Bud Shank and Valve Trombones


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In 1954 and 1955, Bud Shank recorded two 10-inch albums for the Pacific Jazz label that teamed him with valve trombones. The LPs were Bud Shank and Three Trombones and Bud Shank and Bob Brookmeyer. These recordings remain potent early examples of West Coast optimism, technical prowess and a sound that still raises hairs. What you hear in these artists is a hunger and excitement for the new music as well as swinging personal ambition. After all, the West Coast studio scene in the mid-1950s was a club, and all of the players on these albums were members of the highest order. [Photo of Bud Shank by William Claxton]

The teaming of Bud's alto saxophone with valve trombonists was a brilliant concept. The horns on these dates were big band veterans, highly proficient readers of arrangements, and powerful, soulful soloists. Most of all, the sound of Bud's yearning alto and the warm, pecking of an insinuating valve trombone worked perfectly to produce a cool, elastic heat.

On Bud Shank with Three Trombones, Bud was paired with Bob Enevoldsen, Maynard Ferguson and Stu Williamson. The rhythm section featured Claude Williamson on piano, Joe Mondragon on bass and Shelly Manne on drums. The sextet's arrangements were written by Bob Cooper, whose Wailing Vessel is one of the album's most beautiful tunes.

Here you have Bud working with the trombones the way a sheep dog corrals its heard. On the arrangements, Bud circles, pushes, joins the pack and springs away. There's enormous independence in his phrasing even when pressed into the collective mix. The other standout tune on the album is Baby's Birthday Party, an obscurity written by Ann Ronnell, composer of Willow Weep for Me. But the album's song titles are almost irrelevant. In Bob Cooper's hands, the tunes all become something new with their interludes, tasty backgrounds and beautifully voiced harmonies.

Bud Shank and Bob Brookmeyer has a slightly different sound. Bob at the time was just coming into his own and was the hottest new valve trombonist on the scene. Supporting Bud and Bob were Claude Williamson on piano, Joe Mondragon on bass and Larry Bunker on drums. What makes this session particularly interesting is the string quartet that joined them (two violins, a viola and cello). Arrangements were by Russ Garcia, whose swinging tone-row writing and complex figures could only be mastered by exceptional, hip players. For example, dig Russ' innovative writing and the horns' rip-roaring treatment of There's a Small Hotel.

On both albums, Bud's edgy melodic phrasing was framed by the mellow, tap-dancing roundness of valve trombones. The result is quite something. On the former record, you hear Bud's sound jumping around on top of a bed of trombones. On the latter, Bud and Bob get it on, letting you hear the jousting and joining soothed only slightly by peacemaker strings.

All of these artists were just emerging as individuals in 1954 and 1955, vying for work in the LP and movie studios of Hollywood. All would succeed, of course, and all would become household jazz names. Interestingly, in the infancy of West Coast small-group jazz, Bud and Bob were already shaking off the laid-back, cool-school sound becoming popular in Southern California and creating a new one that was neither West nor East but something in between.

JazzWax tracks: Both Bud Shank and Three Trombones and Bud Shank and Bob Brookmeyer were included in Mosaic Records' The Pacific Jazz Bud Shank Studio Sessions box, which sadly is now out of print. But don't despair. The two albums can be found on Bud Shank's Cool Fool (Fresh Sound). Though seemingly out of print, it looks like one is available here and a few copies are on eBay.

JazzWax clip: Here's a clip from the documentary Bud Shank: Against the Tide, which is available here...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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