award as music supervisor for Cabaret. He composed the film scores for Lenny (1974) and Martin Scorsese's jazz-themed New York, New York (1977). Fosse again employed Burns to create the soundtrack for All That Jazz for which he also won an Academy Award in 1979. He then worked on Urban Cowboy (1980) and in 1982, Burns received another Academy Award nomination for his work in Annie.
His work for the stage was also notable. Baryshnikov on Broadway in 1980 earned Burns an Emmy Award for his work. In the 1990s, Burns arranged music for Mel Tormé, John Pizzarelli and Michael Feinstein. Burns won the Tony Award for Best Orchestrations in 1999 for Fosse and posthumously in 2002 for Thoroughly Modern Millie, which also garnered him the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Orchestrations. The latter were won with Doug Besterman. From 1996 until his death, Burns restored many orchestrations for New York City Center's Encores! series—revivals of both his own shows and shows originally orchestrated by others. Burns was inducted into the New England Jazz Hall of Fame in 2004.
Burns carefully hid his homosexuality throughout his life. In 2001, Burns died from complications of a recent stroke and pneumonia in Los Angeles, California. He was survived by one sister, Nancy Lane (Burns), and three brothers, Leo, Joe, and Gael.
- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) (writer: "Early Autumn")
- Star 80 (1983) (music: "Overkill", "Off Ramp", "Improvise", "Funky") (lyrics: "Overkill", "Funky")
Awards and honors
- 1973 Academy Award for Best Scoring Original Song Score or Adaptation Score – Cabaret
- 1980 Academy Award for Best Scoring Original Song Score or Adaptation Score – All That Jazz
- 1980 Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction – Baryshnikov on Broadway
- 1999 Tony Award for Best Orchestrations – Fosse
- 2002 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Orchestrations – Thoroughly Modern Millie
- 2002 Tony Award for Best Orchestrations – Thoroughly Modern Millie
- 1983 Best Music, Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Best Adaptation Score – Annie
- 1986 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Orchestration – Sweet Charity
- "Arranger Famed from Herman to Hollywood". The Scotsman. 2001. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
- The ASCAP Biographical Dictionary, Third edition, New York: American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (1966)
- ASCAP Biographical Dictionary. Fourth edition, compiled for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers by Jaques Cattell Press. New York: R.R. Bowker (1980)
- Contemporary Musicians. Profiles of the people in music. Volume 37. Detroit: Gale Group (2002) (biography contains portrait)
- Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 12, Detroit: Gale Research (1994) OCLC 31752068
- Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 24, Detroit: Gale Group (1999) OCLC 48867915
- International Motion Picture Almanac, 1992 edition, New York: Quigley Publishing Co. (1992) OCLC 25170797
- International Motion Picture Almanac, 1994 edition, New York: Quigley Publishing Co. (1994) OCLC 29859214
- International Motion Picture Almanac, 1996 edition, New York: Quigley Publishing Co. (1996) OCLC 34264014
- The New York Times Biographical Service; A compilation of current biographical information of general interest; Volume 32, Numbers 1–12, Ann Arbor, MI: Bell & Howell Information & Learning Co. (2001)
- "Ralph Burns on MSN Music". MSN. 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
- Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris and Erlewine, Stephen Thomas All Music Guide to Jazz; The definitive guide to jazz music, Fourth edition,, San Francisco: Backbeat Books (2002)
- Bowman, John S. The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press (1995)
- Claghorn, Charles Eugene. Biographical Dictionary of American Music, West Nyack, NY: Parker Publishing Co. (1973)
- Claghorn, Charles Eugene. Biographical Dictionary of Jazz, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall (1982)
- Hitchcock, H. Wiley and Sadie, Stanley (eds.) The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, four volumes, edited by, London: Macmillan Press (1986) OCLC 13184437
- Kernfeld, Barry The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz; First edition, two volumes, London: Macmillan Press (1988) OCLC 16804283
- Kernfeld, Barry The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, New York: St. Martin's Press (1994)
- Kernfeld, Barry The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz; Second edition, three volumes, edited by Barry Kernfeld, London: Macmillan Publishers (2002)
- Kinkle, Roger D. The Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Jazz, 1900–1950, Three volumes, New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers (1974); biographies are located in Volumes 2 and 3
- Larkin, Colin (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Popular Music; Third edition, eight volumes, London: Muze (1998); Grove's Dictionaries, New York (1998) OCLC 39837948
- Rigdon, Walter. The Biographical Encyclopaedia and Who's Who of the American Theatre, edited by Walter Rigdon, New York: James H. Heineman (1966)
- Simmonds, Ron (2008). "Ralph Burns". Jazz Professional. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
- Ralph Burns at the Internet Broadway Database
- Ralph Burns at the Internet Movie Database
- Ralph Burns at AllMusic