Jim Simpson, of Big Bear Music, has just let me know this sad news.
Here is Jim’s tribute:
It is with extreme sadness that the music community today learned of the death last night (November 13) of one of its best loved and most respected of its number.
Saxophonist Mike Burney was probably the finest jazz musician this region has produced, but more than that he was self effacing regarding his talent, generous with his time, advice and support and with a monumental never-dimmed enthusiasm and love for music and for life. He never knowingly passed-up an opportunity to play music, whether paid or otherwise. He put no store on financial gain which he disdained; music and friendship and family were his priorities.
Never a household name, Mike Burney nevertheless enjoyed a worldwide reputation among musicians and in the music business. A brush with fame came as a member of Roy Wood’s Wizzard playing on the hits and making TV appearances, as he did on many Morecambe and Wise shows as a member of the Syd Lawrence Orchestra. But that is only the tip of the iceberg.
The list of leading names whose performances Mike Burney’s playing has graced include Jimmy Cliff, Chaka Khan, The Beach Boys, Sammy Davis Jnr., Petula Clark, Steve Winwood, Dionne Warwick, Billy Eckstine, Mel Torme, Cliff Richard and even Bob Hope. He has recorded with U.S. bluesmen Gene The Mighty Flea Connors and guitar legend Mickey Baker, Sonny Boy Williamson and Memphis Slim as well as with leading rhythm and blues combo, King Pleasure & the Biscuit Boys.
His determination to stay in Birmingham and live a comparatively normal life with his devoted wife Sue, was of inestimable benefit to our local jazz and blues scene, where he featured at his hometown Birmingham International Jazz & Blues Festival every year from 1985 until illness prevented him from doing so in 2013. Visiting American musicians, knowing of his reputation as a world-class player, would seek him out and get to play alongside Mike, who was totally unfazed by their reputations and revelled in playing in top company.
Mike Burney faced his long battle with cancer with strength, optimism and his indefatigable sense of humour. Only a few hours before the end, when pianist Andy Peate passed him a drink of water, Mike commented “I’d settle for a half of Bathams”.
His fellow musicians showed their respect by holding two benefit shows for Mike, the first during the 2013 Birmingham International Jazz & Blues Festival which featured Roy Wood Rock & Roll Band, The Steve Gibbons Band and King Pleasure & the Biscuit Boys and the last only two weeks ago at Nothing But The Blues at The Asylum where 14 of Mike’s band mates performed.
Birmingham musicians feel that Mike’s passing marks the end of an era.