Bud Shank: Against the Tide - Portrait of a Jazz Legend

Jack Bowers By

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If I were stuck on a desert island, as long as I had a good piano player, bassist and drummer, I'd be a happy fellow. —Bud Shank
Bud Shank
Against the Tide: Portrait of a Jazz Legend
Jazzed Media

Not long ago, several record labels began issuing DVDs to complement their new CD releases, a move that was welcomed by listeners and reviewers alike, as it enabled them not only to hear a particular musician and group but to see them adapt and intertwine to reach their musical goals together. Saxophonist/flautist Bud Shank's new CD, Against the Tide: Portrait of a Jazz Legend, is packaged that way, but in this case it is the nearly two-hour-long DVD, not the CD, that is of greater import, as it chronicles Shank's long and successful career as a jazz musician within the framework of a recording session in which Shank's quartet lays down some of the tunes to be heard on the CD.

Between musical interludes, Shank covers all the bases from his childhood in Ohio and North Carolina, his earliest gigs on tenor, his move to the West Coast, his big band days with Charlie Barnet, Stan Kenton and others, his association with the Lighthouse All-Stars and early involvement with guitarist Laurindo Almeida and pianist Clare Fischer in the bossa nova craze of the 1950s, to his years as a studio musician and author of film scores, his ten-year association with the L.A. Four, his quarter-century as director of the Centrum Jazz Workshop in Port Townsend, WA, and his present status as an elder statesman who travels the world as a soloist with various groups large and small including symphony orchestras.

While it's never made clear what "tide" Shank has been swimming against (the only "hardship" he cites is an eye problem uncovered when he was in kindergarten), it does make a catchy title, and one must concede that Shank hasn't always trod the customary path, having spent a number of his most productive years playing mostly flute instead of alto, a departure that paid the bills but left him less than satisfied as a jazz artist. "I love the flute," he says, "but I still don't think it's a jazz instrument."

Nevertheless, Shank was a frequent poll-winner on flute, on which he recorded commercially successful albums with Almeida, Fischer and others including his lifelong friend from the Kenton orchestra, Bob Cooper, who, besides being one of the country's leading tenor saxophonists, doubled on oboe. The oboe/flute combination is seen and heard on the DVD in a clip from Bobby Troup's "Stars of Jazz" program from 1962, on which Coop and Shank play "The Nearness of You."

Shank notes that he actually started on tenor saxophone (on his first pro gig, with Ike Carpenter's orchestra, he was billed as "The Coleman Hawkins of the South"), and lists among his enduring influences tenors Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and Stan Getz. Shank's move from tenor to alto was serendipitous, almost accidental. After he joined Barnet's band in the late 1940s (with trumpeter Doc Severinsen and pianist Claude Williamson) as a tenor saxophonist, Shank recalls, the lead alto player "decided he wanted to go back to California. . . . So I said, 'Mr. Barnet, can I play lead alto with the band?' And he said, 'Sure, kid.'" Shank went out and bought a horn, he says, "and I've been an alto player ever since."

In December 1949, when Stan Kenton formed his Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra, Shank was hired to play lead alto and forged lasting bonds with Cooper, trumpeter Shorty Rogers, drummer Shelly Manne, trombonist Frank Rosolino and other members of the band. Bud says he was the first to play lead alto without the wide vibrato to which Kenton was accustomed. "One day," he says, "Stan said to me, 'Bud, do you think you could play a bit more like [George] Weidler and those other guys [who'd preceded him]?' I said, 'Sure, Stan,' and went right back to playing the way I always had. He never mentioned it again."

In 1953, Shank joined bassist Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars in Hermosa Beach, having been recommended for the gig by Cooper and Rosolino, and it was there that he and Coop started playing flute / oboe duets during warm-ups before the concerts. At the urging of others, they soon began playing onstage, which led to a series of albums showcasing Bud's flute and Coop's oboe. It was at this time that Shank, who'd always played mostly by ear, decided it was time to learn more about music theory, chord changes, improvisation and the like, and turned to Shorty Rogers for help. "That made a great difference in my playing," he says, "and was one reason why I got so many studio calls later on."

Shank's first album with Almeida "was [bassist] Harry Babasin's idea," he says. The album was a precursor of the bossa nova explosion of the late '50s, led by Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd. After forming his own quartet in '56 with Williamson, bassist Don Prell and drummer Chuck Flores, and recording albums for Pacific Jazz, Shank got a phone call from producer Bruce Brown who wanted him to write the score for a low- budget surfing film, Slippery When Wet.


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