With half a century of music making under his belt, Bud Shank is a survivor and a legend. To merely label him as a player of the West Coast/Cool school is to deny the full measure of a multi-faceted artist.
Still touring and recording, Shank took time to speak with AAJ's Maxwell Chandler about his artistic legacy.
All About Jazz: Your family was not musical, what were the circumstances of your initially being bitten by the jazz bug? Were they supportive of your playing?
Bud Shank: I grew up on a farm in southern Ohio, about as far away from any artistic endeavors as anyone could get. The farm was chosen not because of its isolation but because my parents thought it would be a good place to raise kids. My brother is a very successful attorney in Dayton. Look what happened to me! Naturally our mother was supportive of whatever my brother and I wanted to do. My father was a career officer and weekend farmer. He never did figure out what it was that I was doing. A professional musician? There was no such thing.
AAJ: What impact, if any did your surroundings have on your art?
BS: Absolutely nothing.
AAJ: From 1944-46 you attended the University of North Carolina. During this time you were playing different types of reed instruments. You originally started on clarinet, were you still playing this too? What was the major focus of your scholastic study?
BS: In high school in Durham, North Carolina (my father at this time was stationed at Camp Butner near Durham) I started playing with a marvelous big band whose roots were at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was 1941 or '42, and many of the regulars were being drafted. They had no place to go but to the nearby high schools to find replacements. Miraculously they found me. When I graduated from Durham High School in 1944, I immediately enrolled at UNC as a music major. My major was classical clarinet. Nobody had ever heard of jazz music except the guys in the big band that I was now a full time member of. After one year I changed my major to Business Administration.
I was learning nothing from the UNC music department. It was one of the best moves I ever made. In 1946, the whole band quit school together. We were going to set the world on fire. Trouble is, somebody poured water on us after six weeks and the fire went out.
I went to Dayton, to the family farm, borrowed $100 from my father to buy a flute, got a free ride from there to Los Angeles and then parked cars for a living until Charlie Barnet rescued me in 1947. I had made several trips previously from Durham to NYC to study saxophone (my first pro teacher) and to visit 52nd street to hear as many good players as I could. This was when they would let me in as I wasn't eighteen yet. In the back of my mind I knew that I had to be in either LA or NYC if I wanted to become a professional musician. I reserved that decision until after I had a chance to see Southern California first.
AAJ: In California you studied with trumpeter Shorty Rogers. Were these formal lessons or more casual in tone?
BS: Everything about Shorty Rogers was casual.
AAJ: At the age of 23, you were with Stan Kenton (1950-'51), playing lead alto and flute while also arranging the sax section. He had some pretty progressive charts over the course of his career, and an impressive list of alumni. Who were some of the cats sharing the stand with you during your stint? What did the overall experience of being in his band added to your art? You had also been playing in Charlie Barnet's band (1947-'48)had you played in smaller ensemble situations yet?
BS: I left Barnet's in early 1949. By coincidence Kenton had decided to take all of 1949 off, so most of his guys remained in LA rather than go back to NYC. There were a lot of jam sessions in LA during 1949. This enabled me to meet Bob Cooper, Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne, Art Pepper and a lot more Kenton guys. When Stan reorganized in December of 1949, these guys all recommended me for the lead alto job. Lucky me!
Besides I was the only one around who also played flute. Not well but at least I owned one. The experience of being with the Kenton band was one of the most important in my career. Not only did I meet a bunch of guys who became my lifelong friends, but it was my first experience playing with a real orchestra, Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra, with strings and French horns and added percussionists. It was quite an education. It only lasted about two years but what an adventure!