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California Dreamin'

Matt Schudel

The great jazz musician Bud Shank has died at the age of 82. He had one of the most unlikely backgrounds for any jazz musician, growing up not in the urban welter of cultural ferment or in the musically rich backwaters of the South -- but on a farm in Ohio.

He may not have been the greatest jazz musician to emerge from rural America -- Dave Brubeck grew up as a cowboy in California, after all -- but Shank proved that cultural origins matter little when someone is talented, determined and eager to learn.

Shank was a jazz saxophonist of the first rank who helped define the much-maligned "cool jazz" of the West Coast in the 1950s. (Here's a great example of his style at the time, 1954's brilliant "Cool Fool.")
But Shank was hardly "cool" and laidback -- or at least not always -- in his approach to music. If you don't believe me, check out this opening scene from the 1958 cult classic movie "I Want to Live!," starring Susan Hayward as a wicked woman. Shank is the alto saxophone player who is seen mostly nodding his head as Gerry Mulligan and Art Farmer play some incredibly swinging music.

He discovered Brazilian music a decade before it was popularized in this country by Stan Getz and D.C.'s own Charlie Byrd and can be heard on this ultra-cool recording from 1963 with pianist Clare Fischer.

Bud Shank loved the challenge and freedom of being an improvising jazz musician, but he also spent many years in the Hollywood studios, working on film scores and playing for dozens of movies, commercials and pop recordings. Even though he was the leader on more than 70 albums, he was probably most widely heard in two anonymous appearances on pop hits of the 1960s. Listen for the flute solos on the Association's No. 1 hit from 1967, "Windy" -- pay no attention to the joker pretending to play a recorder -- and on the far superior song (with a better solo from Shank, as well) on the Mamas & the Papas' 1965 hit California Dreamin'."

For a brief overview of Shank's career, here's a trailer from a documentary about his life. In later years, he came to look like a hip Santa Claus.

By Matt Schudel  |  April 5, 2009; 6:41 AM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel , Musicians  
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Jazz fans:

A full story on the death of jazz great Bud Shank is posted at

Posted by: johnbrewer1 | April 5, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

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