Randy Sandke writes:
Someone should really acknowledge the passing of John Bunch. He was a truly unique stylist and a brilliant improviser. I remember listening with awe once as he played multiple choruses on the blues, every one taking up a new idea and developing it through each 12-bar sequence without being the slightest bit pedantic. I thought I was listening to the spontaneous creation of a 20th Century Goldberg Variations. John had a all the qualities of a great player – originality, flawless technique (which never called attention to itself), great subtlety, and infectious swing. All he lacked was the major recognition, partly because his personality was very much like his playing: no flash or gimmicks. Also, perhaps because he was identified as a “mainstream” player, which signifies lack of originality in critical parlance. But as Harry Allen once said, John was always the most modern (and timeless I would add) player on the bandstand.
Nate Chinen’s piece in the NY Times was respectful and accurate to a point, but again, it implied that John was a “swing” player (there’s that word again). John’s conception began with bebop, and his whole approach (rhythm, harmonic, melodic) was much more in the Hank Jones school than Teddy Wilson, though again, he spoke unequivocally in his own voice.
John was also a gentle and self-effacing person, on the reserved side, but one who had a wealth of fascinating stories to tell: of being shot down over Germany in WWII and spending months in a prisoner-of-war camp (all of which he told me as we were touring Germany); how his trio in Indianapolis couldn’t find a bass player so they used Wes Montgomery playing bass lines on guitar; and how, after playing with a young Freddie Hubbard, he thought “this guy sounds terrible; he’ll never make it.”
John will be sorely missed by those who knew him and those who revered his playing. Like any true artist, he leaves a void that cannot be filled.
I can only add that I first saw and heard John play with Ruby Braff in the early Seventies. In retrospect, I was so awed by Ruby’s playing that it took some time for me to actually hear closely what John was consistently, quietly doing. But I can still see and hear Ruby standing by the piano while John soloed, urging him on, agreeing, smiling at what he heard.
In a musical landscape of extroverts and self-dramatizers, John pursued his art — serenely and thoughtfully, with wonderful swing and understated eloquence. In my experience, certain musicians, now gone, were always reliable and more: seeing them onstage, I could relax, knowing that the music was going to be superb. Jake Hanna, George Duvivier, Milt Hinton, John Bunch. We are fortunate to have heard them, to have been welcomed into their individual rooms.
To hear more from John himself, visit Marc Myers’ invaluable JazzWax, where he is posting an interview he did with John — incomplete but invaluable: http://www.jazzwax.com/2010/04/interview-john-bunch-part-1.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Jazzwax+%28JazzWax%29&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher