Famous but Anonymous

April 7, 2009

Posted by Jay Livingston
Bud Shank, whose obit is in today’s New York Times, was a working musician for sixty years. His principle instrument was the alto sax, and he was best known for his work in the 1950s in the West Coast jazz scene, particularly as a member of the combo in the 1958 film I Want to Live. This clip, from the opening scene, shows Shank briefly. The solos you hear are by Gerry Mulligan, Art Farmer, and Shelly Manne.

As a comment on the Amazon page for the album put it, “Any Jazz lover who is over about 45 yrs of age probably ‘cut his/her teeth’ on listening to the soundtracks of I Want to Live and to The Hustler.” I’m over 45.

But Shank’s most widely known musical moment was not in jazz, and it didn’t have his name attached to it. It was his flute solo on California Dreamin’, the hit by the Mamas and the Papas. They got the royalties, of course. Bud Shank picked up his studio fee and went home.

Phil Woods has a similar story. Woods, also an alto player, is still going strong at age 77 and has been helping to keep bebop alive for about sixty years. He’s been the leader on dozens of albums, and he’s won several Downbeat polls over the years. Yet his best known work is, to most people, anonymous – the alto solo on Billy Joel’s huge hit and Grammy winner Just the Way You Are.

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