A native Southern Californian, Roger Burn was a multi-talented musician; a master vibraphonist, pianist/keyboard player, drummer/percussionist, singer, composer, arranger, meticulous music copyist, band leader & music publisher. He possessed perfect pitch and began playing the piano by ear at an early age. He began his career as a drummer, starting at the age of eleven. By the time he was fourteen, he quickly picked up the piano and soon after, the vibraphone.
He began practicing two hours a day, working his way up to five hours a day, at one point. He insisted on keeping his windows closed, even in hot summers, (with no air conditioning) as he was concerned - “I wouldn’t want someone walking by on the sidewalk to hear me while I’m practicing.” He was a perfectionist.
His high school band director, Ed Wolfe, describes Roger as being verbally “outgoing” and “perhaps not too subtle” as he recalls their first conversation:
“Mr. Wolfe, I’m Roger Burn. I play percussion, and I have a question. Can you improve this jazz program so that it will be as good as Robin Snyder’s at Bonita HS? If not, I’m going to transfer over there for my last two years.”
“Hello, Roger. Nice to meet you!”
“Roger and other students would come down to the apartment and play Risk. After the other students left, Roger would always ask questions about music theory. Sometimes he would stay quite late. His parents, Ed and Joyce seemed to always know where he was and did not seem to object, but since we had a Jazz Band rehearsal every morning at 6:30, I would have to ‘throw him out’ often so that we could get some sleep,” said Wolfe. “He was not particularly interested in the traditional harmony of the common practice period, but when we talked about Twentieth Century techniques, his ears really perked up. He learned about tritone substitutions, extensions and altered chords, and suddenly there was an interest in learning to play piano as he was already becoming quite proficient on vibraphone,” relayed Wolfe.