Bud Shank began his career pigeonholed as a cool-schooler, but those who have listened to the altoist progress over the long haul know that he has become one of the hottest, most original players of the immediate post-Parker generation. Lumped in with the limpid-toned West Coast crowd in the '50s, Shank never ceased to evolve; in the '90s, he has more in common with Jackie McLean or Phil Woods than with Paul Desmond or Lee Konitz. Shank's keening, blithely melodic, and tonally expressive style is one of the more genuinely distinctive approaches to have grown out of the bebop idiom.
Shank attended the University of North Carolina from 1944-46. Early on, he played a variety of woodwinds, including flute, clarinet, and alto and tenor saxes; he began to concentrate on alto and flute in the late '40s. After college, Shank moved to California, where he studied with trumpeter/composer Shorty Rogers and played in the big bands of Charlie Barnet (1947-8) and Stan Kenton (1950-51). Shank made a name for himself in the '50s as a central member of the West Coast jazz scene. In addition to those named above, he played and recorded with bassist Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars, tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper, and Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida, among others. Shank made a series of albums as a leader for World Pacific in the late '50s and early '60s.
Shank ensconced himself in the L.A. studios during the '60s, emerging occasionally to record jazz and bossa nova albums with the likes of Chet Baker and Sergio Mendes. Shank's 1966 album with Baker, Michelle, was something of a popular success, reaching number 56 on the charts. Film scores on which Shank can be heard include The Thomas Crown Affair and The Barefoot Adventure.
In the '70s, Shank formed the L.A. Four with Almeida, bassist Ray Brown, and, at various times, drummers Chuck Flores, Shelly Manne, and Jeff Hamilton. Shank had been one of the earliest jazz flutists, but in the mid-'80s, he dropped the instrument in order to concentrate on alto full-time. Over the last two decades, he has recorded small-group albums at a modestly steady pace for the Contemporary, Concord, and Candid labels. Shank's 1997 Milestone album, By Request: Bud Shank Meets the Rhythm Section, presents the altoist in top form, burning down the house with a band of relative youngsters which includes neo-bopper pianist Cyrus Chestnut. Three years later, Silver Storm was released.