What comes up when you Google your name? It’s easy to tell how famous — or not famous — a person is with a simple Internet search.
When you Google the name “Bunky Green,” you’ll see four songs from “iLike” top the list, followed by links to listen to his music on Rhapsody and Pandora. A Wikipedia link, two videos, an Amazon purchase link and numerous photos fill the rest of the page. Scroll down, and the list keeps going.
Haven’t heard of Green? That’s strange because he’s been a UNF professor for 20 years.
But that’s not why he dominates the Google search. Green is a celebrity in the jazz world, and he’s been getting a lot of play lately due to his 15th and most recent album, “Apex.” The new set of songs, released Sept. 28, was recorded in one day in Brooklyn, N.Y., with fellow alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.
In 1992, while Mahanthappa was studying jazz at Berklee School of Music in Boston, someone gave him a Bunky Green record, and it totally blew him away.
Mahanthappa felt Green was doing something fresh, new and interesting, but also grounded in jazz tradition. Because Mahanthappa was striving for a similar sound, he sent his music to Green.
“I think it was rather bold, looking back on it,” Mahanthappa said. “But I was always one of those students looking for some sort of feedback from older, more experienced musicians. I just wanted to send them a tape of what I’ve been doing and just get some input from him.”
Green responded with encouragement to Mahanthappa and liked the Indian, folk and jazz influences that formed an unpredictable sound.
The duo shares a passion for creating its own musical personalities. Mahanthappa said they both look up to music greats like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, making new and personal music from those influences.
After playing together in Chicago, they made an album.
“He’s young, fresh and creative,” Green said. “People, after a while, tend to sound alike. When him and I get together, it’s a different kind of music. It has a different spin to it.”
The spin the two of them create together has gotten rave reviews from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Guardian, whose writer described their music as “a haunting exercise in atmospheric note-warping.”
Green prefers the excitement of performing over teaching but said watching his students’ progression is worth finding the balance.
He said the best part about teaching is the opportunity to keep jazz alive by passing it on to younger people.
“I bring back to them a world of experience because I not only teach, but I live it,” Green said. “It’s part of what I do, and it’s part of the thing that’s given me such a high profile as a jazz musician.”
Green hopes to help students realize their dreams.
“If I do that, I feel like I’ve fulfilled my role.”
Tony Mayato, a UNF music education senior, took private lessons with Green. Mayato described Green as always happy, encouraging and excited to teach. He said Green cares about his students and supports them in what they are doing, both musically and non-musically.
Mayato said the amount of energy and passion Green has for music inspires him.
“He’s like 80 years old and still walks around and acts like he’s 25,” Mayato said. “He’s a humble and nice guy … and one of the best saxophone players on the planet.”
During one of his lessons, Green constantly looked up from his piano, smiling and joking with his novice student as if they were old friends. He laughed approvingly when the tenor saxophonist hit a creative note.
Green credits his students for keeping him young. He said they are always bringing something fresh to the table.
Jazz professor Dennis Marks has worked with Green at UNF for six years. Marks said despite Green’s age, he plays futuristic, modern and new-fashion jazz. He said Green is not on the cusp of a jazz evolution because he is more of an innovator of styles, not an imitator.
“He’s definitely still at the top, and to have him here as the head of our program is a real honor for me, and I’m sure for everyone else here, as well,” Marks said. “To have that kind of greatness, spiritual greatness that we can always learn from.”
Green wants to keep writing music, keep recording and keep traveling. He said different things he sees when he travels and things he feels at a particular time inspire his music.
Green has a lot of traveling under his belt, performing in places like Germany, Italy and other European countries. He is also contemplating accepting a gig in Paris, where he has performed 16 times.
His hands moved excitedly as he talked about the his travels, but when asked about family, Green stopped.
“It’s all about the music.”