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A Fireside Chat With Bud Shank

AAJ Staff By

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BS: Yeah, a lot of people resented the fact that a lot of us went into doing studio work in the '60s rather than sit back and cry that we couldn't find work. I had to pay rent. I was married and had expenses as did Shelly Manne and Bob Cooper. It was a matter of survival.

The fact that we were very good at it and made a lot of money at it bruised a lot of people. We are supposed to be a starving artist. They resent the fact that a jazz musician can be successful in another art form, and film music is an art. It is a whole other ball game that people don't know about because it is not open to the public.

Film is also background music. They don't want anything too active that will detract from the dialogue. It is background music. The only time I really got to play fast music, flute or saxophone, was during the chase scene. I did a lot of that. I did a lot of alto solos during romantic scenes.

If a composer gives you a melody, he is writing in a way, because he has seen the film, the way he wants it played. You can't stretch out and play it your way, so you have to figure out a way to adapt and keep your own identity and yet, keep it within parameters given to the composer and a lot of guys had trouble with that.

FJ: Do you still play the flute?

BS: Nope. I stopped in 1986.

We had broken up LA 4 and I was back working with jazz groups. In a way, I was back starting all over again and around about '85 or so, I asked myself what it was that I wanted to do and what it was that was standing in the way of what I wanted to do. Every time, it came back to being an alto saxophonist. What was standing in the way of me becoming a better alto saxophonist was practicing the goddamned flute. So away it went.

I love it. I love the instrument and I am proud of what I accomplished, but I proved to myself that you can't be two people. You can't be the best flautist and the best alto saxophonist no matter how hard you try. There are not enough hours in the day. So one of them had to go and that is what went. I sincerely believe that the flute was never meant to be a jazz instrument anyway. When you get down to the nitty gritty, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, trombone, and trumpet are the horns that have been with jazz since its inception and there is a reason for that. Anyway, I am a lot happier now.

FJ: Let's touch on Silver Storm and On the Trail.

BS: I was living in Washington at that time, two years ago, three years ago, and this guy came from the Silicon Valley with fifty thousand dollar bills coming out of his pocket. He effectively retired and made all his money from computers or biochemistry and he had a blues label in the Bay Area as a hobby, and built a little recording studio in his house and recorded a lot of blues things, which was something he knew a lot about.

He wants to start a record company, which he did and called me to do some jazz things. I signed a contract with him and did those two CDs and now he is not too happy about jazz record sales. He could never quite figure out how to sell these things, which is another art... how do you sell a jazz record. I don't know how happy he is that he tried out the jazz market, but in the meantime, I was able to make both of those CDs, both of which I am very proud of. In fact, he did all the artwork. All that artwork was his.

It was extremely difficult, if not impossible for him to talk to the president of a distribution company. As a result, he didn't have a distributor. It was unfortunate. I think I am going to buy the masters from him and take it over myself. I love them both. All my best friends are there. Conte died right after we did On the Trail. That is why I dedicated it to him.

I hope some way or another I can get those records out. They did not sell very well because there was no marketing done. It gave me a chance to be a composer/writer, which I had not done much before in my life. I had done a little. Almost all the writing on On the Trail was mine except for a couple of things that Bill Mays did, and the same with the Silver Storm album.

And writing for three horns is the hardest thing you can possibly do. I didn't know this. I was too dumb to know it, I called both Bill Holman and Brookmeyer and I said, 'How in the hell do you write for three horns?' All of them said, 'Write unison.' I learned a lot by doing that, trying to make some sounds with three horns. You can do it with writing a lot of counterpoint, but writing counterpoint, I leave that to Bill Holman. That is what he does. I am not going to get into that. I ain't going to mess with what Holman is doing. He can do it. I can't.

FJ: And the future?


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