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Bud Shank: The Pacific Jazz Bud Shank Studio Sessions

Compared with the harrowing biographies of Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Stan Getz, and Art Pepper, the story of Bud Shank’s career would hardly raise an eyebrow. Born to middle-class affluence and musical talent, Bud’s single problem, and not a very rare one at that, was that he had difficulty in focusing his right eye in the same direction as his left. Although surgically corrected in 1976, when he was 50, this comparatively minor disability, because it was perceived as a social impediment, had a striking effect on his youthful personality, causing him to be shy and introverted and, by his own account, rather restrained in his playing. In his generous confidences to annotator Doug Ramsey, Bud reveals much about the important role that self-image plays in determining the way that a creative musician shapes his style. could it be that what used to be called an inferiority complex may account for the basic differences between emotionally reserved players and those with more outgoing, aggressive styles?

Whatever the answer to that question, the evidence on this present collection suggests that during the period starting around 1956, when Bud was still a nationally known poster boy for the so-called “West Coast Cool” movement, and culminating in 1960s, when he began incorporating elements of hard bop into his playing and writing, , a violent sea change had taken place within him. Bud had gone from being a highly competent but relatively conservative improviser in the Pres cum Bird mode to become a player ready to embrace some of the imperatives being declaimed, loudly and viscerally, a continent’s breadth away.

Three of the five discs in this set (I, II, and IV) display Bud’s quite definitive and very influential bop flute in roughly equal proportions to his clear-toned, incisive, swinging alto, a voice he shared with his early friend and frequent sectionmate, the equally fluent Art Pepper. (On Volumes III and V, he plays saxes excusively) Accompanying him on the 1956-58 sessions (Volumes I-III), are the clearly Bud Powell-derived Claude Williamson on piano, bassist Don Prell, and, in succession, drummers Chuck Flores, a recent Herdsman, and Jimmy Pratt. The entirety of the third volume finds Bud returning to his first horn for the replication of the Bud Shank Plays Tenor LP, an album that most openly reveals his longstanding love for Pres and, more directly, Zoot Sims. The disc also includes one more track from that 1957 session, “Have Blues, Will Travel,” which appeared only on a Pacific Jazz anthology. Other titles in the set that were previously issued only in multi-artist collections are “Tangerine” (1956) and “Misty Eyes” (1958), and from 1959, “Blues In The Distance” and “Blues In The Surf.” These last two tracks are from a session on which Bud substituted former Charlie Ventura and Buddy De Franco guitarist Billy Bean for Williamson and newcomer bassist Gary Peacock for the reliable but decidedly less adventurous Prell. Flores returned on drums. Incidentally, the Shank originals heard on this album, Slippery When Wet, had their origin in an assignment he had received to write background music for a documentary film about surfing, of all things. How typically L.A. cool, one might say, but attend the music without prejudgment. Particularly rewarding are Bud’s surpassing flute work on “Surf Pipers,” the title tune, and “Going My Wave,” as well as his increasingly heated alto on “Soupsville” and the previously mentioned “Blues In The Distance” and “Blues In The Surf.”

The May and November 1961 sessions that comprise Volume V feature Bud on alto and baritone, a horn he says was put upon him against his will by producer Dick Bock, but which he nevertheless played with his usual professionalism and intensity. For the first date, which resulted in New Groove, Bud used trumpeter Carmell Jones, fresh from Kansas City and already proficient in the Clifford Brown style, guitarist Dennis Budimir, like Bean a searching modernist but one with stringer articulation, bassist Peacock, and the noticeabley assertive Mel Lewis on drums. With the exception of “Well, You Needn’t” and Ellington’s “Sultry Serenade,” the tunes are all originals, with three by Shank and one, “Liddledabllduya” (pronouncd it slowly as “Lid-dle-dab’ll-du-ya”-it comes from an old TV commercial), by Peacock. Bud’s baritone, with its husky take on the Mulligan sound, provides effective contrast to not only his own fleet alto but also to Jones’ warm, bluesy sound. The final date is once again the outgrowth of a score Bud wrote for a surfing film. The major differences between this one, Barefoot Adventure, and the 1959 album, is that here Bud absents his flute in favor of the more weighty baritone and adds old friend, booting Pres-styled tenorman Bob Cooper. Jones, Budimir, and Peacock are still on hand, but Shelly Manne is now the drummer. Additionally, there are internal indications, such as the use of “gospelisms” and minor-second dissonances, that the latest rumblings in the east were making their presence known on the coast.

The update on Bud Shank is quite happy, not at all lurid grist for the biographer’s mill. Along with his flute, he gave up his longtime L.A. studio gig 13 years ago and now concentrates on his first love, jazz alto. On the basis of his latest CDs, he is playing better than ever, and with a far earthier sound than was ever dreamed of by his fans in the ’50s.

Originally Published