Sunday, September 13, 2009

On Bunky Green

Bunky Green is a master alto player and also skilled in other Saxes, flute and clarinet. He has his own sound, but unfortunately most of his recordings have gone long out of print and his best works (like the record I'll discuss later) has never been released on CD.

Vernice (Jr.) "Bunky" Green was born in April 23, 1935 and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he played the alto saxophone, mainly at a local club called "The Brass Rail." Bunky was a self-taught and heavily influenced by Charlie Parker, but he spent a period reassessing his style and studying, emerging with a much more distinctive sound.

On recommendation of Lou Donaldson worked with Charles Mingus in New York City and Los Angeles for a brief period in 1957. As a matter of fact he was a replacement for Jackie McLean in Mingus’ group. His brief stint with the eccentric bass player made a deep impression. Mingus' sparing use of notation and his belief that there was no such thing as a wrong note had a lasting influence on Green's own style.

In 1960 Green moved to Chicago where he played with Ira Sullivan, Nicky Hill, Andrew Hill, Red Saunders, Louis Bellson, Yusef Lateef, and finally Sonny Stitt.

He studied at Roosevelt University, 1963. At Notre Dame Jazz festival won a prize. Traveled to Algiers under U.S. government sponsorship in 1964. Led pit band at Gai Paris club, Chicago, 1965.

For the first time he went to studio with Paul Serrano Quintet in 1960 to play in an album called “Blues Holiday” (Riverside). His first record under his own name was “Step High”, recorded in Chicago with a bunch of top notch musicians including Donald Byrd (tp), Jimmy Heath (ts), Wynton Kelly (p), Larry Ridley (b) and Jimmy Cobb (d).

Since then he has recorded for Exodus (1960) and Argo (1964-1966), recorded several fine albums during the 1960s, including “Playing for Keeps”, and “Soul in the Night” (which paired Bunky with Sonny Stitt), but his best work was his mid to late 1970s recordings for Vanguard. He also recorded several albums with Elvin Jones, including “Summit Meeting” and “Time Capsule”. His 1989 session on the Delos label, “Healing the Pain”, commemorates the death of his parents and was awarded the coveted 5-star rating from Down Beat Magazine. Green's latest studio album, “Another Place” (which features the rhythm section of Jason Moran, Lonnie Plaxico, and Nasheet Waits), also received a 5-star review from Down Beat Magazine. More recently (in July 2008) his recording “The Salzau Quartet Live at Jazz Baltica” was released.

Bunky toured Europe with renegades including Steve Coleman, Craig Handy, Joe Lovano in summer of 1996.

Green gradually withdrew from the public eye to develop a career as a leading jazz educator. He is holder of master's degree from Northwestern University and a professor of Chicago state university from 1972 to 1979. In the 1990s took up the directorship of the jazz studies program at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville where he still teaches today. He has also served a term as the president of the International Association for Jazz Education and been elected to the Jazz Education Hall of Fame.

--Ehsan Khoshbakht

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