If you're looking for an introduction to West Coast jazz or simply want the pure stuff, Bud Shank's recordings for the Pacific Jazz label in the 1950s are a great place to start. Bud had a sterling, aggressive sound on the alto saxophone, with the feel of a sports car pulling away from the curb. His albums for Pacific Jazz wisely teamed him with top like-minded Los Angeles talent, including Shorty Rogers, Bill Perkins, Bob Cooper, Claude Williamson and others. Yesterday I spent the day writing and listening to Bud's entire Pacific Jazz output. Each album remains a masterpiece—both from a technician's standpoint and from a soul perspective. Bud was always all in—he loved lowering his foot on the proverbial gas pedal—but he also had enormous sensitivity.
The album that stuck in my ear during yesterday's listen was Bud's first leadership date—simply called the Bud Shank Quintet. It featured flugelhornist Shorty Rogers backed by Jimmy Rowles (p) Harry Babasin (b) and Roy Harte (d)—a superb rhythm section. This album was originally recorded for Nocturne as part of its Jazz in Hollywood" series and reissued later on Pacific Jazz. The enterprising Harte founded both labels as well as Drum City, a leading drum retailer in West Hollywood.
What's fabulous about this album is that all of the songs were composed by Rogers, who had one of the finest lyrical sensibilities of all the West Coast writer-arrangers. We also get to hear Rowles, one of the most elegant and delicate West Coast pianists of the period, and Harte, whose stick and brushwork were pretty terrific. We even get to hear Bud play flute on Lotus Bud. But the real standout on this album for me was the superb and still underappreciated bassist Harry Babasin. His lines were thick, rock solid and smart. So much so that the sound of his bass rises out of the rhythm section to become the third horn.
It's remarkable that 62 years later, this music sounds just as fresh and joyous as it did in 1954. I only wish Bud were still with us so I could call him up to talk about it. For my interviews with Bud, scroll down the right-hand column under JazzWax Interviews for my Bud Shank" links.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find the Bud Shank Quintet with Shorty Rogers as well as three other Bud Shank albums for Pacific Jazz here. If you're feeling flush, you can spring for the The Pacific Jazz Bud Shank Studio Sessions, a Mosaic box now out of print here.
JazzWax clips: Here's Bud Shank and Shorty Rogers on Jasmine...