Larry Bunker

Perfect supporting jazz musician

The Pianist Bill Evans had a huge influence in the jazz fraternity and particularly on the drummer Larry Bunker. Bunker seems to have taken it calmly in 1963 when Evans, who was playing a couple of weeks at a club in Bunker's home town of Los Angeles, called the drummer over from his seat at the bar and asked him to make up a trio:


I was a Bill Evans fan long before he asked me to sit in. I had stopped listening to all other music and musicians. I wore out his albums. I was simply in awe of him and everything that he played.

Lawrence Benjamin Bunker, drummer, pianist, vibraphonist and percussionist: born Long Beach, California 4 November 1928; died Los Angeles 8 March 2005.

The Pianist Bill Evans had a huge influence in the jazz fraternity and particularly on the drummer Larry Bunker. Bunker seems to have taken it calmly in 1963 when Evans, who was playing a couple of weeks at a club in Bunker's home town of Los Angeles, called the drummer over from his seat at the bar and asked him to make up a trio:

I was a Bill Evans fan long before he asked me to sit in. I had stopped listening to all other music and musicians. I wore out his albums. I was simply in awe of him and everything that he played.

Bunker stayed with Evans for the rest of the residence and eventually two albums of the music that they played in the club were issued on the Verve label.

When Evans returned to the town the following spring he asked Bunker to join him again and when the job was over invited him to return to New York as a permanent member of the trio:

I was a well-established studio musician at the time and I certainly was not looking to get back into jazz or to go out on the road. But, when Bill asked me if I wanted to go with him, I could hardly refuse. My then wife said I'd kick myself for the rest of my life if I turned it down.

Bunker joined Evans and toured all over Europe in 1964 and again in 1965.

Never one to make much noise as either a person or a drummer, Bunker was the epitome of the perfect supporting musician. In the studios he played everything from rock to classical and he had a jazz pedigree that was unmatched.

The Gerry Mulligan Quartet had been in existence for only a few months when in 1953 Bunker replaced its drummer Chico Hamilton. As was so often the case, Bunker moved into a band that included heavy drug-users - Mulligan, his trumpeter Chet Baker, Evans, and Art Pepper, for whom Bunker also worked, were all heroin addicts. Bunker remained uninvolved:

I have never done drugs. I had my own little bout with the bottle. If you are not a "druggie" and you are hanging out with people who are, they can manifest an outsider thing to you, no matter how nicely it's done. I had known too many people who were dear to me found face down in the gutter dead from an OD, so I was petrified of any of that.

Bunker was taught to play the drums when he was seven and learned piano from the age of 10. He enlisted in the US Navy in 1946 and played both instruments. When he was discharged in 1948 his first professional job was as a Bebop musician on a Mississippi riverboat.

Returning to Los Angeles in 1951 he doubled on piano and vibraphone and played with Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All Stars. The star musicians amongst the locals realised his talents and he worked with Georgie Auld, Art Pepper and Hampton Hawes before joining Gerry Mulligan. When Chet Baker formed his own quartet after Mulligan was sent to jail for drug offences, Bunker worked in that group too.

He had a job in television with Bob Crosby's band in 1953 and 1954 and the following year was given the ultimate seal of approval when he was called on to take a seat in Peggy Lee's accompanying group. He also backed the singer in the film Pete Kelly's Blues. He played for and recorded with Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Shorty Rogers, Benny Carter, Jim Hall, Woody Herman and Barney Kessel and was on the recordings that Billie Holiday made in Los Angeles. His skills made him a natural for vocalists and he was the first choice to record with Anita O'Day, June Christy and Mel Tormé.

During the Sixties he played jazz as a sideman in Los Angeles with groups led by Bud Shank, Pete Jolly and Clare Fischer. He toured Australia backing Judy Garland in 1964 and in 1965 Japan with Stan Getz.

Although Shorty Rogers said of Bunker, "He always lights a fire under the band and just makes everyone come alive", it is hard to think of a quieter or more subtle jazz musician. He certainly had an effect on the music that was in inverse proportion to the noise that he made. He was a self-effacing drummer and it's in character that his inspired vibraphone playing never received its due.

Steve Voce

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer / Systems Administrator

£25000 - £32500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in SW London, this compan...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion this leading designer and sup...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a friendly, confident i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Primary Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: At Tradewind Recruitment we are currently l...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee