Les Burness

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The steady, dependable pianist Les Burness was initially known as a dance band player whose '40s allegiance to the Tony Pastor band had been preceded by some swing nibbling in the late '30s, feeding chords…
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The steady, dependable pianist Les Burness was initially known as a dance band player whose '40s allegiance to the Tony Pastor band had been preceded by some swing nibbling in the late '30s, feeding chords to trumpeter Bunny Berigan and clarinetist Artie Shaw. He recorded extensively with both of these bandleaders, from time to time hobbling over to the saxophone section, where he blew both alto and tenor saxophone. It was an instrumental double that quite a few of his employers seemed to take advantage of, from speed-happy vibraphonist Red Norvo to the fine vocalist Helen Forrest. It is also a credit detail that seems to have thrown the normally stalwart Tom Lord for a loop in his discographical research; a separate Les Burness is tabbed with a single session on alto saxophone in 1939, and right next door is the pianist, credited with no less than 123 session appearances between 1937-1982.

Burness was based out of Jersey City much of this time. Besides his big band activity, he was also in and out of recording studios, quite often on an uncredited basis in eras when studio players were supposed to be anonymous. Doo wop maestro Buck Ram did some recordings of a band called the Quintones, for example, who were backed up by an uncredited Burness, trumpeter Buck Clayton, bassist Walter Page, and drummer Joe Jones, among others. Some of the pianist's most progressive moves were made in the late-'30s Norvo combo, also featuring players such as guitarist Allen Hanlon and drummer Russ Isaacs.