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A Fireside Chat With Bud Shank

AAJ Staff By

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So in the end of '49, Stan decided to form an orchestra. It was a jazz band plus about twenty strings, a couple French horns and a tuba, extra percussion and a saxophone section needed to double and I had just started to play flute. When I left Dayton for LA, I borrowed a hundred bucks from my father and bought a flute. One of my roommates was a wannabe flautist, but he had money to take lessons, so when he came back I would have him tell me what the teacher told him and that is how I first got started on the thing.

The guys in Stan's band brought him down to hear me play and he liked what he heard, but I needed to play flute, so I woodshedded constantly for two weeks and got myself to where I was fairly presentable on the instrument and did the audition. Flute-playing saxophone players were very rare in those days and I didn't have much competition, but I got the job and that was what was important. That started a two and a half year association that was probably one of the most important in my life, working for Stan and meeting those guys.

FJ: Why has the Kenton band had a following that is really unparalleled in jazz?

BS: Yes, you are right. The music was very thrilling because it was loud and ponderous. It wasn't swing. Stan's band started to swing in the middle Fifties and I was off doing other things by then. His presentation, it was always thrilling to see. He always had screaming trumpet players, first Buddy Childers and then Maynard Ferguson. There was always excitement and he stood up in front of the band and he was six foot five.

He conducted the band and it was a wild scene. This guy looked like a stork in front of this band. It was visually entertaining and musically entertaining. Nobody ever asked me this question before. I am making this up as I go along here [laughs]. There was also a lot of comedy in the band and he made sure that anybody that had any comic abilities got a chance to make a fool of themselves.

In between, we did the regular jazz band and they were all booked as dances, but we would play a dance set for an hour and take an intermission and then play a concert set for another hour. Then we would play a dance set at the end of the thing. Most of the people that follow Kenton now were probably teenagers in those years. They remember all those kinds of thing.

You are right, especially in England and here in the United States, there are still Kenton tributes going on all the time. I haven't done one recently, but I was going to London almost every year to do one.

FJ: Let's touch on your association with Bob Cooper.

BS: I met Bob in '49 in jam sessions. We became very close friends at that time and he was one of the guys that was very instrumental in getting me on the Kenton band. We remained friends until he died. I spent, I don't know how many times, going over their house for dinner. We were extremely close and with his wife June Christy also.

When I got married, it was a foursome. I had so much respect for him. When Christy died, he came apart and he became very reclusive. He died of a heart attack, but I think he died of a broken heart. I miss him. He was a great player and great writer. He was a much greater writer than people realized. He never pushed himself as a composer/arranger. He wrote arrangements quietly for Christy. He did a lot of things for me because I was not a writer in those days. We went to Europe twice I think and one time, we went to Africa together with a rhythm section.

It was a great association and like I said before, I miss him.

FJ: How about Chet Baker?

BS: Chet Baker was a strange case. I always got along well with him. There are other people who didn't. The only problem I had with Chet is I would go for a couple of years and not see him and every time I would see him, the first thing he would say is 'loan me twenty dollars,' which I never saw again.

He had a lot of notoriety and a lot of fame at an early age, more than he could handle and that is why I think he took the road to avail all that and he did it so violently and so much that he was in jail in Italy and he was about to be the next James Dean. They were about to make a movie star out of him. That I how far he got up in the popularity kind of thing and he blew it all because he couldn't face it.

All he wanted to be was just a player. He would go through periods when he was living in Europe when he would take the Concord to fly back to New York. He was really up there. Italians were really serious about him and that is why he was in Italy when he got thrown in the slammer for a year.

FJ: Did his polarized personality become tame when he was on the bandstand?

BS: Yeah, I guess so. I always got along well with him. We had several occasions to play together in clubs and a lot of records we did together. Yeah, when he had the horn nearby, he was a different person. That was the most important thing and the musicians around him were important.


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