Bud Shank: A Voice for the Ages


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I'll always have fond memories of the 2007 Prescott (Arizona) Jazz Summit, as it was the last time I had the great pleasure of seeing and hearing the phenomenal alto saxophonist Bud Shank doing what he did best: enfolding an entire audience in the palm of his hand with a seemingly endless stream of irrepressible notes and phrases that arose from his heart and soul and cascaded gracefully through the bell of his horn.

As Shank was at the time recovering from a serious illness, there was talk among those at the event that he might not be able to perform. But at the appointed hour the lights were dimmed and Shank walked slowly onstage, seated himself on a high stool in front of a rhythm section, fastened his alto to its strap and started to play. For the next hour and a quarter the auditorium was his sanctuary, his home away from home. As I later wrote of that memorable occasion: "Even though on oxygen owing to a recent illness, Shank showed no signs of fatigue or shortness of breath as he ingeniously designed one remarkable solo after another, reaffirming his supremacy after more than half a century at the top of his game. The second half of the concert belonged to Shank, and it was indeed a marvelous way to end the evening." I also noted that even though I couldn't recall every tune he had played (and the absence of lighting thwarted note-taking), they included the standards "Night and Day," "The Touch of Your Lips," "I Can't Get Started," "Here's That Rainy Day" and "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes." In Shank's masterful hands, each one gleamed like a precious gemstone.

As you've no doubt heard, Bud Shank passed away on April 2, 2009, at age eighty-two, leaving for our continuing enjoyment a legacy of musical excellence that spanned nearly six decades. As a testament to his endurance, Shank died one day after returning home to Tucson, Arizona, from a recording date in Los Angeles. No credible jazz hall of fame would be complete without his name enshrined there. While many remember him as one of the architects of "West Coast Jazz," Shank, who was born in Dayton, Ohio, received his higher education in North Carolina and moved to California out of necessity, never thought of himself as a representative of a defined geographical area, only a jazz musician playing the way he felt. Being called a "West Coast" musician "irritates the hell out of me," he said in Graham Carter's splendid documentary Against the Tide: Portrait of a Jazz Legend.

Shank started playing clarinet at age ten (owing to the influence of Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman), switched to tenor sax two years later, and to alto while playing in Charlie Barnet's orchestra in 1948 when he was only twenty-two. In 1949 Shank left Alvino Rey's band to join Stan Kenton's newly formed Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra, staying for more than two years before moving on to become a member of bassist Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars. He was joined there by other members of the Kenton orchestra including trumpeters Shorty Rogers and Maynard Ferguson, tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper, trombonist Frank Rosolino and drummer Shelly Manne. While there, Shank and Cooper began playing duets as a lark, with Shank on flute and Cooper on oboe. Audiences were entranced, and the unorthodox pairing led to a best-selling album and many guest appearances on television and elsewhere.

In 1954, Shank teamed with another Kenton alumnus, guitarist Laurindo Almeida, and their two Brazilliance albums foreshadowed the bossa nova craze that swept the country nearly a decade later. Shank's ability to double on flute (his memorable solo on "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas is still heard today) enabled him to disband his quartet (which had recorded for the World Pacific and Pacific Jazz labels from 1956-63) and place jazz on the back burner while he worked for top wages from 1963 to the mid-1980s as a first-call Hollywood studio musician. With Rogers' help he had also become a writer, scoring the surfing films Slippery When Wet (1958) and Barefoot Adventure (1960) as well as an early Robert Redford film, War Hunt (1962). In 1974, Shank and Almeida formed the L.A. Four with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Jeff Hamilton, recording half a dozen well-received albums for Concord Records. After tiring of studio work, he teamed again with Rogers, Cooper and others in a newly revived version of the Lighthouse All-Stars. He had gradually abandoned the flute and clarinet, choosing to play alto exclusively for the last decades of his life.

Shank continued to record with his quartet and other small groups as well as with Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, Japanese kotoist Kimio Eto, and London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (in a concerto for alto saxophone and orchestra). In May 2005, Shank led his own big band for the first time in a concert date that was later released as a Jazzed Media CD titled Taking the Long Way Home. Before moving to Tucson for health reasons, Shank had served for a number of years as director of the Centrum Jazz Workshop in his former home, Port Townsend, WA.

On a personal note, the first time I saw Bud Shank was on an album cover. He was slender, crew-cut and better-looking than many a matinee idol (which could also be said of his contemporaries Chet Baker and Art Pepper). Bud presumably didn't know that, as friends describe him as an extremely shy young man owing in part to a problem he'd had since childhood with one of his eyes. To help overcome that, Bud Shank made music his "voice." It was a wise decision, as that voice is one that will continue to be heard and appreciated by countless listeners for many years to come.

If the Shew Fits...

Since returning "home" to Albuquerque more than two years ago, trumpeter Bobby Shew has been busy whipping the Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra into shape and playing other gigs in and around town, besides continuing his busy career as a tireless globe-trotting trumpet star. On April 5, Betty and I caught Shew in a septet setting with the group Salsa Caliente, performing at the Albuquerque Center for Spiritual Living. The music, if not the musicians, was hot and sweaty, starting with Ray Bryant's impassioned "Cubano Chant." Shew was featured prominently with two fellow members of the AJO, tenor saxophonist Glenn Kostur and trombonist Christian Pincock. Rounding out the group were pianist Stu MacAskie, bassist Milo Jaramillo, conguero Cesar Bauvallet and drummer Arnoldo Acosta. Other numbers (we stayed for only the first set) included "Elation," "Linda Chicana," "Esto es Nuevo," "Paunetto's Point" and "Serengeti." The large audience was most appreciative.

Two weeks later, on April 19, we were at The Cooperage steakhouse to see and hear the rapidly improving Albuquerque Jazz Orchesta at the first of two Sunday dates they've lined up there (the second is in mid-May). I've always thought the band sounded good, but since Shew has taken the reins the renovation is unmistakable. With two subs in the trumpet section, another two among the trombones, the orchestra didn't miss a beat, following Shew's instructions to the letter through a brace of sharp and exhilarating sets. The choice of music was exemplary, starting with the standard "Alone Together" and proceeding (first set) through Tom Kubis' "Just Monkin' Around," his stellar arrangement of "When You're Smiling," Dave Grusin's theme from the film "Mulholland Falls," "Blue Alert," and closing with Pete Meyers' definitive arrangement of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale." The second set began with "Green Dolphin Street," Chris Walden's lush arrangement of "Here's That Rainy Day" and a medium-up version of "Cherokee." Shew and bassist Colin Deuble were featured on "Mean to Me," which preceded Bert Joris' "Nuees d'Orage," Pat Metheny's "Minuano" and "Song for Bilbao" and the bustling finale, Nathan Tanouye's "Russ Job."

If the orchestra was better than ever, the soloists were no less so. Alto saxophonist Kostur was dazzling on "Cherokee," as was tenor Lee Taylor on "Smiling" and "Rainy Day." Others making their presence felt included Deuble, pianist Chris Ishee, trumpeters Kent Erickson and Henry Estrada, and two of the newcomers (trumpet, trombone) whose names I didn't catch, as Shew for some reason had no microphone and was almost inaudible. That, however, was the only blemish in an otherwise outstanding big-band performance.

Swinging Europe—and Elsewhere

The European Jazz Orchestra, sponsored by Swinging Europe and the European Broadcasting Union, has begun its 2009 tour of nine European countries under the baton of world-renowned Romanian-born bandleader Peter Herbolzheimer (the 21-member orchestra, comprised of 18-20-year-old musicians from eighteen countries, has a new director each year). The tour ends May 6-7 in Romania after stops in Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. Since the EJO was formed in 1988, 226 European musicians have taken part in 175 concerts in thirty-three countries in Europe, North and South America and Asia. Past music directors have included Pierre Dorge, Francois Theberge, Helge Albin, Benjamin Herman, Django Bates, Bruno Tomasso, Pedro Moreira, Vic Vogel, Barrie Forgie, Lars Moller and Niels Klein.

Also upcoming, the 52nd Monterey Jazz Festival celebrates the Joy of Jazz with legendary artists, classic tributes and young upstarts September 18-20, headlined by artists-in-residence Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Also, the Dave Brubeck Quartet celebrates the 50th anniversary of the album Time Out, Conrad Herwig's Latin Side All-Star Band plays the music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane to mark the 50th anniversary of Kind of Blue and Giant Steps, while folk-singing legend Pete Seeger makes his MJF debut. Others set to perform include Joe Lovano, Hank Jones, John Patitucci, Jason Moran, Brian Blade, Kenny Barron, Regina Carter, John Scofield, Kurt Elling, Russell Malone, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and the Monterey Bay Jazz Orchestra. For more information, go to www.montereyjazzfestival.org

One Last Fond Farewell

Having opened this month's column with a salute to the great Bud Shank, we are saddened to end it with news of the passing of another superb alto saxophonist, Charlie Kennedy, who died April 3 at age eighty-one. Kennedy was a star in the 1940s with bands led by Gene Krupa, Louis Prima and Chubby Jackson. He was the featured soloist on such Krupa hits as "How High the Moon," "Disc Jockey Jump" and "I Should Have Kept on Dreaming," with Prima on "The White Cliffs of Dover," and with Jackson on "Flying the Coop," "Why Not" and "Father Knickerbopper." After moving to the West Coast in 1950, Kennedy played with Med Flory, the Bill Holman Band, and, most notably, with the Terry Gibbs Dream Band (1959-62). He was also active in the studios, playing on a number of films including My Fair Lady and West Side Story.

And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin...'!

New and Noteworthy

1. Mike Barone Big Band, Class of '68 (Rhubard Recordings)
2. Dutch Jazz Orchestra, Moon Dreams (Challenge)
3. Bob Mintzer Big Band, Swing Out (MCG Jazz)
4. National Youth Jazz Orchestra, When You're Ready (NYJO)
5. Vaughn Wiester, Dreams Come True (CoJazz)
6. Stan Kenton, Road Band '67 (Tantara Productions)
7. University of Toronto, Progression (UofT Jazz)
8. Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Song for Chico (Zoho)
9. Sound Assembly, Edge of the Mind (Beauport Jazz)
10. Central Washington University Jazz Band 1, In a Mellow Tone (Sea Breeze Vista)
11. Doncaster Jazz Orchestra, And Friends (DYJA)
12. Mike Holober & the Gotham Jazz Orchestra, Quake (Sunnyside)
13. Drake University Jazz Ensemble One, Across the Pond (Sea Breeze Vista)
14. Tom Dossett, Visiting Old Friends (no label)
15. Kutztown University Jazz Ensemble, The Best Is Yet to Come (Sea Breeze Vista)

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