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Bud Shank: Change is Good

By Published: August 30, 2007
AAJ: You have worked on a staggering variety of projects. Every sized ensemble one can imagine, movie soundtracks, backing up singers (Mel Tormé, Frank Sinatra, Margaret Whiting) and even a commissioned concert for jazz-alto by The Royal Philharmonic. Do you have a preferred situation in which to perform? Obviously each situation requires a specific mindset, but have you found you are called upon for your signature style/sound or for an ability to seamlessly blend in?

BS: When I was doing studio and recording work I was frequently called for the recording sessions because of my ability to play behind singers—to fill in the "gaps. I did a lot in the '50s with Marty Paich behind Sammy Davis, Mel Tormé with Pete, and behind June Christy. But that had nothing to do with the concerto composed by Manny Alban. That was me and only me. Did I really make a recording with Margaret Whiting? Amazing! Versatility and discipline are two of the most important aspects of being a studio musician. However I was one of the few guys left alone to be myself. Most studio sax players have different mouthpieces, etc, so they can sound like whatever the leader wants. I was always hired to be me.

AAJ: When one reads many biographies and memoirs, anecdotes about are anecdotes about "dream jam sessions which were never caught on tape are constantly encountered. I imagine you must have participated in your share.

BS: Yes, but I don't remember where or when or why!

AAJ: Along with Billy Taylor and Jackie McLean, your name comes to mind as one of jazz's great educators. You were affiliated for twenty-plus years with the Bud Shank Port Townsend festival/workshop before they acrimoniously let you go (2004). Understandably this would leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth. Have you headed any clinics anywhere else since?

BS: No. But I do a lot of master classes at schools.

AAJ: I have always maintained that there is a direct line of artistic descendance from some of the modern classical composers and certain forward-thinking composer/musicians in jazz. The trance-inducing discordance of The Art Ensemble of Chicago to some of the music for percussion and orchestra by Lou Harrison is not that far a leap. You did a project in the '80s, Lost Cathedral, released by ITM in 1995, which is described as sound painting for quartet, percussion and recorded tape. This is very similar to the types of works envisioned by Edgar Varèse (1883-1965) and Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915).

Bud Shank / Bob Cooper ></a><br /><br />The problem seems to have been lack of proper promotion of the work and with a problem similar to what Varèse experienced, equipment which could not easily be moved around, not yet as intuitive to use as today's midi/samplers. What was behind the creation of this unique work? Some aspects of what this work tried to achieve have found their ways into works by a current group of musician/composers. The master tapes were just bought by a new company, might we be seeing a re-release in the near future? <P><br /><br /><strong>BS:</strong> I agree that your first sentence is correct. My interest in projects like this is an extension of my curiosity about Brazilian, Japanese, Indian and classical music. Getting things like this recorded is financially very difficult, so I did it myself with the assistance of the Centrum staff.<br /><br /><P><br /><br />Centrum is the non-profit educational and artistic organization that sponsored my workshop and festival in Port Townsend, Washington. None of the people (including myself and all of the musicians) that were involved in this project are associated with Centrum at this time. All of us have left.<br /><br /><P><br /><br />The project occurred because everything was there: the empty cistern, the faculty members for the workshop, the staff, the recording equipment, the necessary technicians and a great recital hall that held about two hundred people for the recorded part of the performance. I just put it all into a large mixing bowl, stirred well, spent many hours editing and mixing, wrote the

Everything played by the musicians in the cistern was improvised. Everything done at the concert was either indicated by musical notation or text. It had one additional performance at the Cornish Institute of Music and Arts in Seattle a few months after the original performance. It is now available on the internet with a new title The Awakening (New Edition, 2006). The record company is in Germany.

AAJ: Your body of work is spread out over many labels of various sizes. Unlike some, there is no uniform law on which labels offer up your best works. Did not being affiliated with one label offer you more artistic freedom? Has this been a conscious decision or just the way it worked out?

BS: Well at least I've been able to keep new records out there and available (sometimes!). Record labels come and go. It just worked out this way.

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