Bud Shank didn't invent the bossa nova. Nor did he record the first bossa nova jazz album. But according to Antonio Carlos Jobim, Bud's two Laurindo Almeida Quartet albums of 1953 and 1954 and his West Coast Jazz albums were a huge influence on the Brazilian music scene of the late 1950s. Searching for a way to cool off the Brazilian samba, musicians in Rio adapted the laid back California sound and borrowed some of the music theory invented by by West Coast Jazz artists, resulting in the bossa nova. In effect, if samba was Brazil's bop, bossa nova was the country's "cool" jazz movement. [photo of Bud, above, by Hans S. Sirks]
In the final entry of our three-part conversation on the jazz forces that converged to shape the bossa nova, Bud talks about his unplanned trip to Rio in 1965, his visit to Jobim's apartment and his current project with pianist Joao Donato:
JazzWax: When did you first travel to Brazil?
Bud Shank: In 1965 I was invited down to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to play some concerts. It was January or the beginning of February. I didn’t know anything about Brazil's Carnival at the time. I had heard about it from musicians while I was staying in Argentina. So when my flight home to Los Angeles stopped over in Rio, I decided to get off and reroute my ticket.
JW: How long were you there?
BS: I stayed in Rio for 10 days—the whole week of Carnival. After I had made those records with Clare Fischer in 1962 [Bossa Nova Samba and Brasamba], this visit was my first opportunity to find the musical secret of the music, which by that time, of course, had become huge worldwide. In Rio I met Jobim, Luiz Bonfa, Sergio Mendes and a trombonist named Edson Maciel.
JW: Where did you meet Jobim?
BS: I went to his apartment when I was in Rio in 1965. It was during Carnival, and Jobim and other musicians were hanging out at his apartment. Luiz Bonfa [pictured] was there, too.
JW: How did you find your way to Jobim’s apartment?
BS: Edson Maciel, the trombone player I was hanging out with, took me there. Edson was a jazz musician and also very nuts, which was fine. He was my guide during Carnival.
JW: What did the group in Jobim’s apartment sound like?
BS: It was beautiful. They mostly played. They sang a little too. They had two guitars, and one guy with a key chain in his hand going ca-ching-ca ching and another guy scraping a paper matchbook on his pants going sh-shh-sh-shh. I had my horn but I didn’t want to disturb what I was hearing and they didn’t ask me to, so that was fine [laughing]. Hey, why play when you can listen? Just two guitars, a matchbook on pants and a keychain makes the wildest sound you ever heard in your life.
JW: It sounds like you were taken aback by the beauty.
BS: I was thrilled by what I was hearing. I had just come up from the streets where the true samba was still going on, with the whistle and the big drum and the trombone. The trombone is a big part of the samba. I don’t know how that ever happened but it did.
JW: What did you and Jobim talk about?
BS: A lot of things. Jobim told me that he and the other musicians had listened to my records with Laurindo Almeida in the early 1950s along with other West Coast albums I was on. He said those records helped them figure out what direction to go in. He said the records gave them something to work on. At the time they didn’t know they were heading toward bossa nova. The word hadn’t been invented yet. In fact, nobody even knows what it means today. It’s just a term someone made up and they don’t even know who it was. So they listened to our albums and then they added their playing, rhythm and new songs they were writing.
JW: How did that make you feel?
BS: It felt great to hear that they were listening to my music. It was very flattering. I did meet a terrific piano player down there, too, named Tenorio.
JW: You also met Sergio Mendes.
BS: I found Sergio [pictured] myself. He was working right behind the hotel I was staying in. I didn’t know any of these guys. I just walked in and said hi, and they knew who I was. I was amazed. About six months after I returned to the U.S., Sergio came up with his group, we worked together at Shelly’s Manne-Hole and then recorded Brazil ’65.
JW: Do you think Stan Getz heard your Brazilian albums from the 50s?
BS: I doubt it. I’m sure he didn’t. Stan was Stan. He didn’t listen to much of anyone else [laughing]. What he did was perfect, with Charlie Byrd [pictured]. Charlie was the one who brought the music and songs back when he was down there on a State Department tour, and Stan adapted it.
JW: Do you like bossa nova?
BS: What I like are various situations in which jazz music can be played. I was into much more than Brazilian music during this period. I got into Filipino music, Indian music and classical music as well as Brazilian. Today I suppose my 1960s work would be known as World Music. The record company I was with at the time—Pacific Jazz—and its owner, Dick Bock, knew I had this curiosity and passion for experimentation. So Dick started creating situations for me, like putting me together with new international artists. I recorded Koto and Flute with Kimeo Eto [pictured] in 1960. A koto is a Japanese string instrument. Eto was blind and could not speak one word of English. He wanted to record this unusual but serious material, which is why they needed a jazz musician who could play classical. The legit guys were too straight up and down, and Eto wanted flexibility. The music he handed me was double-sided. On one side were Japanese characters. On the other was music written in the European style, which helped a great deal.
JW: You played on the first Frank Sinatra-Jobim album, recorded in January 1967, with Claus Ogerman arrangements.
BS: That's right. If I recall, we used four flutes and strings. Sinatra was fine on that session. He yielded to Jobim when necessary.
JW: Was Sinatra tough?
BS: Nah. When Sinatra recorded, he knew exactly what he wanted—but that didn’t stop him from telling the guys in the band. But he always did it in a nice way. I remember on my first or second tour with him in Japan, I was supposed to play an improvised solo on clarinet. But I decided to play it on the tenor sax instead. The first time I did that, he turned around after the song with his “What the hell was that?” look. But he liked what he heard and wanted it in each time. I believe on that Jobim date, Sinatra was right in the studio with us, not in a booth. He liked to be right in with the band.
JW: Do you still travel to Brazil?
BS: Oh, yes. I love it down in Rio. I was there last October and recorded a DVD with pianist Joao Donato [pictured, in the 1960s]. He and I first recorded several times together. He may come up to L.A. at end of May. The guys who are filming a documentary on me shot footage of us down there, and now they want Donato to come up to L.A. and for us to play in club so they can get more on tape.
JW: Tough to escape the past?
BS: I suppose I’ll always be linked to Brazilian music. Hey, it’s beautiful stuff.
JazzWax tracks: Bud Shank recorded Brazilian themed albums throughout the 1960s. his albums with Joao Donato include Bud Shank and His Brazilian Friends (1965), The Astrud Gilberto Album (1965), Brazil! Brazil! Brazil! (1966) and A Bad Donato (1970). Bud also recorded Plays Cool, Quiet Bossa Nova (1966) with Laurindo Almeida as well as Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim (1967). In 1981, he recorded with Charlie Byrd on Brazilville.
More recently Bud recorded Uma Tarde com Bud Shank e Joao Donato. In addition, a DVD documentary of Bud's life, Against the Tide, is available. Both can be found at Bud Shank's website here.
JazzWax thanks: James A Harrod was kind enough to provide images of several album covers used above from his personal archive, as well as the black-and-white images by Woody Woodward of Donato (above) and Clare Fischer and Bud (below).
JazzWax appraisal: Bud's 1962 albums with Clare Fischer [pictured below] are stunning works. When I heard them for the first time this week, I was taken aback. While Stan Getz's bossa nova album from 1962—Jazz Samba—is an indisputable classic, he plays the tenor saxophone high on the horn's register and is teamed with acoustic guitar. Which is great. But Bud's alto saxophone seems to have a more natural, comfortable feel for the tissue-soft, rhythmic music, and he's teamed with Fischer's piano, giving the music a different sound. Bud soars through each song while retaining the West Coast integrity of his phrasing and sensibility. His flute playing on these albums is equally delicate and seductive. His albums with Joao Donato are equally breezy and brilliant.
Bud Shank: Bossa Nova Years (Fresh Sound) is the double-CD to buy, if you spot it. It is a sampling of nearly all Bud's bossa nova albums from the 1960s. When Bud and I talked about these recordings yesterday, he said he, too, had heard them only this week for the first time. "I have made so many recordings, I can't keep track," he said, laughing. "When I hear myself play on these Brazilian sessions, I can hear myself intentionally holding back because the music was so soft." Bud holding back on blowing? Wow. You'd never know it listening to him here.
As I mentioned yesterday, the Fresh Sound CD is out of print and scarce. If you can't find it, look for re-issues of Bossa Nova Jazz Samba, Brasamba and any bossa album recorded by Bud.
But wait—I just dug through my bossa CD collection and discovered that Best of Sergio Mendes and Brasil '65 is actually the Brazil '65 album Bud mentions in his interview above. The Mendes album is available at iTunes. While Bud isn't playing on this album nearly as much as he should have been, dig his accompanying alto on So Nice, One Note Samba and Let Me, and his flute playing on Donato's Aquarius.
Even if you think you've heard it all, bossa-wise, I guarantee you're in for a big, big surprise with any of Bud's Brazilian-themed albums.