Reflections on Bud
“ Sixty years of dealing with this business can wear a person down, but in Bud's case it just polished the jewel. ”
During the past few years I have had the honor to work with many famous jazz musicians, but without a doubt the nicest one of that group was Bud Shank. In thinking about Bud, and his contributions to the jazz world the past 60 years or so, one must rank his demeanor right next to his extensive music abilities.
Bud would listen to you intently. It did not matter whether you were a fan rushing up to him on the stage after a gig, a fellow musician in a recording session, or in my case a producer/director working with Bud on a new project. He never gave me the "I'm an artist" type attitude. He was intense in terms of his performance and abilities, but open to stepping back and listening to other view points regarding the project. Bud allowed the other musicians a great deal of freedom in their playing, merely suggesting a particular feel or intent of the piece, and letting everyone insert their own personal stamp on the music.
When I produced my first recording with Bud, entitled The Bud Shank Big Band: Taking the Long Way Home, Bud asked me at the rehearsal "Who should we have solo on each tune?" I told him "Bud, you solo on each tune, and let's see if it makes sense for anyone else to step in." That's the kind of guy he was, totally selfless.
The other thing about Bud was the fact that he was a genuinely nice person. He would laugh his contagious laugh, and give you that look that said he was with you. Sixty years of dealing with this business can wear a person down, but in Bud's case it just polished the jewel.
The accomplishments of Bud Shank are numerous, including being one of the first musicians to introduce the flute to jazz. He also was instrumental in the formation of Bossa Nova due to his work with Laurindo Almeida in the early to mid 1950's. Bud's studio work in motion pictures is legendary.
Listen to any Hollywood film made between the late 1950's and early 1970's and if you hear an alto sax or flute playing as either jazz background music, or music cues, it's probably Bud Shank. He formed the LA4 with Laurindo Almeida in the 1970's and helped form a new sound merging both classical and jazz music together. Bud's 25 year tenure with the Centrum Jazz folks in Port Townsend, Washington helped hundreds of young musicians in their jazz careers.
Bud would bristle at the mention of him being a "West Coast" jazz musician, as he had moved far from that sound in his development as an artist. However you can't get around his key contribution in that very special music genre in the 1950's and 1960's. In those days Bud personified the cool 50's California jazz musician.
My greatest honor was directing the documentary film on Bud, entitled Bud Shank: Against the Tide - Portrait of a Jazz Legend, that was released in 2008. I had the pleasure of staying at Bud and Linda Shank's house in Tucson, Arizona for several days as I filmed Bud about his life and career, and downing many of Bud's world famous martinis (if NASA needs an alternative fuel for the Space Shuttle Bud's formula would suffice!). Bud was pretty forthcoming about his life and career, although he complained that he was not very interesting, having avoided some of the more common ailments of jazz musicians of his era, including drugs and alcohol. Bud told me "No one wants to hear my story, as there were no real personal hang-ups or problems." I argued with him that the story was his great musical abilities and successes, and that the relatively problem free personal life story was a bonus.
The one thing I learned about Bud, beyond all the accomplishments and credits, was that Bud started out life as a terribly shy person. It stems from the fact that he had what was called at the time a "lazy eye" and due to this he had one eye that looked off to the side a little bit. It scarred him emotionally for a large part of his life, until the mid 1970s when he had eye surgery to correct the problem. Bud was adamant that this part of his story be included in the documentary film.
The shyness was a key factor in his playing and sound that he developed, and once he started to gain confidence after the surgery his style of playing changed along with it. He became more adventuroushe had a sharper edge to his alto sax. That, coupled with dropping the flute, allowed him to explore new directions in the last 30+ years of his career.
Bud was kind of a teenager in a senior's body, always quick to find humor in any given situation. His playing reflected that persona. Listen to Bud on any up tempo tune and you will feel that youthful exuberance. However, when playing a ballad you would hear a lifetime of emotion and experience, brought down to a basic human level that was almost primal in its feeling.
This past January I recorded Bud at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, with Bill Mays, Bob Magnusson, and Joe LaBarbera. He wailed on the stage for four nights, and the resulting album, to be called The Bud Shank Quartet: Fascinating Rhythms, will be released later this year. I think Bud knew it was his swan song, and he played with the intensity of someone half his age.
Those of us who were there knew it was something special, and I am happy Bud could go out on top. That's Bud Shanka consummate jazz musician, showman, and a very special human being. I am honored that he was my friend as well.