Mt. Airy jazz star on stage at Kimmel

by Len Lear
Posted 4/17/24

George Burton, a Mt. Airy native and one of the nation's most celebrated jazz pianists, will perform in “Timeless: a Tribute to the Legacy of Peter Nero.”

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Mt. Airy jazz star on stage at Kimmel


George Burton, a Mt. Airy native who has become one of the nation's most celebrated jazz pianists, will perform in “Timeless: a Tribute to the Legacy of Peter Nero” on Saturday, April 20, at 3 p.m. at the Kimmel Center in Center City. Nero, a Philadelphia evangelist for pops orchestral music for many decades, died July 6, 2023, at age 89. 

Nero, born Bernard Nierow in New York, was the founding musical director of the Philly Pops (whose members now perform under the name No Name Pops) and led the ensemble from 1979 to 2013 when he left over a contract dispute. Nero earned two Grammy Awards, including “Best New Artist” in 1962, as well as a total of eight Grammy nominations. Mt. Airy's Burton was a winner of the prestigious Peter Nero Piano Competition and soloed with the Philly Pops.

“I wasn't really expecting to win that competition,” Burton told us in a recent interview. “I enjoyed talking with Peter Nero because he gave me good advice. He had such a rich musical tradition and was able to apply so many different ideas with his music.” 

Burton became a name in the jazz world with the February 2020 release of his second album, “Reciprocity,” which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Instrumental Album. It also received an award for Best Music Video ("Finding") from the Festigious Film Festival in 2020, and in 2022 "Finding" was a finalist in the International Songwriting Competition for “Best Jazz Song.

Burton grew up near Washington Lane and Stenton Avenue in East Mt. Airy, where he started playing violin at age 4 and began taking piano lessons at age 5. His father was a piano teacher, and his mother taught violin for 30 years in the Philadelphia School System and elsewhere in addition to playing violin at local churches. He graduated from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, where he studied the viola, and Temple University, where he was a jazz piano major. 

He started his career in Philadelphia, where he worked with Odean Pope, Bernard Edwards, Bootsie Barnes, Shirley Scott and Sid Simmons “playing in every jazz club in the city, doing as much as I could do,” he said. “The Philly music tradition is so well-rounded with gospel, jazz, avant-garde and more. I have not seen another city like it. There is so much integration of different styles of music here.”

Now living in Brooklyn, the CAPA and Temple grad has toured extensively with the Odean Pope Saxophone Choir and the Sun Ra Arkestra. He returns to Philadelphia every December with his “Yule Log” holiday show, which he has performed at the Art Museum. It started in 2013. “It's my favorite project. It's not corny holiday music.”

The George Burton Quartet (formerly a quintet) will have a new album, his fourth, coming out in late August this year, which will feature a strong South African influence. The April 20 concert at the Kimmel Center will feature a wide variety of styles of jazz because “Peter Nero was not genre-specific,” Burton said, “and that's what people like to hear. I have heard lots of great choral music, gospel, big band, jazz and rock, so I pull from many sources, and I write a lot of music myself. I was commissioned to write choral music for one year.”

According to Burton, one of the best things about being a touring musician is being able to visit so many cities, and countries. “I can't count all the places where we've played,” Burton said. “There are some cities in Europe I know so well that I know their restaurants and subway systems. My favorite city is Casablanca, where I spent six months. My second favorite is Berlin, and Marseille, France, is third.”

For more information about the April 20 concert, visit Len Lear can be reached at