Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bud Shank Remembered - the context

After posting my memories of Bud Shank, I figured it might be a good idea to add a little context to explain what he was all about. Everything written about him within the past decade or so seems to focus on one thing: that he was part of the West Coast supposed cool jazz scene, but that there was a lot more to him than laid back versions of what was happening back east.
And I'm here to agree with that. For one thing, the Bud Shank of '80s and later had a much more rugged sound than the young, punk-rock-looking Shank of the '50s. By then, he was kind of at the corner of Art Pepper and Jackie McLean. The national obit for him in last week's paper drew a comparison to McLean, which I hadn't thought of until them. But it makes perfect sense. His tone wasn't as tart as Jackie's but there definitely had an edge. I have an album that he did with Shorty Rogers (trumpet) back in the early '80s and the version of Billy Strayhorn's "Bloodcount" will rip at you, it's so intense.
The 1950s Shank is definitely more in that Art Pepper style: dry, no nonsense tone with good melodic ideas in his solos. It's not as adventurous as, say, the early Gerry Mulligan Quartet stuff - which is pretty much the standard for top shelf West Coast cool, if we're going with labels - but it's by no means dull.
Shank did veer off into questionable waters, though. I once owned a copy of Magical Mystery, in which he covers the songs from Magical Mystery Tour with echoey flute and bass clarinet runs between some of the songs. Although he pulls off a solo of almost Dolphy-esque proportions in "Blue Jay Way," the whole thing is pretty ridiculous. "I Am the Walrus" doesn't really translate well into instrumental territory. I've never heard Spoonful of Jazz but the entry on slams it pretty hard, saying it's only for Shank completists. It's pretty easy to come by at used stores, but I'll hold off until I see it at an estate sale for buck.
When he played with tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper, Shank really performed a setback for mellow jazz - or an advance depending on how you look at it - by picking up the flute, and Cooper played oboe. Maybe these albums have some charm to them, but it sounds pretty sanitized to me. And although Bud knew his way around the flute, the one LA4 album I heard was pretty dull. And coming from a group that included Ray Brown and Laurindo Almeida, that's saying something.
Thankfully, Bud devoted his playing entirely to the alto in his later years, which was smart on many levels.
Last weekend, I went to the weekly flea market in Elyria and came across a couple of Shank's commercial '60s albums. The Windmills of Your Mind, conducted by Michel Legrand, and Girl in Love, conducted by Oliver Nelson were in a pile along with some CTI albums. I was torn because I felt like I needed to buy them in memory of Bud, but the slickness turned me off.
Turns out both looked pretty unplayable, so the decision was made for me.

The new City Paper with my cover story on Sean Jones, hit the street yesterday. Today it might be up on their website, Check and see.

And another thing I've been meaning to say: the first hard copy of Blurt showed up in the mail a couple weeks ago. It looks really good. Lotta writing, good layout. You should buy it for a couple reasons: you'll be helping to support a good music magazine, at a time when so many are falling by the wayside. It'll help stimulate the economy, and every little bit helps. (Hey, if 72 people read this and go out and buy a copy..........start of a revolution.) Plus, many years from now, if your copy is still in good shape, it could bring you big bucks in resale value.

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