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Bud Shank: Change is Good

By Published: August 30, 2007
AAJ: I came to your work in a round about way. Several years ago you were playing the San Jose Jazz Festival and I could not attend. By way of consolation, a friend got me the Mosaic Select CDs of you and Bob Cooper. Your association with him started around the same time as you were with Stan Kenton. How did you two come to do the co-leader dates? Like yourself, he was a multi-instrumentalist. He also was an arranger, doing some of the charts as well as playing. What determined the division of labor live and in the studio?

BS: Bob Cooper and his wife June Christy are what I meant about lifelong friends. It was an association that lasted long after our Kenton days. If I remember correctly, when we recorded for Pacific Jazz, Dick Bock (owner/producer) made all of the decisions with our input. When we recorded for Capitol somebody there called most of the shots. Typical of recording in the '50s.

AAJ: Bob Brookmeyer is also on some of the tracks both as a musician and as arranger. Gerry Mulligan, both Bobs (Brookmeyer & Cooper) and yourself all could swing but also had a certain cerebral aspect to your charts and playing. In general, it was this cerebral component that made the rest of the nation refer to California-based jazz as "Cool. Some of the original progenitors of bop disliked that term, preferring to refer to it as "modern jazz. Personally, I think people get too bogged down in genre classifications, do you mind often being referred to as of the "cool school?

BS: I dislike the terms "cool and "modern jazz, and I especially dislike the term "West Coast Jazz. These were all coined by New York critics and writers who all of a sudden realized that something was happening in Southern California that they—as all powerful pundits—had not discovered or approved of. They did their best to make fun of it, destroy it, minimize; it and their descendants are still doing the same thing today, sixty years later. Back off. Give up. There are much more important things to discuss about our art form than how some power hungry little critic got his nose out of joint because something happened that he was not a part of.

AAJ: Looking back on it now, it seems as if Northern California (San Francisco) leaned more towards the bop as it was occurring back East, while Southern California had the Central LA scene which gave us Charles Mingus, Chico Hamilton, Sonny Criss and others. Hermosa beach had The Lighthouse, the West Coast version of the Birdland/52nd street scene with all the "cool players. While this was going on, was the division of styles and leanings clearly noticeable?

BS: No!

AAJ: You did a European tour with Bob Cooper and his wife, the singer June Christy. Was this your first time there? It has almost become a cliché to mention how serious they are about jazz in Europe, yet this has always been a necessary component to jazz's initial growth. Did you find the attitude much different there?

BS: I went to Europe for the first time in early 1957, just Bob Cooper and myself using Euro rhythm sections. That's where I first met Gary Peacock, Hans Konler, Joe Zawinul and other Euro players. In 1958 (I think) we went back with a larger package including June Christy, Claude Williamson, Don Prell and Jimmy Pratt. This group played Holland, Germany, Italy and South Africa (Durban and Johannesburg). Yes, things were different in the '50s for American jazz musicians in Europe. But now it is just as bad there as here.

Bud Shank

George Wein's festival in Nice and the festival at Montreux are like musical circuses. The only good festival left is the North Sea and the best jazz club over there is the BimHuis in Amsterdam. I still go there a lot. I like the European attitude toward all of the arts. However in the last year I have begun to see that decline also.

AAJ: When playing multiple instruments, did you try to emphasize what you played, tone or the whole package? There are some sax players who play other horns/reeds but seem to loose some of their sonic signature. With saxophone, you started out on tenor, being referred to as the "Coleman Hawkins of the South. What made you switch to alto?

BS: I don't know where you discovered that "Coleman Hawkins of the South quote. That is from a concert poster when I was in high school, now in my private collection. Obviously, I had nothing to do with it.

As we have mentioned before, I originally was a tenor player. I switched to alto when I was with Barnet's band. We were in NYC and the first alto player (Walt Weidler) quit and went back to LA. I quickly asked Charlie if I could play the first alto book. He said "Sure, kid. I went down to 48th street (a cluster of music stores in NYC) and bought an alto. It is an old Selmer which I still have. I have been an alto player ever since.

It has always been easy for me to switch from alto to baritone, baritone to tenor, etc. The secret is simple. When I have a tenor in my hands I completely forget every thing I ever knew about baritone. When I play baritone, I know nothing about soprano, etc...etc. When I played flute I totally eliminated all the saxophones from my brain. I was only a flautist. A lot of work and difficult to do, but it works.

As soloists, too many younger saxophone players attempt to play every instrument the same. The result is tenor sounds like alto, alto sounds like soprano, baritone sounds terrible! Flute and saxophone use different sets of muscles. Flute destroys saxophone "chops and vice versa. Summation: Don't double. I tried it for years. It confuses your body and as soloists it confuses your audience. You have heard the expression "Oh, he can play anything. Yeah, and they are all terrible. Saxophone "utility guys in the recording studios do a lot of doubling, and make a lot of money. Did you ever hear any of them attempt to play an improvised solo?

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