He may not have been the greatest jazz musician to emerge from rural America -- Dave Brubeck grew up as a cowboy in California, after all -- but Shank proved that cultural origins matter little when someone is talented, determined and eager to learn.
Shank was a jazz saxophonist of the first rank who helped define the much-maligned cool jazz" of the West Coast in the 1950s. (Here's a great example of his style at the time, 1954's brilliant Cool Fool.") But Shank was hardly cool" and laidback -- or at least not always -- in his approach to music. If you don't believe me, check out this opening scene from the 1958 cult classic movie I Want to Live!," starring Susan Hayward as a wicked woman. Shank is the alto saxophone player who is seen mostly nodding his head as Gerry Mulligan and Art Farmer play some incredibly swinging music.
He discovered Brazilian music a decade before it was popularized in this country by Stan Getz and D.C.'s own Charlie Byrd and can be heard on this ultra-cool recording from 1963 with pianist Clare Fischer.