Herman Burney, "has the complete package … he is extremely talented, he possesses a reverence for the music, technical ability, and (to top it off) he is a genuinely fine person. The world needs his music and I am happy to count him among my friends" writes John Clayton.
Born in Washington, DC, Herman was raised in the arts-nurturing state of North Carolina, specifically Winston-Salem. Herman grew up in Church listening to Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, and James Cleveland; during these years, he played clarinet, drums, and tuba. “Music has always been an integral part of my life. Both my parents sing in their church choir, and my father sings bass in an all-male a Capella group.” Herman’s next major influences were Soul, R&B, and hard-core funk during high school; he played the electric bass during that time. “As a teenager, my friends and I started our own bands; we played in the garage, basement, or any place that we could. I even snuck out of the house at night to hear groups like Ramsey Lewis, Cameo, Parliament/Funkadelic, the Brother’s Johnson, and Graham Central Station!”
Herman was initiated into "Jazz" by Bill Bright in Winston-Salem, whose musical legacy lives through the many people he helped during his physical life here on earth. "Bill Bright personally took me under his wing, made me practice, allowed me (with my incredibly sad bass playing) to join the Bill Bright Quintet, gave me my first gigs on acoustic bass, taught me about chord changes, and loaned me Charles Mingus and Thelonius Monk albums to check out so we could play it together!! Make no mistake ... Bill Bright single-handedly started me on my Jazz journey ... I'm still figuring out what he showed me!"
Then in 1987, after a chance meeting with George Duvivier, Herman finally settled on his beloved double bass. “Until then, I had never heard music, especially on a double bass, that required so much honesty and dedication. George showed me that there is no room for pretense in American Classical music (commonly called “Jazz”); if you don’t give yourself completely, your music will show it and your audience will know it.”
A true student and fan of jazz music, Herman often gives his time and effort to the support of future jazz musicians. “Milt Hinton, John Clayton, Bob Cranshaw, Ray Brown, Victor Gaskin, John Heard, Keter Betts, Freddy Cole, George Duvivier, Percy Heath, and Rufus Reid have shared so much with me that it is incumbent upon me to pass it along to others … I just can't keep this information to myself.” To this end, and when his schedule permits, Herman enjoys working at music camps, presenting workshops, teaching private students, and educating audiences. “Jazz audiences are generally well informed people who MUST be considered at all times; playing in Freddy Cole’s band for over 4yrs really taught me this lesson. Cole taught me to assemble the musical presentation based on audience demographics, NOT necessarily what I want to play. Therefore, as a musician, I am responsible for learning as much music as possible in order to choose songs carefully that positively impact an audience.”
Herman traveled all over the world to establish his impressive list of performance credentials as bassist with Nnenna Freelon, Marcus Roberts, Freddy Cole, Wynton Marsalis, Sonny Fortune, Harry Pickens, Eric Alexander, Wycliffe Gordon, Rene Marie, Monty Alexander, Etta Jones, Oscar Brown, Red Holloway, Natalie Cole, Cedar Walton, and Eric Reed. Herman has also played with Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, Ellis Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Terrell Stafford, Frank Wess, Carl Allen, and Etta Jones, and many, many others.
Herman has played jazz venues including the Blue Note, the Village Vanguard, Yoshi’s, Sweet Basil, Iridium, Smoke, Birdland, the Jazz Showcase, the Jazz Bistro, Jazz Alley, the Jazz Bakery, Vartan’s Jazz, the Kennedy Center, Alice Tully Hall, the Stanley Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center, the Dakota, and countless others. Internationally, Herman has toured South America, Australia, Europe, Canada, and the Far East. Some festivals include the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, the Cherry Hill Jazz Festival, Detroit Jazz Festival, the JVC Festival, the East Coast Jazz Festival, the Melbourne Arts Festival, the San Javier (Spain) Jazz Festival, the Atlanta Jazz Festival, and the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Festival where Herman’s image was featured on both the 2001 Festival poster and T-shirt.
Herman was an integral part of Freddy Cole’s band for nearly 5yrs and played on many of his recordings, including “Rio de Janiero Blue” and the Grammy nominated CD “Merry Go Round”; Most recently, Herman was Rene Marie's bassist for over 3yrs while free-lancing with various musicians around the US.
Herman created The BassMint in 1996 as an all-bass ensemble for documentation, performance, and education with specific emphasis on the double bass. Herman says “The bass IS the backbone of all Western music … we are the foundation.” Therefore, the BassMint focuses on the history of the double bass, its role in Western music, and its potential. For example, The BassMint paid tribute to Percy Heath in 1997; members included John Heard, Carroll Dashiell, Reginald Veal, and Herman on bass and cello. “We were well received by an enthusiastic audience who left with a different perception of the double bass!” More recently, the DC Bass Choir (with James King and Michael Bowie) paid tribute to Papa Keter Betts as part of the first annual Duke Ellington Festival here in DC; it was a challenging and very worthwhile experience that we look forward to repeating this year, possibly with a guest!!
Herman performs regularly with his own group which ranges from duo to quartet; the group’s composition varies “as the music dictates” but regularly features pianists such as Vince Evans, Eric Reed, Tommy Gill, or Kevin Bales, drummers Eric Kennedy, Steve Williams, or Quentin Baxter, saxophonist Gary Thomas, trumpeters Lenny Foy or Terrell Stafford, trombonists Reginald Cyntje, Ronald Westray, or Wycliffe Gordon, and vocalists Melva Houston, Lavenia Nesmith, Imani, or Rene Marie.
When asked to describe Herman, bassist and educator Rufus Reid says that Herman is “one of the finest bassists on the music scene today.”