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Readers of JazzProfiles have been very supportive of its efforts to develop in-depth features about Jazz and Jazz musicians. Some of these features illicit greater interest and/or responses than others.
The 5-part profile on Victor Feldman, the late drummer, vibist, pianist and composer, was one that was very well-received by visitors to JazzProfiles. [See blog archives for November 14, 28 and December 9, 15, 21, 2008].
However, a number of the blog’s guests who knew about Victor before he came to the
The simple answer is that I first met Victor in 1957 at the Lighthouse Café and at that time and subsequently, I had very little detailed knowledge of his musical activities in
In an effort to rectify this omission, Mark Gilbert, the current editor of Jazz Journal has kindly granted copyright permission to re-print this article about the Feldman Swing Club that first appeared in its pages in April, 1996.
The Feldman Swing Club is where it all began for Victor Feldman, and, as the article points out, it was also the beginning point for many of the careers of
Future editions of JazzProfiles will offer additional information about his musical activities in
Until then, Victor has donned formal ware in this extremely rare photo for the express purpose of inviting you, dear reader, to come to the cabaret that was the center of the Jazz world in
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“This is the story of
This account is based on a series of interviews with the late Robert Feldman, Monty Feldman's wife Helen, family friends, and fellow musicians who willingly took Barbara into their confidence. It should be born in mind that prior to this the only jazz 'clubs' were 'Societies' or 'Rhythm Clubs' (which of course still exist today) where 78 rpm records were played by a recitalist who discussed a particular aspect of jazz music and illustrated his/her talk musically.
The Feldman story began in
Having recently moved out to Edgware, to escape the wartime bombing, their neighbor Ronnie Scott was one of many musicians who began to drop by to play with the kid whom he regularly saw in short trousers in the street. riding his tricycle.
Benny Green, who later became Victor's regular room-mate when they toured together with the Ronnie Scott band got to hear the inside story of Victor's beginnings. Victor told him how earlier Monty and Robert had been jamming and becoming increasingly annoyed with their drummer. 'Our kid brother can do better-than. that' they cried. At this point, to everyone's amazement young Victor stole the show - he said he didn't know why he could play, he just could. Benny said - 'He was phenomenal, there has never been anything like it and there never will.'
Little did the brothers know that such an event would create a sensation among musicians, culminating in Victor becoming a child prodigy and finally a top international name in the jazz world. He was groomed for adult stardom by the Harold Davison Agency, whilst American boogie woogie pianist and dancer Maurice Rocco gave him dance lessons. He would go on to play with such stars as Stephane Grappelli, Vic Lewis, Woody Herman and even Glenn Miller's wartime AAAF band, astonishing the musicians with his 10-year-old genius in 1944.
Billy Amstell, former tenor saxist with the famous Ambrose Dance band, recalls that night at the Queensbury Club (a club for wartime servicemen) when the late Ray McKinley, then drummer with the Band of the AAAF. ran up to him crying with shock at having seen and heard young Victor. 'I don't believe it!' he cried as little Victor's drumming lifted the a hole band.
Max Bacon the Feldman's cousin. was the drummer with Ambrose, and he started Victor banging on a child's tin drum when he was as four-years-old. Later he set the ball really rolling by promoting Victor using his contacts and agents. He helped him into major movies: King Arthur Was A Gentleman (with comedian Arthur Askey) and Theatre Royal, where Robert Feldman led the band and wrote the arrangements.. Ted Heath played trombone in that band with George Shearing on piano and Jimmy Skidmore on tenor saxophone among others. Victor was also in the Flanagan and Allen show and starred at The Royal Albert Hall, The London Palladium and The Piccadilly Theatre with Sid Field in Piccadilly Hayride. Meanwhile he was watched over by his increasingly anxious father 'Grandpa' Joseph who begged Benny Green to 'encourage him to get a proper job.'
However, on that cold September night in war-torn
Despite having tentatively hooked Mac's for three weeks' time, Robert had no capital and no musicians, but he was convinced that swing music could be successfully promoted in a club. Their father, a guiding hand behind Windsmoor Clothing was at first unenthused by his son's brainwave and refused to give financial backing. 'That's not a proper business, do something sensible!' was his initial response and a not unfamiliar one at that, according to Ronnie Scott; 'For those creative Jews who didn't want to be butchers or go into the gown business, to be involved in music would have been one of the few possible ways out of "the ghetto'.' Ironically Joseph was later to become, according to Ronnie, like the Godfather, taking the money at the door with his wife Kitty, and was to form, with Bert Wilcox, The National Organisation For the Promotion of Jazz in
Robert and Monty had to be inventive. The penniless brothers marched towards
The boys were inundated with enough members to book Mae's for three consecutive weeks. Thus on
Helen, who met Monty at the club whilst on a date with an American officer. recalls the opening night. 'The atmosphere was electric with the low ceiling vibrating from the sound. From then on there were queues halfway
The club became so popular that it opened on a Saturday as well. Helen describes how Robert and Monty's lives began to change. 'I remember that in fact lots of money was made from the club, enough for the boys to give up their work as pattern cutters. They started to wear silk hand-painted ties, suede shoes and sports jackets. They spent their time booking musicians, filling out PRS (Performing Rights Society) forms and making demos at Carlo Krahmer's lovely recording studios in Tottenham Court Road.'
Until the formation of The Feldman Club the main places to hear live jazz were all night unlicensed clubs known as 'bottle parties' - here licensing laws were evaded by ordering a bottle and having it stored at the off licence close by with your name on it until you wanted it. They were, according to Ronnie Scott, 'peopled by ladies of the night and wartime guards officers out for a good time. . ..’ Here many musicians started their careers. The Feldman Club also allowed dancing and it was here that American Servicemen patronising the club introduced the free-style jiving (jitterbugging) which was then a new improvised style of dancing.
Dance promoter Tony Harrison confirms that 'jitterbuggers' (sic) would often collide with nicely dressed people in the 'posher clubs' and there would be signs saying 'no jitterbugging' or 'no jiving' (later) and if they dared, the owners would say ‘stop, or get out.’ At Feldman's they could relax and dance. There were also Rhythm Clubs -as mentioned in the introduction - where there were also occasional jam sessions. However, dancing was not permitted and a concert atmosphere prevailed.
The Feldman was a club with an open-minded atmosphere that would, according to Tony Harrison, 'open its doors to everybody'. There were no class, racial or religious distinctions, and the average working man earning 2.00 pounds per week could afford the 3s.6d. (l7 ½ p) to get in.
Visiting American musicians would always make a beeline for the club which became the number one place to go, and was advertised as The Mecca of Swing. At one point, Glenn Miller decided to visit the club only to be refused entry until Joseph Feldman himself intervened. However, on other occasions for Joseph this attitude worked to his disadvantage. Guitarist Pete Chilvers, who played with the band every Sunday night, recalls arriving at the door and asking if he could bring in a few pals. 'Any friend of yours is a friend of mine' was Joseph's amicable response. However, Chilvers chuckles, ‘you should have seen his face as I trooped in with an endless line of Yanks.’
Once inside, Chilvers recalls eight-year-old Victor, with braces on his teeth, running up and sitting on his knee, whilst Freddie Crump took the place to pieces playing on his own teeth with drumsticks'. into the microphone. Eighty-year-old bassist Coleridge Good remembers watching little Victor in amazement: 'He was so small his feet were too tiny to reach the drum pedal; he could just touch it with the tips of his toes. He was wonderfully agile.' Such scenes were to last for around ten years.
The club hosted every British jazz musician of note and many Americans including: pianist Mel Powell, drummer Ray McKinley, clarinetist Benny Goodman, saxophonists Art Pepper and Spike Robinson, plus French violinist
Ballad and blues singer Jimmy James remembers with a nostalgic glaze in his eyes some now famous musicians starting out. 'I can see them there now along the back stage right; there's young Tony Crombie (19), Johnny Dankworth (17), Carlo Krahmer, Phil Seamen (18) and 10-year-old Victor Feldman playing with 17-year-old Ronnie Scott' (this would have been in 1944-Ed). James recalls Glenn Miller's boys (sic) coming down for the big band evening and Joseph, smartly dressed, filming a line of fans with a cine-camera.
Vocalist and percussionist Frank Holder confirms the celebrity status 'Everybody was dying to play there and they knew Robert only went for star names'. He also stresses the importance of the Feldman for black musicians such as himself. 'When I arrived from
Guitarist Cliff Dunne recalls 'that there was a real family atmosphere at Feldman's which became an important refuge for Jews and blacks living in wartime
The club continued until 1954 but then Robert said he started to lose interest. 'Some weeks it was doing all right, but towards the end, not so much. Other clubs started opening (The London Jazz Club and the Humphrey Lyttelton Club were using the same premises on different nights of the week - Lyttelton was appearing twice per week – Ed.) and there was too much competition. ‘I thought, I'm not taking it on for another year. If there were three new clubs opening I'd end up with a smaller audience and only one top musician, say Johnny Dankworth, and the rest would be just ordinary'.
Robert Feldman decided to try his luck in
Unfortunately the Feldman brothers are no longer with us to give us more details of Robert's
(Editor's note: This feature is largely based on information given to Barbara Feldman during interviews, since she is too young to have actually experienced the events described. However, memories dim over the years and it has been necessary to adjust certain reports to conform with known facts and birthdates, etc.)”