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Bud Shank: Change is Good

By Published: August 30, 2007
AAJ: Aside from being one of the first to get into Brazilian music, you were also one of the first to throw world music into the mix. You did some things with Indian music and Ravi Shankar. What were the factors in the decision to delve into the then untested world music waters? What was the reaction of fans and critics? Looking back on those albums now, what is your own assessment?

BS: Other than the association with Laurindo, the other "explorations I took—with Kimi Eto (Japan) and Ravi Shankar (India) were the idea of Dick Bock of Pacific Jazz Records. The reaction of fans and critics was one of confusion. To them, a jazz musician should only play jazz music. Curiosity and versatility were not acceptable in those days.

Bud Shank

AAJ: You had called the mid-'60s-to-'70s "The Dark Ages in California for lack of performance opportunities. You and a handful of resourceful others found work in television and movie soundtracks. Was there ever any thought of leaving the States like some of your peers (Ben Webster, Thad Jones, Dexter Gordon)?

BS: That period led to many east coast musicians moving to Europe. There were also several established musicians who chose to escape into the world of chemicals. Then there was a group of us that chose another part of the music business, known somewhat distastefully at that time by several music critics as "studio music. But first we had to prove that we were capable and properly equipped (woodwinds, flugelhorns, extra percussion instruments) to do this kind of work.

Up until the end of 1959, with the appearance of Hank Mancini and the Peter Gunn TV show, jazz musicians (with a couple of exceptions) were banned from doing movie and TV work. This was a result of the somewhat antiquated assumption that jazz guys couldn't read and lacked the discipline to work with what in those times were essentially symphony orchestras. We fixed that. By the mid-'60s a large part of the film scores were written by writers with jazz roots and played by jazz musicians. By this time all of us had families, house payments, car payments, etc. We had responsibilities. Crying about the lack of jobs and recording doesn't pay the rent. We had to do something and we did .

AAJ: There seems to be some revisionist history in regards to what the scene was like during this time. How long did the drought actually last?

BS: This period had an evasive beginning and an evasive ending. Sort of slipped in and slipped out. To me it lasted about ten years. Ray, Shelly and I slipped back in with THE L.A. 4 in 1974.

AAJ: The THE L.A. 4was co-founded by you and bassist Ray Brown. Longtime collaborator Laurindo Almeida (guitar) and Shelly Manne (drums) filled the other two slots. Given the climate of the times, was what you played and recorded different than it would have been had pop/rock not been dominating the marketplace and the attention of the nation's youth?

BS: THE L.A. 4 has been classified by whomever has been self-ordained to create labels as "chamber jazz. I guess that is what it was. It was three jazz guys and a classical guitarist tossed together, mixed well and we accepted whatever came out. There were no predetermined goals to contend with. It surprisingly was accepted by a lot of jazz fans that had been left behind during the '60s and '70s.

AAJ: One hears about certain musicians—John Coltrane comes easily to mind—who, when not recording or performing, were still all about the music. Ray Brown was a good golfer, what do you do to relax, any activities unrelated to your muse?

BS: In the late 1950s I found myself so wrapped up in music that I felt that I was no longer a person. I had few friends; my first wife had left me. Something had to be done.

Bud Shank ></a><br /><br />I had, since childhood, been interested in cars, especially European sport cars. So to help break the

By the early '60s I had acquired a sailboat. Although it was not a racing boat I raced it anyway. I soon bought a bigger and faster series of boats. In 1972 I bought a "stripped out 42-foot sailboat from Morgan Yacht Company. The crew and I finished building it in Marina Del Rey. It was super-light and very fast. I raced it very successfully until 1975 and then converted it to a pleasure or "cruising boat. I sold it in around 1980, ending my sailing career.

Subsequently I returned to collecting and showing older Porsches. I still do this on a smaller scale.

AAJ: During the '70s you worked on a soundtrack with Duke Ellington, who asked you to join the band. You said no because of previous commitments. How great was the temptation?

BS: The decision was made because of my then-wife's medical problems.

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