27, 2002: Making music
and trombonist Dave Burns '53 resurrects a Golden Age
singer and trombonist Dave Burns '53 summarized his life in song
titles, he'd no doubt choose "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It
Ain't Got that Swing)" by Duke Ellington from his new CD Rainbow
Burns has been singing since age two on the Pineville,
Kentucky drugstore counter ("They'd put me on the marble counter
at the drugstore and I'd sing songs for a penny."), in church
choirs, grade school musicals, Triangle shows, and Air Force combos.
For the past 30 years, he's led his own jazz band, Hot Mustard,
in Washington, D.C., on some 2,000 gigs.
A retired U.S. foreign-service officer, Burns specializes in American
popular songs from 1925 to 1965, including the works of the Gershwin
brothers, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin. "When I sing, I'm
not out to 'sell' myself but to present the song as convincingly
as possible. I'm interested in words and melody," he says.
His background is as colorful as the name of his fourth CD. Burns
ran away from Pineville at 15, living a hobo-like existence until
landing in D.C., where he dropped out of high school three times
before joining the Air Force. A "voracious reader," he
realized he'd need a degree after his tour of duty and audaciously
applied to Oxford, the University of Kentucky, Occidental College
in Pasadena, California and Princeton.
"I told them if they took a gamble on me I wouldn't disappoint
them," he says of Princeton. True to his word, Burns won a
Fullbright scholarship and joined the Foreign Service. His older
son was born while he served in Beirut; his younger son, in what
is now Zimbabwe. And everywhere, Burns made music. He picked up
the trombone in Mali.
Burns recently completed volume one of his autobiography
"I don't have any illusions it will sell," he says of
Hollored Out, his years from 1928 to 1949 (two more books are planned)
and started composing: "I figure if age knocks the wind
out of me I can still make music."