Cool Jazz Pioneer Bud Shank Dies at 82

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bud Shank, 82, who brought Brazilian music to U.S. audiences, helped define "cool jazz" in the 1950s and played the dreamlike flute solo on the Mamas and the Papas' 1965 hit "California Dreamin'," died April 2 at his home in Tucson. He had a lung ailment.

Mr. Shank was a versatile musician whose 60-year career took him from the big bands of the 1940s to the Hollywood studios and to renewed respect as an innovator late in life. His style evolved with age as he burnished his reputation as one of the most important musicians of his generation.

Along with Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan and Dave Brubeck, Mr. Shank was one of the prime creators of the West Coast school of cool, a style of jazz seen as the relaxed, melodic counterpart of California life in the 1950s. In fact, Mr. Shank disliked the isolationist term "West Coast jazz," and his spirited, energetic style belied his roots as an Ohio farmboy. Critics considered him the equal of such other renowned alto saxophonists of his era as Art Pepper, Jackie McLean and Phil Woods.

"Shank's alto work is absolutely entrancing -- a fiery mixture of unmatched technical prowess and interpretive sensibilities that have matured to perfection," a critic for Jazziz magazine once wrote.

As early as 1953, Mr. Shank was bringing Brazilian music to American ears in his collaborations with guitarist Laurindo Almeida. Their two "Brazilliance" albums anticipated the bossa nova craze of Stan Getz and Washington guitarist Charlie Byrd by nearly a decade.

Mr. Shank was also among the first musicians to make the flute a legitimate jazz instrument in the early 1950s, and it proved to be a useful talent once he shifted his career to the Hollywood studios. His 33-second flute solo on "California Dreamin'," improvised in a studio in 1965, comes at the song's precise midpoint, serving as a musical metaphor of the Mamas and the Papas' sun-splashed message.

Mr. Shank also performed the flute solo on the Association's No. 1 hit from 1967 "Windy," and he appeared on other popular records by Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, Joni Mitchell and Boz Scaggs.

In 1958, Mr. Shank performed on the soundtrack of "I Want to Live," starring Susan Hayward, and was featured onscreen in the opening credits, set in a nightclub. He wrote the soundtracks for two surfing documentaries by filmmaker Bruce Brown, "Slippery When Wet" (1958) and "Barefoot Adventure" (1960), as well as an early Robert Redford film, "War Hunt" (1962), and performed on dozens of other films.

Clifford Everett Shank Jr. was born May 27, 1926, in Dayton, Ohio, and began playing clarinet at age 10 after hearing Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw on the radio. He soon switched to the saxophone.

After two years at the University of North Carolina, he moved to Los Angeles in 1946 and worked in bands led by Charlie Barnet, Stan Kenton and Shorty Rogers. He was among the first U.S. musicians to tour South Africa in the 1950s.

In 1986, Mr. Shank gave up the flute to concentrate on his first love, the alto saxophone.

"I proved to myself that you can't be two people," he said in 2003. "You can't be the best flute player and the best alto saxophone player no matter how hard you try."

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