Bud Shank (1926-2009), an early pioneer of West Coast and Brazilian jazz whose cool, urgent sound on the alto saxophone and flute launched a new post-bebop approach on both instruments, died on April 2nd of pulmonary failure at his home in Tucson, AZ. He was 82.
Between 1947 and 2009, Bud appeared on more than 560 recording sessions. Many were among the most significant West Coast jazz dates of the 1950s and 1960s. They included recordings with aggressive big bands, cool jazz combos, World music ensembles and large-scale studio orchestras behind vocalists ranging from Anita O'Day to Frank Sinatra. [Photo of Bud Shank in 2001 by Paul Slaughter]
From the earliest days of the West Coast jazz scene at the dawn of the 1950s, Bud exhibited a determined, unwavering attack on the alto saxophone that could both blend in and stand out in almost any instrumental setting.
At a time when there was no shortage of great alto saxophonists in Los Angeles—including Art Pepper, Lennie Niehaus, Dave Pell, Herb Geller, Ronnie Lang, Harry Klee and Paul Horn—Bud was among the most lyrical, forceful and caressing. Much of his playing was laced with a Pacific Coast blues—a sort of smiling-on-the-outside, crying-on-the-inside edge that could be both uplifting and touching. [Photo by Elizabeth Becker]
Bud's first recording in 1947 was with Ike Carpenter's orchestra, but he soon joined Charlie Barnet's band, where he remained for three years. In 1950, Bud was hired for the reed section of Stan Kenton's high-octane Innovations Orchestra. But he soon left to play in bands formed by visionary Kenton disciples, including Maynard Ferguson, Gerry Mulligan and Shorty Rogers. He also played with Miles Davis when the trumpeter was on the West Coast at the Lighthouse in 1953.
But Bud also had a tender side. In late 1953, Bud along with Laurindo Almeida, Harry Babasin and Roy Harte recorded two 10-inch albums of Brazilian folk-inspired tracks that would eventually become the basis for the bossa nova years later. Bud rarely spoke of his early influence on the Brazilian pop movement of the late 1950s. But after I erred in a post on the bossa nova's origins in March 2008, resulting in an online stir among West Coast jazz fans, Bud's wife Linda convinced Bud to speak with me about his involvement.
The result was an interview series with Bud in which he spoke candidly about the link between his early Brazilian recordings in 1953 and the bossa nova of 1958 and beyond. In the course of our conversation, Bud also reflected on how West Coast jazz had a direct bearing on Antonio Carlos Jobim and other Rio de Janeiro musicians who were adapting a cool jazz approach to Brazilian folk music in the mid-1950s.
From 1954 on, Bud appeared on many major jazz albums and movie soundtracks recorded on the West Coast, including a wide range of sessions as a leader. He also appeared credited and uncredited on dozens of albums by pop vocalists. [Photo by Hans S. Sirks, 1998]
What I'll miss most about Bud was his playful, aggressive spirit. It was a joy to call his Arizona home mid-day during the week to chat about music and his many recordings. I always kept these calls courteously brief.
To be completely honest, one of my motives for calling was to hear his mischievous laugh. When Bud let loose with a belly roll, you could hear the entire laid-back West Coast jazz scene of the 1950s in one emotional outburst. Bud's laugh was often reactive and typically followed a pause, as he thought momentarily for a humorous resolution. Sometimes the laugh was used to make a point that was obvious to him but lost on the listener. Or he used it to get out of a hole he had dug himself into. Or he'd throw in a good laugh when he wanted to shift attention off himself. [Photo by Bill Claxton]
No matter the motive, Bud's laugh perfectly reflected his singular brand of relaxed aggression—like a guy in a hammock who can't lay still and swings wildly from side to side. There's nothing that delighted Bud more than to hear that a listener understood what he was trying to say through his playing and that the listener was excited by it, whether the recording was from 5 or 50 years ago.
Shortly after Bud made me a copy of his mid-1960s Brazilian collection, I called to say thanks. I also asked briefly about his visit to Jobim's apartment in Rio in 1965 during Carnival. Bud said when he got there, Jobim, Luiz Bonfa and other musicians were in the middle of playing a bossa nova. Bud said that what surprised him most was how much music two of the guys there were getting out of just a key chain and a matchbook scraping against pants legs.
I asked Bud if he had felt inspired to take out his alto sax and join in. After a one-second pause, Bud said, "No. I had my horn but I didn't want to disturb [Jobim] or what I was hearing." He paused, realizing how absurd that sounded. Then came the punch line: "And he didn't ask me to, so that was fine" [uproarious laughter].
Bud was carefree and humble in spirit but extremely focused when it came to his music. Bud knew exactly how to enter a song, work it over with a cool heat, and win listeners' ears. I'm especially going to miss that Santa Claus laugh.
A Bud Shank sampler. You really can't go wrong with a Bud Shank recording. Here are my 10 favorite albums on which Bud appears as a sideman or leader—plus one fabulous compilation:
Bud Shank and Three Trombones (1954)—Bud is joined by Bob Enevoldsen, Maynard Ferguson and Stu Williamson (on valve trombones), Claude Williamson (piano), Joe Mondragon (bass) and Shelly Manne (drums), with Bob Cooper's arrangements.
Chances Are It Swings (1958)—with Shorty Rogers and His Orchestra.
Music From Breakfast at Tiffany's (1960)—Barney Kessel and His Men with Bud playing a very hip flute.
Bud Shank: Bossa Nova Years—a superb compilation of Bud's bossa nova albums recorded in the 1960s.
Jackie Paris. One of the best jazz documentaries ever made is now out on DVD. It's 'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris, which features three storylines in one beautifully shot film. In the film, director Raymond De Felitta searches for the club singer who spent much of his career on the brink of success. But 'Tis Autumn avoids cliches at every turn, as Raymond explores the real Jackie Paris and, ultimately, develops a narrative that shows just how elusive the American Dream can be for entertainers who let their egos get the best of them.
The hopes, the disappointments and the bad luck that plagued Jackie Paris are all here, unmasked. This film should be the model for all jazz documentaries. You'll find 'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris on DVD here.
Speaking of Raymond De Felitta, his blog, Movies 'Til Dawn, currently features behind-the-scenes tidbits and outtakes from City Island, his new film that will premiere April 26th at New York's Tribecca Film Festival.
Billie Holiday. WKCR-FM in New York will air its annual Billie Holiday Birthday Broadcast on Tuesday April 7. The station will be playing Billie around the clock for 24 hours. Just go here and click "live broadcast."
Glenn Miller. In my interview with Brooks Tegler last week, Brooks mentioned Boomshot as an example of a jazz-directed Glenn Miller Band execution. Reader John Cooper wrote in to tell me that Boomshot can be heard here, at 1:20 into the clip of Orchestra Wives. As you will see, the song's title must have come from the continuous camera shot used over the top of the dancers. Miller was likely asked for a song that would keep the dancers going as the camera on a boom soared over the crowd.
The future of live jazz, redux. In the wake of my thoughts on the future of live jazz last week, jazz critic and blogger Howard Mandel, who's also president of the Jazz Journalists Association, sent along a superb response:
"The future of jazz will indeed be determined by the interests of musicians and listeners in live events—and the venues for those events are facing real estate challenges, it's true.
"But the lure of physical as opposed to virtual experience is strong. Some people (let's call them "jazzers") still want to get together with each other (even if they start the evening not knowing the strangers sitting nearby), to drink, listen and share the sensations, which just can't be done in a home-theater setting.
"These jazzers like the ambiance of a jazz club so much they're willing to pay for it. They see going out as an escape from their cozy home lives. They embrace the unexpected and the social fluidity that live music promotes. Many obstacles and distractions stand in the way of jazz's popularity and perhaps profitability, but none negate the desire for improvised interaction that jazz and other live musics provide."
CD discovery of the week. Bob Keller is a tenor saxophonist who has been recording since 1967, when he was with Buddy Rich's band on Big Swing Face. Last year Keller released a CD called It's About Time. It's about as tasty as an album can be if you dig Lester Young, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. Bob has a rich, velvety tenor tone and moves panther-like through the heart of the material chosen for the album.
And his taste in material is wonderful—songs you know and love but haven't heard done well in some time. For example, tracks include Nobody Else But Me, Line for Lyons, The Best Thing for You, Indian Summer and It's You or No One. Keller also tossed in a nifty original waltz called A Little Song for Ian; Pound Cake, a song built on a Lester Young solo; The Gypsy, and Shine. Framing Keller perfectly is Steve Brown on guitar and Steve LaSpina on bass [pictured]. Guitarist Brown is exceptional here, laying down chords so full and rich that you never miss the piano.
What I enjoy most about Keller's playing is his patience with a song. On Pound Cake, he nimbly takes on Prez with just the right amount of swing and air in the mouthpiece. It's not a Silly Putty impression of Lester Young but a robust tribute. Brown [pictured] and LaSpina consistently do what your ear wants them to do, motivating Keller while holding your interest in the gaps when Keller isn't playing. It's refreshing to hear a new CD that comes complete with beauty and space.
You'll find It's About Time as a download at iTunes and as a CD here.
Oddball album cover of the week. Sonny Stitt began recording for Verve in 1956. In 1960, the saxophonist recorded Sonny Stitt Blows the Blues for the label, which released the LP in Japan as Saxophone Supremacy. I'm not quite sure what designer Merle Shore and photographer George Jerman were shooting for here, or why the cover was given a militant title and look. I also have no idea why the Japanese market 15 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki was expected to respond more favorably to an album featuring an American model with a medal fetish than Sonny Stitt mid-blow. Unless, of course, it was marketed on military bases in Japan to U.S. soldiers stationed there at the time. Either way, an LP cover for the ages.