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Larry Bunker: 1928-2005
Larry Bunker
drums, vibes, percussion

Born: 1928 in Long Beach, CA
Died: March 8, 2005 in Los Angeles, CA

West Coast drummer, vibist

by Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2005 Todd S. Jenkins

West Coast drummer Larry Bunker, who graced the legendary Lighthouse band and one of Bill Evans’ best trios, died of complications from a stroke on March 8, 2005. He was 76 years old.

Bunker, born in Long Beach, California, taught himself to play the drums along with piano, accordion and saxophone. He played drums and piano in the U.S. Army band for two years following World War II, then returned home to California after his discharge in 1948. He fell in with the crowd centered around bassist Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach, and remained a central figure in the West Coast jazz movement throughout the 1950s.

His rising position in Southern California’s jazz scene brought Bunker a number of high-profile work opportunities, supporting such major figures as Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Barney Kessel and Art Pepper. He also worked alongside pianist Jimmy Rowles in singer Peggy Lee’s backup band for a number of years. In 1964 he joined Bill Evans’ trio, fitting well into the pianist’s superintuitive settings.

As a sideline, Bunker liked to tinker with instrument and antique repairs. Besides being an expert drummer he was also noted as a vibraphonist and percussionist, which garnered him much work in the studio business for the rest of his life. From 1953’s “Stalag 17” through “The Incredibles”, Bunker performed on a wide range of film soundtracks for such composers as Mancini, Rosza, Goldsmith and Williams. As a timpanist for the L.A. Philharmonic, Bunker played for more than thirty Academy Award ceremonies.

Larry Bunker is survived by his wife, Brandyn; daughter Tracy; brother George; and one granddaughter.

Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.


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