Composer-pianist John Burke, whose sixth album, Orogen, was nominated for a 2017 best New Age Album Grammy, says living and working in metropolitan Atlanta has been a major factor in his successful career. While Burke is known locally for his solo albums and soundtracks, his first Grammy nod marked a significant milestone as he was the only independent artist nominated in the category.
One reason Burke gives for his success is the numerous musical connections he has made in Atlanta, including “tons of them in Midtown. You don’t realize how many people there are here you can collaborate with,” he says.
Burke grew up in Duluth and Norcross before moving to Clarkesville in the North Georgia mountains, where he attended middle and high school. He became interested in piano while attending Oglethorpe University and cut his first album in 2011. “I’ve been working full-time in music for years, and it has only gotten better,” he says. “Most people don’t realize Atlanta is a wonderful hub for music and musicians.” While New York and Los Angeles have historically been branded as entertainment cities, he adds, “Atlanta has already grown to that level.”
Burke maintains a busy schedule, splitting his time between performing at such venues at the City Winery inside Ponce City Market; practicing and composing. His “spontaneous and different” gigs include weddings, private parties, concerts and working with church choirs, plus recording his newest collection of original New Age compositions. Superstratum, his first multi-instrumental album, will be unveiled on September 10 with a release concert at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur.
Burke has also composed soundtracks for two independent films and several Atlanta-based plays. His incidental and transitional score for Serenbe Playhouse’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” became a soundtrack CD. He composed music for two more 2017 Serenbe productions— “Robin Hood” and “Macbeth”—that include orchestral elements. The Grammy nomination represented the culmination of a long-sought goal for Burke, whose master’s degree in public administration from Georgia State University has helped shape the business of his musical career. Several years ago, he researched the process others follow to get a Grammy. “I came up with a methodical approach. I found out how to become a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), the group that gives out the Grammy awards, and then how to submit something, and so on.”
In December 2016, Burke was watching the nominations being announced on Grammy.com when he saw his name in a category that included Enya and Vangelis. “I just screamed. I had worked so hard for months. I felt so much pride of achievement,” he says.
Burke attended the awards ceremony in Los Angeles in February 2017. “I didn’t expect to win. I was the least-known act in the category, and something was telling me it wasn’t my time quite yet,”he says. “But I knew I deserved the nomination.” (Another newcomer, the Santa Monica-based band White Sun, won the Grammy.) Being nominated “took my career to a whole new level,” he adds. “It made me look at my career differently. I raised the bar on myself, and it felt good.”
When he’s not working—which is rare—Burke spends his downtime at home in Piedmont Heights near Ansley Mall with his fiancée and their cats. He enjoys running in nearby Piedmont Park and hiking on the weekends. “We love beer and breweries, and we enjoy all the awesome restaurants in Midtown,” he says. Burke concludes, “For anyone out there who’s trying to be a musician, just persevere; it’s all possible.”
For news about John’s upcoming album release concert, visit johnburkemusic.com.
STORY: Bobby L. Hickman
PHOTO: Sara Hanna