Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, July 20, 2001


Clifford 'Bud' Shank

Sax jazzes up
Shank’s career

Clifford 'Bud' Shank's playing
has endured through 50 years of jazz

By Tim Ryan

Here's a question you might hear on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire": "Name the jazz legend who composed as well as played the music score for two of the most popular surfing movies of the '50s and '60s."

The answer? Saxophonist Bud Shank, and the films were Bruce Brown's "Slippery when Wet" and "Barefoot Adventure."

"Can you imagine hiring a jazz musician to do a surf film?" asked Shank, 75, in a telephone interview from his Port Townsend, Wash., home. "I knew nothing about surfing. Hell, the only time I've ever been in the Pacific Ocean was when I fell off my sailboat."

Clifford "Bud" Shank has been an integral member of the international jazz scene for 50 years. A respected saxophonist, composer, and arranger, Shank will bring a soaring dynamic performance to Honolulu tomorrow night for the Hawaii International Jazz Festival.

Not bad for a kid whose parents didn't play a musical instrument.

"But we always had a piano in the living room, though no one knew how to play it and it was always out of tune," he said.

Shank grew up on an Ohio farm and when he was 10, the tiny country school he attended started a music program. Shank told his parents he wanted to play the clarinet. "I suppose that was because of hearing Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw on the radio," he said.

At 12, he turned his attention to the saxophone, and his mom would drive her prodigy to downtown Dayton for lessons. "My first big break was when I was in high school and I got a job with a great college band and traveled all over the south," he said.

The second break is what Shank calls "the Stan Kenton thing," a sort of graduate school for jazz. It was the late '40s and Shank would come to prominence in the big bands of Charlie Barnet and Kenton. A decade later, the saxophonist began a long tenure with Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All Stars, as well as work with his own quartet.

Shank was a charter member of the West Coast jazz movement. His cool but always strongly swinging sound has made him one of a handful of sax players with an instantly recognizable, always exciting sound.

In addition to hundreds of club and concert dates, the musician produced some 50 diverse albums, and calls the '50s the Golden Age of jazz.

"We've had our struggles since then," Shank says. "The '60s were in the toilet, and (in) the '70s we made a bit of a recovery, and the '80s (were) interesting and nice but we were still feeling our way."

One reason jazz went into the toilet was the music got "too complex to understand," he said. "So the audience took the easy way out to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

"Jazz just advanced too quickly; that's why there hasn't been another messiah since (John) Coltrane, and we haven't even caught up to that."

Trying to explain jazz is like trying to explain the beauty of a flower, Shank said.

"Jazz is not the result of choosing a tune, but an ideal that is created first in the mind, inspired by one's passion and willed next in playing music," he said. "Music leans toward the emotional rather than the intellectual so there's a personal connection with music."

And don't forget one of the music's main characteristics: improvisation.

"A collective improvisation," Shank adds. "Other kinds of music bring the listener into a piece that really has been completed and is formed. Jazz makes the listener a sort of partner, of being along when each new phrase is created."

In the 1970s and '80s he joined with Ray Brown, Jeff Hamilton and Laurindo Almeida to form the L.A. Four. Shank helped popularize both Latin-flavored and chamber jazz music, and also performed with orchestras as diverse as the Royal Philharmonic, the New American Orchestra, the Gerald Wilson Big Band, Stan Kenton's Neophonic Orchestra, and the legendary Duke Ellington.

In the 1990s Shank created the multi-media jazz performance, "The Lost Cathedral," expanding the Bud Shank Jazz Workshop in his home town and touring with his quartet and sextet.

Shank's early alto playing was derivative of Charlie Parker and Art Pepper, while his flute playing, taken up during his stint with Kenton, was considered highly original and advanced the use of the instrument in bebop settings. By the mid-'80s he had reputedly abandoned his other instruments in order to concentrate fully on alto.

"When I threw my flutes away I could concentrate on my saxophone, and I still practice every day," he said.

The Shanks' spacious home on an acre of land includes a large studio for him, an office for his wife and a six-car garage. He travels about half the year performing at festivals, teaching, combined with select club performances and time set aside for composing and arranging. Earlier this year, Shank did a stint on the QEII from New York to London. In September he'll perform on Kauai.

The Bud Shank Jazz Workshop in Port Townsend from July 23 to 29, in its 20th year, provides a week of intensive study and interaction with an internationally acclaimed faculty of artists.

"No fusion artists on the faculty, just straight-ahead jazz musicians," he says. "I like acoustic instruments more than electric."

Shank would have moved to Maui except for the advice of his accountant. "I put a deposit on a condo that was being built, but before it was finished my accountant said I couldn't afford it.

"But I'm still a member of the Lahaina Yacht Club," he said. "Port Townsend really is Lahaina, but in the cold."

8th Annual Hawaii
International Jazz Festival

Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall and McKinley High Auditorium
When: 7 p.m. today through Saturday at the Blaisdell and 4 p.m. Sunday at McKinley
Tickets: $20, $35 and $40 per night (a multiple-day pass is available as well as special senior and military discounts, and student tickets are $5, with proof of ID required). Available at the Blaisdell Box Office and Ticket Plus outlets or charge by phone at 526-4400.

Today and tomorrow

Tribute to Stan Kenton: With Carmen Bradford and the USC Big Band and Nestor Torres (Friday) and The Four Freshmen, Bud Shank, the Marvin Stamm Duo and the San Diego State Big Band (Saturday). Other Kenton alumni on both nights include Gabe Baltazar, Bill Mays, Buddy Childers, Eddie Bert and Dick "Slyde" Hyde.


Parade of Big Bands: Featuring the presentation of a lifetime achievement award to Gabe Baltazar and student scholarship winners, as well as the big bands from UH, USC and San Diego State, and the Oahu Junior Jazz Ensemble.

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