Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bud Shank – Some Remembrances

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Alto saxophonist Bud Shank passed away in April 2009; the Jazz writer Gene Lees passed away in April 2010.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be appropriate for one to share some remembrances about the other in April 2011.

In an earlier 2-part feature on Bud which you can locate in the blog archives by going here and here, I commented on the fact that for a long time, I was one-step-behind Bud in terms of hearing him perform in-person.

When I eventually got around to telling Bud this story – in-person – he laughed hugely, took the book of John Reeves photographs from under my arm and autographed one of his photos to me as a belated – “Hi Steve.”  He handed me the book, clamped his hand down on my shoulder and then once again roared into laughter.

We didn’t think that Gene would mind too much if we shared a little of his magnificent writing about Bud as he was always a fan of the genuine in Jazz.

And make no mistake, when it came to Jazz, Bud Shank was the real deal.

We’ve concluded this piece with two videos that were subsequently developed by the wizardly graphics team at CerraJazz LTD. The first is a tribute to Bud with an audio track that finds him performing with Carmel Jones on trumpet while on the second his unparalleled alto saxophone playing is joined by Gerry Mulligan’s baritone saxophone. 

Since our immortality rests in the minds of others, all hats off to the memories of Bud Shank and Gene Lees.

© -Gene Lees, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Clifford [Bud] Shank, Dayton, Ohio, May 27, 1926

“No one illustrates the way jazz expresses the inner states of its practitioners better than Bud Shank. Bud was part of that lyr­ical approach to the music disparaged by New York critics and some musicians as West Coast jazz. Bud's playing on saxo­phones, chiefly alto, and on flute, had a deferential quality that lacked the testos­terone level certain easterners seemed to think was a defining quality of jazz.

Bud, an alumnus of the Stan Kenton band, was a stalwart of the Los Angeles recording scene. You often heard his lovely sound in movie scores. "I was a stu­dio sausage” as he puts it. He found solace in driving Formula One racing cars and sailing his boats, meanwhile putting his gains into California real estate back when its prices were not yet challenging those of downtown Tokyo.

Then, abruptly, Bud left the studios, and even left California, taking residence in Port Townsend, Washington, where he founded a summertime festival of the arts and a teaching program for young jazz musicians. So handsome in his youth that one might almost have described him as pretty, he grew a gray beard and took on the look of a mountain man. He gave up the flute, arguing that no one can master two instruments, and devoted himself to playing jazz on the alto.

His playing changed radically. I was mystified. Then Bud and I had a long talk and I learned why. Bud was cross-eyed from childhood. I told him I had never noticed. He said, "No, you didn't. I had ways to conceal it." Turning his head away from you. Wearing sunglasses. All sorts of tricks. "And," he said, "I played like that too."

A doctor told him he could fix that eye. He could not restore its sight, of course. (A wayward eye eventually loses its sight; the brain refuses to process the signal from it.) Bud thought it over and submitted to the surgery. The eye is now straight. Bud is no longer ashamed. He holds his head up, looks right at you, and plays that way. His playing has become fiery, proud, defiant.”
- Gene Less and John Reeves, Jazz Lives: 100 Portraits in Jazz [Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 1994, p. 64].