Bud Shank: Saxophonist and flautist who pioneered West Coast jazz

When I arrived in California in this car with the fella from New York I had a clarinet, I had a flute and I had a tenor saxophone and a toothbrush and no job and no nothin'". Bud Shank was 20 and unknown when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1946, but over the next 10 years he metamorphosed into one of the best-loved alto saxophone players in the world. He was also one of the founders of West Coast jazz, with which his powerful and eloquent alto solos were strongly associated, although this bewildered him: "I don't even know what the hell West Coast jazz is", he said. "It was something different from what they were doing in New York, so the critics called it West Coast jazz." Not conforming to the fashion for "cool", smooth-toned playing, Shank remained a hot player whose intense, hard-swinging style communicated exuberance and excitement with great directness.

Clifford Everett Shank Jnr was born in 1926 in Dayton, Ohio. He and his brother were raised on the farm that his father, a First World War veteran, had bought in 1931. "The folks bought it just as a place to be, really," Shank said. "It was very primitive, I mean, it didn't have plumbing in it when we moved there, no electricity, although that came relatively quickly."

When Shank was 10 he joined the music programme at his school, the Butler County Consolidated. He took so quickly to the clarinet that four weeks later his teacher presented him at a public recital in Dayton. His parents bought him a clarinet of his own, albeit an instrument so aged that the finger rings were worn through. Hearing Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw on the radio, Shank decided he would become a professional musician, soon transferring his affections to the alto and tenor saxophones. "After that I only took the clarinet out of its box when someone made me," he said.

Shank attended the University of North Carolina, majoring in business studies and music, for two years. In 1946 he quit, borrowing enough money from his father to buy a flute. "A pianist friend was driving from New York to California and I hooked up with him. I decided I'd rather be poor in a warm climate than a cold one." In Los Angeles he shared a room with a man who was studying flute, financed by the GI Bill of Rights. "He would come back to the room and tell me everything the teacher had told him, and we'd practice together. Those were my first flute lessons." Shank was to become a virtuoso classical and jazz flautist but, with some misgivings, gave up the instrument entirely 30 years later: "I wanted to be a saxophone player and you couldn't play both properly."

He returned to New York in 1947 to work in Charlie Barnet's band, where he played Barnet's tenor sax solos on the frequent occasions when the socialite bandleader left the stand. Then, abandoning the tenor for good, he joined Stan Kenton's band in 1950, playing flute and alto until he was drafted into the Marine Corps in January 1953. His military career lasted six weeks, which was how long it took the authorities to discover that he had only one good eye. He had been born cross-eyed and, as is typical of the condition, eventually lost the sight in one eye. Self-conscious, Shank would look at the ground when soloing rather than at his audiences. An operation in 1976 straightened the eye and, although it didn't improve his sight, it changed his life, giving him confidence that improved his playing.

Shank then returned to Los Angeles where he joined the Lighthouse All Stars and rode the tide of the newly fashionable West Coast jazz. He formed a partnership with the trumpeter and arranger Shorty Rogers, joining the Shorty Rogers Giants, and played a myriad of jobs with Shelly Manne, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and June Christy.

Shank was regularly given credit for having "invented" bossa nova on an album that he made with the Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida in 1953. "I keep hearing that story. That's bullshit. Maybe the album might have helped in the evolution of bossa nova, but those Brazilian guys were quite capable of doing what they did without the help of Laurindo and me."

From 1954 he co-led bands with two other saxophone players, Bob Cooper and Bill Perkins. His international reputation by now assured, he toured Europe and South Africa with Cooper and his wife, June Christy.

In the early Sixties Shank led a band that introduced the talents of the inspired trumpeter Carmell Jones and the bassist Gary Peacock. By the mid-1960s the success of the Beatles had caused ravages in the jazz field, and in 1965 Shank took to the security of the Los Angeles studio scene, staying there for a decade and playing little jazz, except for concert work with Stan Kenton's Los Angeles-based Neophonic Orchestra.

But he returned to jazz with a vengeance in 1974 when he formed the LA Four with Laurindo Almeida. The quartet played smooth but lively jazz and became very popular, making a number of albums for the Concord label. But Shank tired of the formula and by 1983 he was touring Britain, Europe and Japan with Shorty Rogers's revived Giants.

In 1983 he moved to Port Townsend, Washington. The following year he established the Bud Shank Jazz Workshop as a local festival, bringing in musicians like Barney Kessel and Mark Murphy to teach students. A great success, the annual event became more and more popular over the subsequent decades.

Together with Rogers he led The Lighthouse All Stars from the late Eighties into the early Nineties, visiting Britain with the band and recording here for his long-time friend, the entrepreneur Vic Lewis, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Over the later part of his career when, with assiduous help from his third wife Linda, he worked continuously in jazz clubs across the world, his playing became more and more fiery, always changing and influenced by new jazz styles. Latterly, due to his health, he had to play sitting down, but the power and authority of his work remained undiminished.

He contributed to more than 25 Hollywood films, including Assault on a Queen (1966), where he played to great effect with Duke Ellington and members of his orchestra, I Want To Live (1958) and The Sandpiper (1965).

Steve Voce

Clifford Everett "Bud" Shank Jnr, musician: born Dayton, Ohio 27 May 1926; three times married (1957 Linda Jolly, 1994 Linda Alexander); died Tucson, Arizona 2 April 2009.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'