Ralph Jose P. Burns (June 29, 1922 – November 21, 2001) was an American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger.
Burns was born in Newton, Massachusetts, United States, where he began playing the piano as a child. In 1938, he attended the New England Conservatory of Music. He admitted that he learned the most about jazz by transcribing the works of Count Basie, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. While a student, Burns lived in Frances Wayne‘s home. Wayne was already a well-known big band singer and her brother Nick Jerret was a bandleader who began working with Burns. He found himself in the company of such famous performers as Nat King Cole and Art Tatum.
After Burns moved to New York in the early 1940s, he met Charlie Barnet and the two began working together. In 1944, he joined the Woody Herman band with members Neal Hefti, Bill Harris, Flip Phillips, Chubby Jackson and Dave Tough. Together, the group developed a powerful and distinctive sound. For 15 years, Burns wrote or arranged many of the band’s major hits including “Bijou”, “Northwest Passage” and “Apple Honey”, and on the longer work “Lady McGowan’s Dream” and the three-part Summer Sequence. Burns worked with numerous other musicians. Stan Getz was featured as a tenor saxophone soloist on “Early Autumn“, a hit for the band and the launching platform for Getz’s solo career. Burns also worked in a small band with soloists including Bill Harris and Charlie Ventura.