We Have Acquired the Archive of Jazz Pianist Dave Burrell

The Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh Library System is pleased to announce the acquisition of the Dave Burrell Archive. Burrell was an influential innovator in New York’s free jazz scene, playing alongside trailblazing musicians such as alto saxophonist Marion Brown and tenor saxophonists Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and David Murray. In addition to more than forty albums under his own name, he has recorded over eighty albums as a sideman. He continues to be a fixture at international jazz festivals and top clubs around the world.

Burrell’s compositions for the theater include the opera Windward Passages (1979), with a libretto by his wife, Monika Larsson, and Holy Smoke (1999), created with choreographer Eva Gholson. As a composer-in-residence at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, he wrote numerous pieces inspired by archival documents and other materials, including Bill of Sale for a Slave (2007), Syllables of the Poetry of Marianne Moore (2008), and Western Extension of the United States of America 1811 (2009). In 2010 he launched a project called American Civil War: 1861–1865, which led to the composition of Portraits of Civil War Heroes (2011), Civilians During War Time (2012), Turning Point (2013), Listening to Lincoln (2014), and Ode to a Prairie Lawyer (2015). He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the New York Vision Festival in 2018.

“The Pitt Jazz Program is elated to receive Dave Burrell's archive, which will expand our research offerings immensely,” says Nicole Mitchell Gantt, chair of Jazz Studies in Pitt’s music department. “As a pianist, Burrell's stature as an improviser has touched every aspect of the jazz tradition, from ragtime to experimental improvisation. As a composer, Dave Burrell has created a multitude of innovative works that celebrate African American history, and he has an astonishing library of over forty recordings as a leader. It's especially exciting to hold an archive of a legendary artist that we can collaborate with in real time. We look forward to celebrating his work next fall at the 52nd Pitt Jazz Seminar.”

To date, Burrell has donated to the University Library System twenty-four linear feet of posters, programs, correspondence, and contracts that document his career as an internationally renowned jazz pianist and composer, from the 1960s through the present. In years to come, the collection will double in size as he donates musical scores, photographs, and recordings. The archive will open to researchers later this year. 

Christopher Lynch, Project Coordinator at the Center for American Music, says, “I can’t wait to share these incredible materials with researchers. The archive will shed light on Burrell as a musician and jazz and cultural history, from the Civil Rights era through today.”


Christopher Lynch
Project Coordinator
Archives & Special Collections
Center for American Music

David Burrell

David Burrell