A few weeks ago I wrote about a sub-genre in the Blue Note catalog I called Afro-Bossa Hard Bop. The name refers to bossa nova originals written by jazz artists and recorded in hard bop style between 1963 and 1965. But in providing background on the bossa nova movement, I failed to include several key events and artists in the music's evolution. And readers on the West Coast were quick to let me know about it. "How could you have overlooked Bud Shank and his Brazilliance records of 1953 and the late 1950s," several readers demanded in emails. [photo above of Bud Shank by Elizabeth Becker]
Huh? Bud Shank, the legendary alto saxophonist of West Coast big band and jazz-ensemble fame? So I did a little discographical research on Bud and quickly realized I had goofed. I returned emails saying I would try to reach Bud and rectify the oversight. "Good luck," readers told me. "Bud rarely talks about that period." So with hat in hand, I emailed Bud's wife, Linda, and humbly explained my error and desire to set the record straight.
Linda spoke to Bud, and a week ago I spent an hour talking with the West Coast saxophone giant about the bossa nova movement and how, in the 1950s, he came to record the first Brazilian-influenced jazz albums:
JazzWax: This story starts with Laurindo Almeida, doesn't it?
Bud Shank: Yes. Laurindo was a Brazilian classical guitarist who came to Los Angeles from Rio de Janeiro in 1947 looking for work. Stan Kenton was one of the first people he contacted when he got here, and Stan hired him right away. In Kenton’s band, like many at the time, we were recording more and more arrangements with Afro-Cuban rhythms, which were very hot during that period. Laurindo’s timing was perfect. Even though he was from Brazil, Laurindo had the right feel for Afro-Cuban music and for the neo-classical approach Stan was developing. Before hiring Laurindo, Stan used Bob Ahern on guitar, who was great for straight-up jazz but not as strong as Laurindo on the Latin stuff. In 1950, Stan started his Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra, which Laurindo was a big part of. Laurindo and I both played with Stan through the early spring of 1952.
JW: What was Laurindo’s role in the development of bossa nova?
BS: Laurindo wrote quite a bit of music in the Brazilian style. It wasn’t bossa nova, because bossa nova hadn’t been invented or developed in the early 1950s. They were more like Brazilian folk songs or choros. Laurindo wasn't a jazz musician and he wasn't an improviser. He was a classical guitarist who happened to be born in Rio. When you’re born in Rio you’re born with the samba. There’s nothing you can do about it. Laurindo could not avoid where he grew up—or what he heard when he grew up. Those songs were with him always. He wanted to be a soloist, and when he was working clubs in L.A., he played those folk songs because he knew that was more appealing in a bar than sitting there playing [Andres] Segovia’s classical pieces.
JW: How did you and Laurindo come to record the first jazz-Brazilian album in the U.S.?
BS: In 1953, Laurindo was working on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood with jazz bassist Harry Babasin [pictured] as a duo. Harry was amazed by Laurindo’s Brazilian songs, and after a few weeks Harry came up with an idea. He wondered what would happen if he and Laurindo added a drummer and jazz horn. Harry didn’t have anything specific in mind. He just wondered what would happen if two more instruments were added. [photo courtesy of Von Babasin]
JW: What happened next?
BS: Harry talked it over with Laurindo and Roy Harte, a friend and drummer [pictured]. Harry had a record company at that time called Nocturne, and his office was in Roy’s drum shop. Roy, meanwhile, was co-founder of Pacific Jazz Records. Harry and Roy decided I would be ideal to take a shot at what they had in mind. I had known both of them and Laurindo for a while.
JW: What happened next?
BS: We did a rehearsal at Roy’s drum shop—a get-together—in late 1953 or early 1954. Laurindo brought in a few of those folk melodies. Luckily he had transposed some of the lead sheets into alto saxophone parts, which helped our exploration immensely. Otherwise we’d probably still be there [laughing].
JW: Did you know it sounded great right away?
BS: We started running these things down with nothing in mind, nothing whatsoever. All of a sudden, we started to say, “Yeah, there's something there.” The surprising thing was that Roy didn’t know what to do rhythmically with the drums. In all fairness, there had been nothing established yet to base it off of. So Roy showed up with a conga drum, which, of course, is from Cuba. It looked right, but in retrospect was all wrong. There was nothing for him to do any research about it, you know. Even during Carnival in Brazil with the street samba, they don’t use conga drums. They use big booming drums. But we didn't know this at the time.
JW: What happened after the rehearsal?
BS: We were feeling our way through the music. Some of the choros Laurindo had brought in weren't really conducive to improvisation because of their chord structure. So we would make up something—I think in one case we just used blues chord changes. On others we made up something that was close to the melody for improvisational purposes.
JW: How did you take what the group developed to the next level?
BS: Well, things got interesting fast. Through the efforts of Dick Bock, the founder of Pacific Jazz Records, we got a gig on Monday nights at a club called The Haig. That’s where Gerry [Mulligan] and Chet [Baker] had been working. We were the off-night band. They had taken the piano and burned it or something—[laughing] there was no piano at The Haig at that time—and we didn’t use one. [photo of the quartet at The Haig courtesy of Von Babasin]
[According to an oral history with Gerry Mulligan, The Haig’s 9-foot concert grand piano was removed in 1952 prior to the arrival of vibraphonist Red Norvo and his trio. Mulligan, who was playing the off-night, turned down the offer for an upright.]
JW: How did The Haig gig lead to a record date?
BS: After we worked at the Haig for about six weeks, we went into a rehearsal studio with portable sound equipment and made our first recording of these things. We had put enough stuff together—a couple of originals were written, one by Dick Hazard, a couple more by Laurindo. I don’t think I had written anything yet—eventually I did. The results appeared on two 10-inch LPs called The Laurindo Almeida Quartet, Vol.1 and Vol. 2. [Based on a March 1954 Down Beat review of the album, tracks for the first LP were likely recorded in late 1953 or early 1954, with the second LP recorded shortly afterward. The two sessions were later re-issued as Brazilliance on a 12-inch LP.]
JW: So Brazilian jazz started in the same place as the Mulligan piano-less quartet?
BS: Yes. Our 10-inch records of 1954 probably mark the beginning of Brazilian jazz. Over the next four years, I recorded dozens of straight-up jazz albums as a leader and with small groups and big bands on the West Coast. When the 12-inch LP began to be issued in greater frequency in the late 1950s, Laurindo, me, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Chuck Flores went into the World Pacific Records studios [in March 1958] and recorded another 10 Brazilian-influenced jazz tracks. These were released as Holiday in Brazil, which expanded the concept we began in 1954. Then [in early 1959], the same group recorded another 10 tracks for the album Latin Contrasts.
Tomorrow, in part 2, Bud talks about his conversations with Antonio Carlos Jobim and the influence his Almeida recordings and West Coast Jazz records had on Jobim and other Brazilian musicians who were developing a cooler version of the samba in the second half of the 1950s.
JazzWax tracks: The Brazilian-influenced jazz albums Bud Shank and Laurindo Almeida recorded in late 1953 or early 1954, and in1958 and 1959, can be found on two CDs, Brazilliance Vol. 1 and Brazilliance Vol. 2. You can find them here and here, respectively. Only Volume 1 is available as a download at Amazon and iTunes.