Chris' Jazz Cafe
May 19-20, 2006
The jazz landscape in the late 1940's and 1950's features stories of numerous musicians who died or faded away from drug abuse, alcohol abuse or misadventure. A few survivors from that era are still going strong. Altoist Bud Shank is one of them. Shank recently hit Philadelphia for two nights, touring in celebration of his 80th birthday (May 27) and in support of his new big band CD, Taking The Long Way Home (Jazzed Media), recorded live in Los Angeles.
The Friday night performance featured Sid Simmons (piano), Lee Smith (bass), Doug Hirlinger (drums) and Shank, who started on clarinet, switched to tenor and finally settled on alto and flute. A charter member of the school known as "West Coast" jazz, Shank today sounds more like Phil Woods (with whom he has recently recorded and toured) than Paul Desmond.
The first set started off with Russ Freeman's "The Wind. Despite a few minor missteps on the high end of the upper register, Shank's alto was rapid with clean lines. Displaying the brio and self-assurance that comes with 50+ years of experience, his style can only be described as straightforward and swinging.
Shank provided the rhythm section plenty of space, of which Simmons and Smith took full advantage. The pianist displayed an eloquent touch with his extended solo on the first tune. The second and third songs, "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes and "My Funny Valentine respectively, allowed the bassist to shine with a multitude of time signatures and perfect harmony.
Between sets, Shank discussed his life in jazz. He noted some of his earliest influences on sax were "Al, Stan and Zoot, although everyone listened to Charlie. Listing his favorite musicians as Bill Evans and Zoot Sims, he mentioned pianist Bill Mays is his current favorite (the two have worked together extensively).
In a way, listening to Shank is akin to hearing jazz history. His is one of the hands that touched the figurative six degrees of separation of jazz history.