Sunday, December 30, 2012

"The Incredible" Jimmy Smith

While the editorial staff at JazzProfiles completes a planned featured on Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy Smith, we thought you might enjoy viewing this montage of photographs of him and his many recordings.

When Miles Davis first encountered what Jimmy was doing on the Hammond B-3 organ, it is reported that he exclaimed: "This Cat is the 8th Wonder of the World."

When Alfred Lion, the president of Blue Note Records, first heard Jimmy perform, he signed him to a recording contract and proclaimed him - The Incredible Jimmy Smith.

When we first heard Jimmy play, we just smiled.

If this is your first listening to Jimmy, you will, too.

[Click on the "X" to close out of the ads.]




Saturday, December 29, 2012

Victor Feldman: A Career Overview


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


[The editorial staff at JazzProfiles posted the following as a five-part feature in early 2009. Ever since that time, we’ve wondered how it might read as a single essay. With your kind indulgence, we thought we’d give it a try.]

Mentioning my name in the same context as that of Gene Lees, the late, esteemed Jazz writer, might be the height of presumption on my part, but in doing so in this instance, I mean it only as the basis for a speculative empathy that he and I might have in common.

Because of his close and enduring friendship with Bill Evans, the legendary Jazz pianist, many of us in the Jazz World waited patiently for what could only be termed the definitive work on Bill and his music as provided by Gene Lees, the cardinal writer on the subject of Jazz in the second half of the 20th century.

And yet, while there is an exquisite chapter by Gene about Bill entitled “The Poet” in his compilation, Meet Me at Jim and Andy’s, Mr. Lees never ventured forth with the long-awaited, full-length treatment on Evans.

Wth his passing in April, 2010, the reasons why Gene’s book on Bill Evans never materialized can only be surmised, but perhaps, and this is mere conjecture on my part, Gene was too close to his subject.

Also, he may have been overwhelmed by the immensity of dealing with the size of the footprint that Bill left on Jazz.  Or, it may be, again a supposition on my part, that the loss of his friend was still something that weighed heavily upon him making the task of writing objectively about Evans a difficult one.

If the latter was the case, then I know well the feeling as I have been stymied in publishing something – anything – about Victor Feldman, my friend and mentor, since his death in May, 1987.

And while I keep doing interviews with people who knew Victor and amassing information about him from a variety of sources, I just haven’t been able to organize, what has, by now, grown into a sizeable mass of information, and issue forth with a piece about this immensely talented musician and wonderful human being.

That is, until now.

Three [3] factors prompted me to at least start the process of talking about Victor and his music with this feature.

First, I came across this comment from Peter Keepnews in his 12/28/1997 New York Times review of Ted Gioia’s History of Jazz: [New York: Oxford University Press, 1997]:

“Those of us who have tried writing about Jazz know what a daunting challenge it can be to do it well. Expressing an opinion about a given musician or recording is easy; explaining what exactly it is that makes that musician or recording worth caring about is not.”

Second, I re-read the following qualification or caution from the author Philip Caputo who states:

“No writer ever truly succeeds. The disparity between the work conceived and the work completed is always too great and the writer merely achieves an acceptable level of failure.”

So having been reassured by the likes of Messer’s Keepnews and Caputo that what I have been attempting to do is difficult, but that I should do it anyway, my third motivation to finally write something about Victor Feldman came in the form of an e-mail from Mrs. Shelly Manne in which she asked: “Have you done that piece on Victor, yet?”

The Manne’s and the Feldman’s were great friends and out of respect for that friendship, and my own friendship with Victor, what follows is an initial piece about the advent of Victor Feldman on the American Jazz scene.

In looking back over all of the research that I have accumulated concerning Victor, it is amazing to note how many Jazz musicians held this quiet and unobtrusive man in such high esteem.  And, given such a collective high regard, one cannot help but be as puzzled as Mrs. Shelly Manne when she commented to me: “Why is it that no one ever talks about him? It’s such a shame. He was a terrific musician and Shelly had so much respect and admiration for him.”

So let’s rectify this glaring omission and talk about Victor Stanley Feldman, born in London, England, April 7, 1934, for as Joe Quinn commented in his liner notes to Vic Feldman on Vibes – Mode LP/V.S.O.P. #13 CD] :

“By any standard of comparison, Vic Feldman is an extraordinary musician.”

Victor Feldman was a prodigiously talented musician, arranger and composer whose time in the Jazz spotlight lasted only a relatively short while. He left it for a financially lucrative career in the recording studios and the world of popular music, including writing for Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan, primarily between the years 1965-85.

Because of his amazing displays of virtuosity on drums at a very young age he achieved early notoriety in his native England as “Kid Krupa.” Yet, after he left Woody Herman’s orchestra, and with the exception of a few gigs to help pay the rent while settling into Los Angeles in 1956, he would rarely played the instrument in public again, preferring instead piano and vibes.
Listening [and watching] Victor Feldman play drums was a jaw-dropping experience, especially if you were a drummer and knew how difficult it was to play at Victor’s very high level of preciseness, power and speed.  Stan Levey, Shelly Manne, Colin Bailey and John Guerin knew what very few others in the US Jazz world were even aware of and that was that Victor Feldman was one of the best drummers on the planet – bar none.

Ever the showman, Woody Herman knew what he had in Victor and would come to feature him nightly in an extended drum solo on “Mambo the Most.”

Thanks to a friend in New Zealand, who has a fantastic knowledge of Jazz in general and Woody Herman in particular, I was able to hear Victor play this feature on a 1956 radio broadcast by the band at the New Lagoon in Salt Lake City. I would venture to say that if you gave this track to 10 drummers as a “blindfold test” that 9 out of 10 would swear they were listening to one of Buddy Rich’s extended, solo masterpieces.
Unlike Rich, who had never studied formally, Victor had studied drums in London as a young lad, beginning at the age of six.  But like Rich, Victor had as Stan Levey observed in the March 20, 1958 issue of Downbeat, “… that God-given talent.”

According to a 1999 e-mail that I received from Mr. Lawrence Woolf, who went to school with both Victor and tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes:

“We all attended school together in the North London suburb of Edgware. Victor was only a fair student. He was more interested in tapping on his desk and humming along. Sometimes he got ‘balled out’ over it by teachers and students alike!

His Uncle, Max Bacon, a standup comic and quite good drummer was teaching Victor to play drums which he took to ‘like water.’ Vic would talk and think about nothing else but ‘Being the best drummer in the world.’

To cut a long story short, he became a child drum prodigy and played the Music Halls across England under the careful eye of his Uncle Max. Vic became a guest drummer with the Ted Heath and Ambrose orchestras and appeared on BBC radio. …

In my opinion Victor Feldman [rest in piece] was one of the most underestimated musician’s ever born.”

Victor’s drumming mates in England such as Allan Ganley and Tony Crombie, shown in this photograph taken while Victor was making one of his appearances at Ronnie Scott’s club at Number 39 Gerrard Street in London, knew of his protean prowess on the instrument, and another drummer, Ronnie Stephenson, who worked with Victor at Ronnie’s club in 1965 said of him: “He could just take your breath away with his combination of speed and power.  You just had to put it out of your mind to be able to play drums behind him.”

Victor’s voyage of discovery to the U.S.A. is explained by John Tynan in his article entitled A Long Way from Piccadilly that appeared in the June 6, 1963 edition of Downbeat.

During the interview with John that makes up most of the article, Victor recounted that it was during his tenure with Ronnie Scott’s band that he made the crucial decision to emigrate to the United States. “I remember Ronnie saying – and I respected him and still do – one day in a café, with a certain look on his face that I should go to America. The way he said it, he seemed so sure. I had been thinking of it in my mind, and it gave me added confidence.”

The year was 1953 and by then, Victor had become a multi-instrumentalist drummer, pianist vibist, having studied the latter in London with Carlo Krahmer, a well-known London mallet man.  He has also spent a bit of time studying piano as well as theory, composition and harmony at the London College of Music, beginning at the precocious age of 15.

In July, 1954, at the beginning of a tour of Europe, the Woody Herman Band shared a bill with Ronnie Scott’s group at the U.S. Air Force base at Scunthorpe, England. Gene Lees in his Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman [New York: Oxford University Press, 1995] noted: “One of the members of the Scott group was Victor Feldman, a young virtuoso of drums, piano and vibes by whom Woody was impressed.” [p. 212].

Victor shared in the Tynan Downbeat article that while at Scunthorpe :

“’I got to know some of the Herman sideman including Al Porcino [lead trumpet], Chuck Flores [drummer], Bill Perkins [tenor sax], Nat Pierce [pianist] and Cy Touff [bass trumpet].’ Their brief encounter with the young Englishman was probably forgotten by most of them, but later, in New York, it was to be happily remembered.

In October, 1955, Feldman made the plunge and sailed on the French liner Liberte’ landing in New York on October 25th. … Fate, as they say, took a hand in Feldman’s destiny. Woody Herman was in town and Feldman ran into Cy Touff who asked him if he was interested in joining the band.

Shortly thereafter, Cy and Nat Pierce took Victor to a band rehearsal where Woody offered him the vibes position in the band previously held by Red Norvo, Marjorie Hymans, Terry Gibbs and Milt Jackson. [Lees, p. 219]

Thus began another chapter in Victor’s “love-hate relationship” with going on the road for as he explained to Tynan:

“I didn’t want to go on the road. Even as great a feeling as it was – to go with Woody’s band – I just didn’t want to go on the road, because I know how my physical and mental capabilities work on the road. It’s a bit too rough for the kind of personality I am. But naturally I just couldn’t turn it down. … Woody was so nice and everything. He made me feel so relaxed.”

Before leaving with Woody, Victor had made a prior arrangement to record an album for Keynote Records and set about making arrangements for the date.  Bassist Bill Crow tells the tale of this ill-fated Feldman, Keystone recording session in his book From Birdland to Broadway [New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 119-120].

“One night [in 1955] a young man sat at the Hickory House bar listening and smiling as we played [the Marian McPartland Trio featuring Bill Crow on bass and Joe Morello on drums]. When our set was finished, he introduced himself as Victor Feldman. The talented English vibraphonist had just arrived in New York, and had come to meet Marian. He said he liked the way Joe and I played together.

‘I’m doing an album for Keynote,’ Victor told us, ‘and I’d like you guys to do it with me. I’ve already sort of promised it to Kenny Clarke, so I’ll have him do the first date and Joe the second. I’ve got Hank Jones on piano.

Both dates went beautifully. Victor had written some attractive tunes, and he and Hank hit it off together right away. We couldn’t have felt more comfortable if we’d been playing together for years. Victor was glad to have the recording finished before he left town to join Woody Herman’s band.

The next time I ran into Vic, he told a sad story. The producer at Keynote had decided to delay releasing the album, hoping Victor would become famous with Woody. But the next Keystone project ran over budget, and when he needed to raise some cash, the producer sold Victor’s master tapes to Teddy Reig at Roost Records. Vic came back to New York, discovered what happened, and called Reig to find out when he planned to release the album.

‘Just as soon as Keystone sends me the tape,’ said Reig.

Vic called Keystone to ask when this would take place, and was told the tape had already been sent. A search of both record companies offices failed to locate the tape, and as far as I know it was never found. It may still be lying in a storeroom somewhere, or it may have been destroyed.

Since Keystone announced the album when we did the date, it was listed in Down Beat in their “Things to Come” column, and that information found its way into the Bruyninckx discography, but now that Vic and Kenny are both gone, that music exists as a lovely resonance in the memories of Joe, Hank and myself.”
Kindly responding to an inquiry from me in March, 1997, bassist Bill Crow had this to say about Victor’s approach to Jazz:

“I just liked everything I heard him play, and I liked the physical feeling of playing with him. He generated a good strong swing and communicated his enthusiasm for music in a very generous and enjoyable way.  He chose good chord sequences, had a strong ear for the original melody, and knew that jazz is about having fun with music. I wish I’d had more chances to play with him.”

While on the Herman band, in addition to the players that he had met in London, also on Woody’s band were pianist Vince Guaraldi, tenor man Bob Hardaway and bassist Monty Budwig, all from California and all of whom would ultimately play a role in Victor’s decision to stay on the West Coast after his playing days with Woody’s band were over.

After nine months on the road, Woody disbanded and took a small group into Las Vegas and later into California.  Victor recalled: “I liked the West Coast. Vince Guaraldi [who was from San Francisco] had been telling me about it and he said I would like it better out there. He was right. I feel there’s more of a compromise between the European way of life and the New York mad-house.”

When Woody’s small band disbanded, Victor returned to England for a short vacation, but by then his mind way made up and, although he came back to the states to do a second nine-month stint with Woody, he ultimately left the band and at the “ripe old age” of 23, opted to come to Los Angeles and take up residence in 1957.

As Tynan describes: “Before locating a cheap flat in Hollywood, Feldman stayed at the homes of Monty Budwig and Bob Hardaway. Then he began exploring the jazz scene.”

Victor went on to say: ‘I met Leroy Vinnegar and played with him. And I met Carl Perkins. Carl showed me a lot. I learned a lot just from watching him and going around to his house. He didn’t know the name of any chord, hardly; he didn’t know much more than what a C minor or a C major was, or a major or minor chord. But the way he voiced his chords – I never heard anything like it in my life.’”

Victor arranged four of the seven tunes on Leroy Walks! [Contemporary S-7542; OJCCD-160-2] and since the other three tunes on the album were “head” arrangements, to essentially arrange all the tunes and play on one’s very first recording in Los Angeles is a rather impressive way to make one’s mark in new, musical surroundings. Nat Hentoff concluded his liner notes comments about him by declaring: “He is a flowing swinger with a forcefully inventive conception.”

Victor also toured briefly with clarinetist Buddy De Franco’s quartet in 1957 [the gig that actually brought him to L.A.] and although they didn’t record together at that time, when in 1964 Buddy wanted to do an album playing primarily the bass clarinet for Vee Jay he asked Victor to fly into Chicago for the recording. The result was Blues Bag [Vee Jay VJS-2506] on which Victor plays piano and he and Buddy are joined by Victor Sproles on bass, Art Blakey on drums and, on two tracks, Lee Morgan on trumpet and Curtis Fuller on trombone.

Five of the seven compositions follow a standard blues pattern including Monk’s Straight, No Chaser, Coltrane’s Cousin Mary and Ornette Coleman’s Blues Connotation. The other two, Kush by Dizzy Gillespie and Rain Dance by Victor are according to Leonard Feather “unmistakably related to the blues if only by indirection.” Leonard commented further about Rain Dance:

 “This unusually attractive Victor Feldman composition is the only track in the album for which, in the ensemble passages only, De Franco reverts to soprano clarinet. Blended with Morgan’s trumpet and Fuller’s trombone, this gives the ensemble a highly engaging sound in Feldman’s ingenious voicings. The chorus is oddly constructed, consisting mainly of two 16-bar stanzas followed by a six-measure linking interlude. Morgan and Fuller are both featured in solos on the tune’s beguiling changes.”

However, it would be unfair to paint a picture of Victor landing in Los Angeles in 1957 and simply “taking it by storm” by launching into a recording career replete with arranging assignments while writing a host of original compositions. At this juncture, it might be helpful to point out that Victor had a substantial and significant career involving performing, writing and arranging in England before coming to the United States.

[As an aside, Victor’s rather extensive recording career in London before emigrating to the United States will be the subject of another Jazz Profiles feature at a later date].

Suite Sixteen: The Music of Victor Feldman [Contemporary C-3541; OJCCD-1768-2] contains a sampling of Victor’s work done in England in 1955 just before he immigrated to the United States.  Recorded with a host of fine British musicians including Jimmy Deuchar and Dizzy Reece [tp], Derek Humble [as], Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott [ts] and Tony Crombie or Phil Seamen [d], these recordings feature the music of Victor Feldman in Big Band, Septet and Quartet settings.

As Lester Koenig, Contemporary Records owner and the producer of this album commented in his liner notes: 

“The album is an authentic musical portrait of Victor Feldman at the peak of his career in England, and shows him to advantage as a performer on three instruments [drums, vibes and piano], composer, arranger and leader.”

As composed and arranged by Victor, the fiery and intricate big band tracks alone such as Cabaletto and Maenya are worth “the price of admission” for this album.

What becomes very obvious to the listener about “The Music of Victor Feldman” on Suite Sixteen and ultimately on all of his recordings is everything that is significant about it has to do with rhythm, or to paraphrase Bill Crow: “he generates a good strong swing and I liked the physical feeling of playing with him.”

The significance of rhythm in Jazz cannot be overemphasized.

As Wynton Marsalis stressed in his interview with Ben Sidran published in Talking Jazz: An Oral History in 43 Jazz Conversations [New York: Da Capo, 1995, p.344]:

“… harmony is not the key to our musicHarmony is used in motion. And motion is rhythm. And rhythm is the most important aspect. I mean everything is important. But whenever you find a valid rhythmic innovation, the music changes. … You change the rhythm, you change the music.”

Perhaps it was the fact that he started in music as a drummer and continued on as a vibraphonist and ultimately as a pianist – two other percussive instruments -  but there was a distinct physicality to Victor’s music.  Victor’s orientation is always rhythmic first which perhaps also explains why drummers such as Shelly Manne, Stan Levey and Frank Butler loved to work with him.
1957 was a turning point in Victor’s career for a Victor explains it: “I was very fortunate in ending up at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, CA.” [Tynan interview].

In a conversation I had with Howard Rumsey in 1999 at a Los Angeles Jazz Institute commemorating the 50th anniversary of Jazz at The Lighthouse, Howard remembers Victor approaching him about his need for a vibes player. Howard replied that “I could really use a piano player.”

At the same event, I asked drummer Stan Levey, who was a member of the Lighthouse All-Stars when Victor came on the band for his recollection of how it all began. Stan said that “When he auditioned for the job, he was barely able to gig as a Jazz pianist. He rented a piano and woodsheded  [practiced] for two weeks. When he came on the gig, his piano playing was right there.”

In the Tynan interview, Victor talked about his time at the club: “I ended up working at the Lighthouse for eighteen months. … The Lighthouse was what set me on my feet because it was a steady gig. Howard was very nice to me, and it was a ball playing with Rosolino and Levey and Conte. Bob Cooper, too. It was a very relaxed atmosphere.”

In a concerted effort to flunk out of high school, I started attending the Lighthouse regularly a short time after Victor joined the All-Stars, primarily on Sundays when they would play from 2 PM to 2 AM, but also on the occasional weeknight.

As an aspiring Jazz drummer, it was late on one of the sparsely attended weeknights that I summoned the courage to go up to Stan Levey, always an imposing figure, to ask him a question about some aspect of the mechanics of playing the instrument.

The band members usually congregated along the back wall of the club between sets.  When I approached Stan and asked my question he replied: “ you don’t wanna talk to me about that sh**; I’m self-taught. The guy you want to talk to is sitting over there [nodding toward Victor sitting alone at an adjoining table]. He even knows the names of all the drum rudiments!”

At the time, I had no idea that Victor played drums.  I soon found out as he thoroughly answered my question as well as demonstrating the answer. Shortly thereafter, Victor Feldman agreed to offer me lessons.

In an interview with he and fellow guitarist Pat Martino conducted by Jim Macnie for the March 1997 issue of Downbeat Les Paul commented: “We learn so much if we’re wise enough or lucky enough to listen to the right players.”  I certainly “got lucky” in meeting Victor when I did as he proved to be a kind and gentle mentor from whom “I learned so much.”

During his year-and-a-half stay at The Lighthouse, Victor began getting more and more calls for a variety of recording dates including the previously mentioned Vic Feldman on Vibes [Mode LP 120; V.S.O.P. #13 CD], the first recording date under his own name since arriving in Los Angeles..
Significantly, this date would include Carl Perkins on piano, from whom Victor had learned so much about chord voicings [the method in which notes are played together in particular, vertical structures], in a rhythm section completed by Leroy Vinnegar on bass and Stan Levey on drums.

As his front-line mates Victor chose Frank Rosolino on trombone and Harold Land on tenor saxophone.  The group performs six tunes, four of which are Victor’s originals including his striking Evening in Paris, a tune that was to become a fixture in the Lighthouse All-Stars repertoire.

Victor preferred the hard driving and “harder” sound that Rosolino projected and he was absolutely enamored with the big, bluesy “Texas-tenor” style of Land.  In combination, Rosolino and Land produced what Leonard Feather described as “a more vigorous California sound.”

Interestingly, with the exception of Victor replacing Carl Perkins on piano, this same group would re-unite as a quintet a year later under Frank Rosolino’s leadership for an album that was eventually released under the title of Free For All [Specialty SP-2161; OJCCD-1763-2].

1958 opened with Victor going into a Contemporary Records studio along with Scott LaFaro on bass and Stan Levey on drums to record The Arrival of Victor Feldman [Contemporary S7549; OJCCD-268-2], a recording that was to become in many ways the most noteworthy of his career.

As Victor recounts in Nat Hentoff’s liner notes: “It was shortly after he began working at the Lighthouse that Victor, Scott LaFaro and Stan Levey started playing together, first at the club, and then “we felt so good we played on our own.”

As taken from my interview with him at the 50th Anniversary Lighthouse celebration, Stan Levey commented about this recording: “The group we had with Scotty was like a moment-in-time and the ‘Arrival album’ is a musical treasure. Victor was an unbelievable player in every way; just listen to him, he was perfection.”

Hentoff goes on to say in his liner notes: “The general consensus of appraisal among those American jazzmen who have heard him is that Victor’s future will be sizeable and rewarding.  It seems to me that … Victor has … [a] naturally organic conception, emotional resources, idiomatic heat and growing individuality.”

In their 6th Edition of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, Richard Cook and Brian Morton offer this evaluation of the “Arrival” album:

“Arrival is a marvelous record, completed just after Victor had settled in Los Angeles. LaFaro’s role in extending the vocabulary of the piano trio is well-documented in his association with Bill Evans, but given how tragically foreshortened his career was , it’s surprising that these sides haven’t received more attention. As ever, the young bassist is firmed-toned, melodic and endlessly inventive, and the interplay with the piano is stunning; long, highly wrought lines round basic bop figuration. Levey’s accents are quietly insistent and the whole recording seems to have been miked very close, as was the practice at the time. “Serpent’s Tooth,’ ‘Satin Doll,’ and ‘There’s No Greater Love’ are the outstanding tracks. This should certainly be in the collection of anyone interested in the evolution of the piano trio in jazz ….”

Victor, Scotty and Stan were recorded by Howard Rumsey later in September, 1958 in a performance at The Lighthouse along with tenor saxophonist, Richie Kamuca. Consisting of two tracks – Sonny Rollins’ Paul’s Pal [misnamed It Could Happen to You on the record] and John Coltrane’s Bass Blues, -  these two tracks were issued along with three cuts by trumpeter Joe Gordon performing with Shelly Manne and His Men at the Lighthouse in 1960 as West Coast Days: Joe Gordon & Scott LaFaro [Fresh Sound FSCD-1030].  One can only hope that more of the music from this great trio will one day surface from The Lighthouse vault.
I recall Victor commenting about this trio in retrospect by saying: “Scotty and I were so young in those days and so caught up in the music that we had no idea of what we couldn’t do.  Stan [Levey] had such great time and laid it down so hard that it made it possible for Scotty to free up the time, something that he really went on to develop later with Bill Evans. But Stan and I were such straight-ahead players that we couldn’t wait for him to start playing in 4/4 and away from the freer feeling. He really set the instrument on a different course”

This recollection harkens back to Wynton Marsalis’ point: “Change the rhythm and you change the music.”

Howard Rumsey, The leader of the Lighthouse All-Stars and the bassist in the group described Scott LaFaro’s accomplishment this way: “His use of two base voices, a falsetto-like solo sound and a full-bodied, well-rounded walking tone timbre, made him an inspiration to most jazz players that heard him or followed him.” [quoted in the insert notes to West Coast Days: Joe Gordon & Scott LaFaro].

Unfortunately, a trio that Stan Levey described as “a moment in time” disbanded when Scotty left for New York in 1959 and Victor decided to move on to other things and to leave The Lighthouse All-Stars. As he told John Tynan, the reason for this decision was “because I felt I had been in one place too long; musically you can stay in one place just so long.”
However, Victor’s availability would prove portentous as it would make it possible for him to participate as a temporary replacement for pianist Russ Freeman in Shelly Manne’s group during its September, 1959 two week engagement at Guido Cacianti’s  Blackhawk at the corner of Turk & Hyde in San Francisco, CA.

One of my earliest impressions of Victor centered around how the All-Stars radiated a crackling, propulsive drive underscored by Stan Levey’s impeccable time coupled with Victor’s percussive and hard-driving piano “comping” [musician-speak for “accompaniment”]. This was a characteristic of Victor’s playing that always impressed me – his drive was formidable as can be heard in any variety of settings and I think it was largely responsible for transforming Shelly Manne’s group in the seminal sessions recorded and issued by Contemporary from the group’s Blackhawk appearances [Contemporary S7577-7580; OJCCD-656-660-2].

Let’s “talk” further about these classic recordings and Victor’s role in helping to make them so singular from the perspective of three authorities on West Coast Jazz: Ted Gioia, author of West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 [New York: Oxford, 1992], Bob Gordon, author of Jazz West Coast: The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950s [London: Quartet, 1990], and Lester Koenig, the owner of Contemporary Records who produced these in-performance albums and wrote their liner notes.
As Gioia describes [pp.279-280]:

“The final newcomer [Shelly reorganized The Men in 1959 adding Joe Gordon on trumpet and Richie Kamuca on tenor sax] to the Manne group for the Blackhawk session was an unexpected last-minute substitution.  Manne regular pianist Russ Freeman had left on a road trip with Benny Goodman around the time of the San Francisco engagement. Looking for a replacement on short notice, Manne settled on Victor Feldman.

More familiar to some listeners as a vibes player, Feldman made clear his piano credentials during the Blackhawk gig – his ensuing engagement with Cannonball Adderley is reported to be the result of the latter’s favorable response to the Manne recordings. …

Feldman … never gained the jazz reputation he deserved, although he eventually established himself as one of the premier studio musicians in Southern California …. His piano playing was anything but the limited ‘two-fingered’ approach of many doubling vibraphonists and instead revealed a rich harmonic texture, a strong percussive element, and a good sense of space and melodic development.”

Or as Bob Gordon shares [pp.206-207]:

“There was a bit of apprehension about Feldman, who was in effect learning the book on the job, but he fitted in from the start. … Cannonball Adderley was so impressed by Victor’s playing on the [Blackhawk] sides he hired Feldman for his own group.”

And lastly, Les Koenig’s insert note comments:

“Those who know Victor Feldman as a vibes player will be startled to discover that on the Blackhawk set he plays piano only. Whether he is comping for the horns, or soloing, his invention, drive, and basic jazz feeling put him in the front rank of today’s jazz pianists.”

I think the world of Russ Freeman, Shelly’s regular pianist and, having lived for a number of years within a 10 minute drive to Shelly’s Hollywood, CA club, The Manne Hole, I had the opportunity to hear Shelly with a variety of groups. 

Maybe it was because they were trying to keep warm during the damp and cold San Francisco nights, but rhythmically, none of Shelly’s quintets ever sounded as “heated,” and tenaciously tight [together] as the Blackhawk version. To my ears, the indisputable reason for this was the presence of Victor Feldman.  He makes Shelly play differently: more forcefully, with more imagination and more daring.  And these changes in Manne’s playing affect everyone in the group causing them to take more chances, play in a more physical manner and to create what Richard Cook and Brian Morton have called “One of the finest and swingingest mainstream recordings ever made.” [p. 957].

Victor could have that effect on people.  He played drums from the piano stool and booted the band along.

Some years later when I asked Shelly about these dates, he said: “Well, I can’t say it was like having another drummer on these sessions as we both know that he is another one and what a bad-a** drummer he can be.  The feeling is just different with Vic; it’s like looking into a musical mirror only your hearing it, not seeing it.”

I also asked Victor about my observation and he laughed and said” “You have to remember that I had only been playing piano on a regular basis for less than two years when I made the Blackhawk gig.  I didn’t have the facility yet so I would have to fall back on chorded rhythmic phrases, particularly at the end of a long solo. After a bit, I got the feeling that Shelly liked me to bring this into my solos so he could do some things behind it

But what I remember most about that gig was that everybody had a good time. We couldn’t wait for it to start each night.”

Victor Feldman – Part 2: Adderley, Feldman, Hayes & Jones [not a law firm]


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

as to the title of this piece, I thought about calling it “Part 2: The Cannonball Years,” but since Victor was only with Cannonball for less than a full year, I thought that might be overstating things a bit!

I lived in San Francisco for most of the decade of the 1990s. And it was there on  March 4, 1999, a typical, foggy San Francisco late afternoon, that I met with Orrin Keepnews, a hero of mine from my earliest days as a Jazz fan.

We got together in one of the city’s many restaurants serving Asian food, this one with the innocuous name of “The Beach House,” located next to the now defunct Coronet Theater near the corner of Geary and Arguello.

Orrin had very kindly consented to be interviewed about Victor Feldman, particularly about Victor’s time with Cannonball Adderley’s quintet and Victor’s association with Riverside Records which Orrin co-owned with Bill Grauer.

Although they have since become legendary, at the time, The Blackhawk gig [with which we closed Part 1] with Shelly’s group amounted to a couple of weeks of work for Victor plus some out-of-town expenses.

Upon returning to Los Angeles in late September, 1959, Victor had to find work for his trio with Bob Whitlock on bass and John Clauder on drums, who was soon replaced by Colin Bailey.

There was also the matter of what to do about an attractive woman named “Marilyn” [the former Marilyn McGrath] whom he had met during a local gig. Nine months after they met, they married in 1960.

As Victor recounted to John Tynan in his June 6, 1963 Downbeat article:

“I decided all of a sudden that I’d like to take her to England. I’d saved some money and we were away for three months. While we were there, I played the Blue Note in Paris and appeared with Kenny Clarke on a Dinah Shore TV special.

Cannonball had called me about a month before I went back to England. He called me to make a record with Ray Brown, Wes Montgomery, Louis Hayes and himself. [Cannonball Adderley and the Poll Winners Riverside S-9355; Landmark LCD-1304-2].
While we were in England, I got a cable from him with a definite offer as a pianist-vibist with his group.”

Let’s pick up my 1999 interview with Orrin Keepnews at the point of the Julian Cannonball Adderley “Poll Winners” album that was recorded in San Francisco in May, 1960.

According to Orrin, he and Cannonball had decided to use guitarist Wes Montgomery and bassist Ray Brown on the album and this led them to think further about “unusual instrumentation.”  Although there was some talk about Les McCann, the feeling was that he was primarily blues player, but more importantly, Cannonball just didn’t want to use a piano player.The rest of the conversation went as described by Orrin in the album’s liner notes:

“With all the established musicians (including the regular Adderley drummer, Louis Hayes) living fully up to expectations, the surprise element was provided by the then-unknown Victor Feldman.

In view of the unconventional feeling of guitar and bass, Cannon had wanted something less routine than just a piano player. West Coast friends recommended a highly skilled young L.A. studio vibraphonist, recently arrived from England; figuring that we only need him for coloration, we took a chance and invited him up [to San Francisco where the album was being recorded by Wally Heider at Fugazi Hall near North Beach].

At rehearsal, Victor sat down at the piano to demonstrate a couple of his compositions. I can still clearly visualize all of us standing there, open-mouthed and thunderstruck, as we listened to a totally unexpected swinging and funky playing of this very white young Britisher.

Finally one of us, struck by an apparent facial resemblance, expressed our mutual amazement. “How can the same man,” I asked, “look like Leonard Feather and sound like Wynton Kelly?”

As you will note, two of Feldman’s tunes [The Chant and Azul Serape] were inserted into the repertoire; and within just a couple of months he had been hired as the Adderley quintet’s regular pianist.”

As was the case at this time, all vibraharpists were quite unfairly cast in the shadow of Milt Jackson, and while, Milt is a super player, Victor’s vibes solo on Frank Loesser’s Never Will I Marry on the Poll Winners is four choruses of the most sophisticated vibes playing your ever likely to hear.  Not only that, it doesn’t contain one Milt Jackson “lick” nor one repeated phrase.

In the flood of admiration for Milt Jackson’s playing as a vibist, most of it deserving but some of it simply fawning, by the New York-based Jazz writers, Victor’s development of his own, singular approach to playing the instrument was never given the attention it deserved.  Victor was always very respectful of Milt and his contributions, but what he plays during the Never Will I Marry improvisations are inventions that go well-beyond Jackson’s sometimes repetitive, blues-inflected phrasing.
Mike Hennessey in his insert notes to Dynavibes: The Jeff Hamilton Trio featuring Frits Landesbergen [Mons MR 874-794] comments that, Landesbergen, the excellent Dutch drummer who plays vibes on this album, “ … also has a high regard for the late Victor Feldman. He says: ‘Victor was a great, all-round musician who played piano, vibes and drums and who was a fine composer and arranger. I think his vibraphone playing was more advanced harmonically than most other players.”

Victor had one of the most astute harmonic minds in Jazz, a fact that would be exemplified in his ability to re-harmonize something as pedestrian as Basin Street Blues, as well as, to infuse interesting harmonies with advanced rhythmic structures to create tunes like Joshua and Seven Steps to Heaven.  

Returning to the Keepnews interview, Orrin implied that Victor's hiring by Cannonball validated him on the New York Jazz scene. For example, it made possible Victor’s own release on Riverside of Merry Olde Soul, as well as, his appearance on other Riverside album's such as those by James Clay and Sam Jones, who even named one of his Riverside dates after Victor's tune - "The Chant." On this album, Victor shared principal arranging responsibility with Jimmy Heath.

The driving force behind much of this activity was Cannonball who had become a kind of ex officio artists & repertoire man for Orrin at Cannonball. One of the reasons for Cannonball's status in this regard according to Orrin was that, unlike many musicians, "Cannonball was extremely articulate and therefore able to express his ideas very clearly. Cannonball's approval of Victor's playing and his work gained for him instant acceptance with me and some of the giants of the music including Miles Davis who had tremendous respect for Cannon."

Orrin further reflected that had Victor remained in the New York area, the natural course of events would have been such that he would have made a major mark on the Jazz scene. As it was, Miles Davis looked him up when he went to "the Coast" in 1963 and the result was the Seven Steps to Heaven album.

However, the rigors of traveling which impacted adversely on his recent marriage to Marilyn and the monetary lure of the Hollywood studios proved too great and he returned to Los Angeles in 1961.

Since we all live the consequences of our choices, instead of dwelling on “what-might-have-been,” let’s spend time on the recordings that Victor did make while with Cannonball, in concert with others and those he made as a leader as this is a wonderfully productive period in his career.

In their 1963 interview, Victor shared with John Tynan: “Actually, my first gig with Adderley’s band was the 1960 Monterey Jazz Festival [held in September of every year]. I remember, we played ‘Dis Here’ [Cannonball’s earliest “hit recording”] and I got lost on it.”

Ironically, when Victor began his recorded tenure with Cannonball the following month, it landed him right back at his old stomping grounds – The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, CA . As Orrin Keepnews commented his insert notes to The Cannonball Adderley Quintet at The Lighthouse [Riverside S-9344; Landmark LCD-1305-2]:

“This was Victor’s first recording with Cannonball’s quintet … and the zest he adds to an already highly-charged unit is certainly among the highlights here.”

This is not hyperbole on Orrin’s part as Victor’s presence is felt throughout this album be it in the form of the I-dare-you-not-to-tap-your-foot during his five solo choruses on Jimmy Heath’s blues tribute to bassist big brother, Percy, entitled Big P, or be it in the form of his intriguing original composition Exodus with its modal vamp and its circle of fifths bridge and which also has Julian saying “Yeah, Vic” to his brilliantly constructed solo on the tune, or be it in the form of his masterful comping on What is This Thing Called Love?, the evergreen that closes out the album [a classic example of Victor “drumming” from the piano chair].

And on this album, it’s easy to discern that one year and one month after the Blackhawk sessions that he recorded with Shelly Manne’s quintet, Victor’s piano chops had come a long way as the improvised lines just flow from his right hand. As is exemplified on Azul Serape, the other original by Victor that Cannonball included in this album, this time the block chord rhythmic riffs are interspersed throughout Vic’s solo and the “tag” that ends the tune instead of being relied on to complete a solo. Victor has more stamina and control while at the keyboard and there’s little doubt that both of these skills would continue to grow as a result of his time with Cannon.

While in town for The Lighthouse appearance, Victor participated on James Clay’s A Double Dose of Soul [Riverside RLP-9349; OJCCD-1790-2]. Recorded on October 11, 1960, it was part of the “Cannonball Adderley Presentation series” and as such was an example of what Orrin meant when he talked about the effects of Cannonball’s patronage on Victor’s career.

Vic, who always had a knack for writing tunes that were rhythmically and harmonically interesting to play on [and plenty of them, too] contributed New Delhi and Pavanne [a Jazz waltz] to the Clay session while playing vibes on these and an up tempo version of the standard I Remember You. On this latter track in particular, you can hear the continued maturity of his vibes playing, especially on the three choruses of four bar “trades” [back and forth solos between flute and vibes, each spanning four bars of the tune] with Clay’s flute following Gene Harris’ piano solo.  His vibes are marked by a clean and accurate attack and a series of interesting harmonic substitutions upon which he builds his improvisations. There is very little of the Milt Jackson blues inflected picks-ups or licks, nor anything that is reminiscent of the heavier, mallet attack of Lionel Hampton or Terry Gibbs in his style. Victor’s vibes “sing out” with notes that are sustained into overtones almost doing the impossible by giving the instrument a “vocal” quality.

Soon after their stint at The Lighthouse, Cannonball’s quintet embarked for a tour of Europe as the group was becoming something of a phenomenon in world-wide Jazz coteries, in no small part due to Riverside’s earlier albums featuring the group, most especially the In San Francisco album Riverside RLP-1157; OJCCD-035-2].

The band traveled as part of a Norman Granz organized Jazz at the Philharmonic package from which two albums were produced on Norman’s Pablo label.

Unfortunately, and perhaps due to contractual consideration, the music from the group’s JATP 1960 European appearances was not released until 25 years after it was recorded.

The first album is entitled What is This Thing Called Soul [Pablo Live 2308-238; OJCCD-801-2] and the tracks were recorded in performance in Paris, France and Göteborg and Stockholm, Sweden in November 1960.  The program on this recording is largely the same as the one the band played on the Riverside, Lighthouse album, but Victor’s The Chant is back and the group turns it into another “down-home-prayer-meeting.” Not surprisingly, Victor offers another soul-stirrin’-solo on his funky 16 bar blues which also includes an ingenious 8 bar bridge to form an ABA structure. His solo on this tune should erase any doubt about his ability to play the blues.

When the LP version was released in 1984, I distinctly remember that this was not a good period for the Feldman Family as Marilyn had been diagnosed with the disease that would claim her life the following year.

I brought the album over to his house and we had a laugh over the tempo for both the version of Jimmy Heath’s Big P and the standard What is This Thing Called Love? as they are reflective of a Jazz truism to wit: the more a group performs a tune, the faster it will play it.  Victor chuckled and said: “You should have heard ‘em by the end of the tour; I thought that Louis Hayes’s right arm was going to fall to the floor.”

Once again these tracks demonstrate what a complete pianist Victor was becoming and going on the band with Cannonball had so much to do with this for as Victor commented: “It was the best thing that could have happened to me because Julian set such a high standard and I wanted to do well to support the faith that he had in bringing me on the band. At first, I didn’t play vibes at all and this helped me in bringing my piano chops up. But you know how it is. There is no substitute for working regularly with a band like Cannonball’s and what it does for your playing.”

By any measurable standard, Victor’s piano playing has improved dramatically on these recordings. On both Azul Serape and What is Thing Called Love, Victor rolls out a much more complete piano technique replete with rapid-fire, single note phrasing, playing across bar lines and block chording that is willing interspersed throughout a solo instead of relied on to complete one.

Although Victor was gone by then, Norman Granz’s “Jazz at The Philharmonic” would issue more from Cannonball’s 1960 European tour with the 1997 release of The Cannonball Adderley Quintet: Paris-1960 [Pablo PACD-5303-2]. It contains what I consider to be one of the best solos by Victor ever recorded with Cannon’s group and if you don’t believe me just listen to Julian in the background during Victor’s six choruses on Nat Adderley’s Work Song, a 16-bar blues.

In his insert notes to the recording, Chris Sheridan, Cannonball’s biographer and the manager of a website devoted to Cannonball comments:

“In the rhythm section, British pianist/vibist Victor Feldman had joined a few months earlier, bringing an articulate single-noted and block-chording style that was closer to Wynton Kelly than his predecessor, Bobby Timmons. The Adderleys were particularly taken with his compositions, which, like the hot gospelling, ‘The Chant,’ fattened the band repertoire…. Remarking on his pianist’s Englishness, Mr. Adderley once observed: ‘He isn’t supposed to have this kind of soul because it’s the other kind of soul.’”

While with Cannonball and living in New York, Victor had the opportunity to record his own album on Riverside, the aforementioned Merry Olde Soul [Riverside RLP-9366; OJCCD-402-2] which was recorded in December, 1960 and January, 1961.
As Orrin Keepnews recalled: “The was no question of using Sam Jones and Louis Hayes on it as by now they had formed quite a rhythm section; I think I was the one who suggested Hank Jones on piano for one session to free up Vic to play vibes on three tracks.”

Ira Gitler was selected to provide the liner notes and he had this to say about some aspects of the recording:

“There are not many albums where all the tracks deserve some comment. Here, each one has something to offer and bears mention. Various influences on Feldman’s style are in evidence, yet because of his own strong personality, he does not emerge as a mere eclectic. There is a great difference between intelligent absorption and imitation.”

Although all of the nine tracks are the album show off various aspects of Victor’s developing style and technique, here are Ira’s comments about four of the tunes. I would only add that Victor’s vibes solo on The Man I Love is one for the ages – an absolute marvel of building tension and release brought about by a musician with an incredible sense of syncopated rhythm, a well-developed feeling for melody and an ever deepening knowledge of harmony.

“Victor opens on piano with ‘For Dancers Only,” a happy, swinging interpretation of the Sy Oliver tune immortalized by the old Jimmie Lunceford band. His chording seems to show a Red Garland influence. Sam Jones has a strong solo and the integration of the trio is perfect: they literally dance. ‘Lisa’ is a collaboration between Feldman and Torrie Zito; its minor changes cast a reflective but Victor’s touch here on vibes still swings. …
On ‘The Man I Love’ (the only no-piano vibes number), Feldman starts out with a light touch similar to his work on ‘Lisa.’ Then he intensifies into a more percussive attack that wails along Jacksonian lines, in a spirit that may put you in mind of Milt’s solo on Miles Davis’ famous version of the tune, but without copying Jackson. He builds and builds into highly-charged exchanges with Hayes before sliding into a lyrical tag.

‘Bloke’s Blues’ is a rolling line that I find somewhat reminiscent of Hampton Hawes. There is an easy natural swing and much rhythmic variety in Feldman’s single line. His feeling is never forced.”

“In this album, his first for ‘Riverside’ as a leader, the spotlight is really on Victor. His piano and vibes are both given wide exposure, and there is a substantial taste of his talents as a composer (of blues and ballads in particular). He proves more than equal to the task of filing a large amount of space with music that consistently sustains interest.”

Later in January 1961, participated in bassist Sam Jones’ big band session based around the Cannonball Adderley quintet of the time. The album took its name from Victor’s oft-played original The Chant [Riverside RLP-9358; OJCCD-1839] and to add honor upon distinction, Victor was asked by Sam Jones, the album’s principal, to prepare some of the arrangements along with Jimmy Heath! Victor shares piano duties on the album with Wynton Kelly and takes the solos on Benny Golson’s Blues on Down and Rudy Stephenson’s Off-Color.

While living in New York and working in Cannonball’s group,  a growing demand for Victor’s presence on albums such as this one was developing, but a few months into 1961 found Victor once again struggling with life on the road.  And to compound matters, Marilyn was pregnant.  After nine months with Cannonball, as Victor recounted to Tynan:

“I was getting that old feeling back again about being on the road, which I’d been on since I was 15. Although I was having a ball playing, there was this tug of war going on with me. Had I been single, I would have stayed maybe a little bit longer.”

Victor returned to Hollywood and experienced the “out-of-sight, out-of-mind’” dynamic as far as the contractors who hire musicians for studio gigs are concerned.

However, no sooner had he found some work in the studios and had his trio performing at The Scene on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, than a call came in from Peggy Lee to join her for her first European tour.  Since the gig included six weeks in England before heading to the French Riviera for 10 days and Stan Levey on drums, Victor was back on the road again.

The beginning of 1962 found Victor back in the studios with a flood of calls from both Hank Mancini and Marty Paich, among others, and also increasing his activity with his trio including making two recordings during the year.
The first of these was The Jazz Version of Stop the World I Want to Get Off [World Pacific WP-1807]. As Victor told Howard Lucraft, who authored the liner notes:

“I’ve been approached about doing a show album many times. However, this is the first time I made one because this is the first show that has had tunes that make good jazz vehicles.

I tried to make the arrangements as interesting as I could without cluttering the three of us, so that we could relax in our improvising.”

Bob Whitlock was once again on bass because as Victor put it very directly: “I always have Bob with my trio; his greatest asset is his extremely broad knowledge of music.”

Somewhat of a surprise to some, although not to others who knew Victor’s preferences for hard-driving drummers, Lawrence Marable made the date on drums because according to Victor: “Lawrence is one of the finest drummers in the world. I love his time feeling. I love his solos. When he and I play together we reach terrific peaks of excitement. Lawrence has the greatest intuition.”

The nearest thing to a Philly Jo Jones style of drumming on the West Coast, Lawrence, much like Frank Butler [and, of course, Philly], really emphasized the snare drum in his solos.  Whether these were fours, eights or entire choruses, everything came off the snare and Lawrence could really get the thing pulsating and crackling, all of which must have resonated well with Victor’s sensibilities.  This approach to Jazz drums also explains why Victor was so partial to Colin Bailey who loved to put emphasis on the snare during his solos; Colin also has incredible snare to bass drum coordination.
As show tune recordings go, this is a remarkably good, musical album, no doubt because Victor always put so much thought into arrangements for his trio. The album has the added bonus of Victor playing vibes while accompanying himself on piano which he does via “over-dub.”  As Victor comments to Lucraft: “Actually, I like playing vibes this way best, for recording.”

Perhaps it is the presence of Marable, but Victor “comes out smoking” on this album and plays throughout with an air of assurance and forceful determination. You can tell that he has reached a point where what he’s hearing in his head can immediately be transported to his hands, especially on piano. Howard Lucraft expresses this point similarly:

“In the earlier days of his musical career in America, Feldman was, perforce, somewhat eclectic. Today, he has his own distinctive, driving, agile and assured style. His unique, contrasted chordal work and his compelling, chromatic phrases are arresting features.”

 

Victor altered the trio format [“I wanted to hear another voice”] for another of his 1962 recordings – A Taste of Honey and A Taste of Bossa Nova – [Infinity INX LP-5000] by adding tenor sax and flute to his basic trio [and also, Laurindo Almeida on guitar for the bossa nova tunes].

As the title indicates, this recording is an admixture of movie themes and songs associated with movies, although Victor manages to put in another version of his original – New Delhi.

Three different groups each make up four tracks and these include Buddy Collette [ts/fl], Victor [v/p], Leroy Vinnegar [b], Ron Jefferson [d]; Clifford Scott [ts/fl], Victor [v/p], Laurindo Almeida [g], Al McKibbon [b], Frank Guerrero [percussion]; Nino Tempo [ts], Victor [p], Bob Whitlock [b], Colin Bailey [d].

Although the twelve tracks averaging about three minutes each was primarily aimed at commercial radio play and  mass market distribution, there is some very good music on this recording including Buddy Colette’s take on Victor’s New Delhi, the bossa nova version of Anna from the movie The Rose Tattoo for which actress Anna Magnani won the Academy Award and the Nino Tempo version of Walk on the Wild Side with the Feldman-Whitlock-Bailey trio.

As someone who was an indirect beneficiary of the “overage,” I can personally testify to the fact that during 1962, Victor’s studio activity increased dramatically that is until, as Victor described it, “… the temptation to travel reappeared.”  This time it took the form of Benny Goodman’s tour of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics which commenced on May 28, 1962. According to Ross Firestone, Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life & Times of Benny Goodman [New York: Norton, 1993]:

“The rhythm section consisted of John Bunch on piano, Turk van Lake on guitar, Bill Crow on bass and Mel Lewis on drums. Teddy Wilson and the vibraphonist Victor Feldman were to be featured on the small group numbers.” [p.409].

Victor returned from the Goodman tour of the USSR, but this time he literally picked up where he left off in terms of studio work as there was so much of it and he was such an accomplished reader, both as a pianist/vibist and as an overall percussionist.  He was also dependable, prompt and courteous, not to mentioned very well-liked by the coterie of contractors and first-call studio players.

Also upon his return from the Soviet Union, Victor signed an exclusive recording contract with Fred Astaire’s Ava records.

The first project that Victor completed for the label was to record three “Jazz Impressions of … “ tracks with Bob Whitlock [b] and Colin Bailey [d] to augment the release of the original sound track by Mark Lawrence to the then highly acclaimed film – David & Lisa: An Unusual Love Story [Ava-AS-21].

But while at Ava records, Victor was at work preparing a real gem of a recording based on compositions that he and Leonard Feather had come across during his trip to Russia with the Goodman band.

Released in 1963, The Victor Feldman All-Stars Play Soviet Jazz Themes [Ava/As 19] is comprised of two recording sessions involving three Soviet Jazz originals, both involving the rhythm section of Bob Whitlock on bass and Frank Butler on drums. The first took place on October 26, 1962 with Victor on vibes, Nat Adderley on cornet, Harold Land on tenor saxophone and Joe Zawinul on piano and the second session was done on November 12, 1962 with Victor on piano and vibes, Herb Ellis on guitar, Carmel Jones on trumpet and Harold Land once again on tenor.

Here are Leonard Feather’s original liner notes that offer a perspective on both the Cold War politics of the time as well as on the Soviet Jazz musicians and their music which Victor represented on this recording.


“There has never been n album quite like this before in the annals of recorded jazz.

The very existence of Soviet jazz, of artists who could play or write it, was virtually unknown outside the USSR until 1959. That was the year when two intrepid Americans named Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff, in the guise of Yale choral group members, entered the Soviet Union and let it be bruited around that they were really jazz musicians. The resultant impromptu concerts led them to discover that a cadre of young musicians existed whose interest in the American jazz world, bolstered by Voice of America broadcasts, was as deep and intense as their feeling for the music.

Three years later, on a more official and far more broadly publicized basis, Benny Goodman's band, the first American jazz orchestra of modem times to play the Soviet Union (under U.S. State Department auspices) opened May 30, 1962, at the Central Army Sports Arena in Moscow. On this tour the brilliant and versatile Victor Feldman played vibraphone in the small combo numbers; and most valuably, during the six weeks of the tour, he gained a fairly broad picture of the musical life of the Russians, the Georgians and other citizens of this endless land.

I was lucky enough to be in Moscow for the opening. and later to spend a little time in Leningrad. At a press conference I heard much talk of arranging for local jazzmen to sit in with Goodman and show him some of their music. The plans failed to materialize however, for B.G. never sought out these Soviet youths whose music amazed those of us who did get together with them. And aside from token gestures such as the use of a couple of Soviet pop songs, there was no acknowledgement in the band's program that such a phenomenon as Soviet jazz existed.

The aims of Victor Feldman's LP are, first, to compensate for this omission; second, to provide a program of modem jazz by superior soloists with plenty of blowing room; third, to point up the similarities, rather than the differences, that can be found in a comparison of jazz composition as it is conceived in Moscow, Tbilisi or Leningrad vis-À-vis New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.

Soon after arriving in Moscow, we found out that homegrown jazz, supposedly taboo in the USSR, not only wasn't underground or outlawed as had long been believed, but was actually flourishing on a modest scale. It even had young. growing outlets at a Moscow jazz Club, where students earnestly discuss the latest news about John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman, and at a couple of Youth Cafés, where music by the new Soviet jazz wave is often heard live.

Writing in Down Beat about a visit to the Café Aelita. I observed: "It is the closest Moscow comes to a night club … serves only wine, closes at 11 p.m., and is decorated in a style &at might be called Shoddy Modern, though radical by Moscow standards ... the shocker was the trumpet player, Andre Towmosian. who is 19 but looks 14, plays with the maturity of a long-schooled musician, though in jazz he is self-taught."

I learned that Towmosian was acclaimed in the fourth annual Jazz festival at Tartu, Estonia. (It was amazing enough to learn that there had been any Soviet jazz festival, let alone four.) He was also featured with his quartet at the Leningrad
University Jazz Festival; and one of the souvenirs I brought home
was a tape, given me in Leningrad, of Towmosian playing Ritual, the original heard in this album.

Also on tape were some of the compositions of Gennadi (Charlie) Golstain, the alto saxophonist and arranger whose apartment I visited in Leningrad. Though nicknamed for Charlie Parker, clearly he has at least two other idols, for side by
side on the wall of his living room I noticed adjacent photographs of two men: Nikolai Lenin and Julian (Cannonball) Adderley.

Golstain's tapes featured him with a combo similar to the Feldman group an these sides, but he works regularly with a large modern orchestra headed by Yusef Weinstain and writes most of the band's book. He is a soloist of considerable passion,
as yet incompletely disciplined and subject to multiple influences, but his dedication is beyond cavil and his writing shows an intelligent absorption of the right influences.

“Several of the fellows in Benny's band jammed a couple of times with Gennadi at our hotel, the Astoria in Leningrad," Victor recalls, "and some of us, including Phil Woods, played with him at the University., He was eager for knowledge and information, like so many of the musicians we met."

Goldstain is the composer of three of the lines in this set - Blue Church Blues, Madrigal, and Gennadi - as well as the arranger. or virtual re-composer, of the folk song Polyushko Polye.  (For those curious about the first title, it should be pointed out that the church Gennadi had in mind was not Russian Orthodox, but probably Southern Baptist.)

Also represented here is a young arranging student named  Givi Gachechiladze, the composer of "Vic." He lives in Kiev," says Victor, but he's studying at Tbilisi; and when we arrived at the airport there, he and a group of his friends were at the airport to meet us - with flowers. The next day he gave me this tune, dedicated to me and named for me.'

The rapport that grew between the Soviet musicians and the Goodman sidemen showed in microcosm the kind of amity that could exist on all social levels if meetings were possible between men and women of the two countries who have common interests. All of us who tasted the hospitality of these devoted jazz musicians and students were touched by their sincerity, their lack of political animosity (many seemed totally apolitical), and their obvious desire to discuss things shared rather than differences.

The young musicians like Towmosian, Golstain, Constantin Nosvo and Gachechiladze, none beyond their 20s and many in their teens. have not yet earned substantial recognition in their own country.  It is ironic that this is the first album featuring Soviet jazz compositions that has ever been recorded, not merely in the U.S.A., but anywhere in the world. For decades American jazz was at prophet un-honored at home; Europeans were he first to give it profound critical attention. Now, in a strange reversal, Americans are the first to draw attention to a set of swinging, unpretentious Soviet jazz pieces that are still waiting to be recorded on home ground.

The group selected for these two sessions is in itself further reflection of the "United Notions" character of jazz. Here are the works of writers in the Soviet Union, performed in America by a group under the leadership of Victor Stanley Feldman, who came to this country in 1955, at the age of 21, from his native London (the native city also of this writer, who helped organize the sessions); and on the tracks that feature Feldman's vines the piano is taken over by Joe Zawinul, a superb modern pianist who was born in Vienna and did not arrive here until 1 959, Zawinul works regularly with the sextet of Cannonball, whose brother Nat is heard on three tracks (Ritual, Madrigal, Blue Church Blues.)

Harold Land and Herb Ellis, both from Texas, and Carmell Jones of Kansas are well known to the Soviet insiders, as are drummer Frank Butler from Kansas City and the Utah-born bassist Bob Whitlock

Certainly these sides, because of the historic precedent they set and because of the esteem in which Feldman and his colleagues are held in what used to be thought of as the borsch and balalaika belt, will be among the most desirable collectors'
items when the first copies reach the Soviet Union. For listeners in this country it is to be hoped that they will help reinforce a concept not of the jazz-as-propaganda-weapon cliché, but the unifying image of this music gathering strength and growing stature as part of a single world.”

It is a great disappointment to those who are familiar with the music on this album that it has never been issued as a commercial CD and, in general, received a wider recognition as the music on it is simply superb by any standard of comparison.

Victor Feldman – Part 3: Miles & Beyond



© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“His keyboard technique is above reproach and is matched by his brilliance on vibes and drums; his knowledge of rhythms and meters, and the possibilities inherent in combining melodic lines with percussion expressions, greatly expounds the sounds of any group within which he works.” [Philip Elwood, The San Francisco Examiner]

These eloquently phrased words of high praise for Victor Feldman were shared by no less a Jazz luminary than Miles Davis, who sought out Victor to perform and record with him during his April 1963 sojourn to the Left Coast.

Ironically, Victor closed his June 1963 Downbeat interview by sharing the following anecdote with John Tynan:

“The other day I was fortunate enough to record with Miles Davis. When I was 16, I went to Paris with a friend of mine. Charlie Parker was supposed to play; he never did play there. But meanwhile, we’d walk along the Paris streets and I’d be singing Miles Davis solos. We’d learnt them off the records. I never ever thought I would record with Miles.”

The details for Miles’ trip to California in 1963 are well-documented in a number of sources including Jack Chambers, Milestones 2: The Music and Times of Miles Davis Since 1960 [New York: Morrow, 1985, pp. 54-55].

It seems as though the first quarter of 1963 was A Time of Troubles for Miles when, for a variety of reasons, pianist Wynton Kelly and bassist Paul Chambers, and ultimately, drummer Jimmy Cobb, too, left Miles.  Miles claims these departures came about abruptly. They asserted that they gave him sufficient notice, but that he refused to accept the fact that they wanted to leave.

Whatever the actual reasons for this falling out are beyond the scope of this piece, but the fact of their departure meant that Miles had to hastily put together a rhythm section for upcoming appearances including those at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco and the It Club in Los Angeles. Pianist Harold Mabern went on the band for a preceding date, but as the time for the Jazz Workshop gig was approaching, it was becoming apparent that things weren’t working between him and Miles.

Miles always had a tremendous respect for Cannonball Adderley and it was he who suggested to Miles that he might turn to Victor and see if he was available to help out during these West Coast gigs.

I recalling Victor sharing that when the call came in from Miles’ booking agent,  he was recording a Viceroy cigarette [do they still make these?] radio jungle [with lots of bombastic percussion], composed no less by Marty Paich, at the RCA sound studios on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

During the rehearsal, someone from the recording engineer’s booth came down and passed Victor a message. He excused himself to make the call and he came back later with a “cat-that-swallowed-the-canary” look that had everyone curious.

With the expensive recording studio meter running, everyone had to wait until they were packing up before he told them the good news that Miles wanted him to come up to San Francisco for the Jazz Workshop gig.

The bad news was that Victor was on the Hollywood ABC TV staff orchestra at the time and was forced to tell Miles that he could arrange with the show’s contractor to get a few days off “… while you try to get someone else.”

As Victor recounted in an interview with Les Tomkins while in England in 1969:

“It was enjoyable, although I didn’t know any of the things we had to play. And Miles doesn’t tell you anything, which bugged me a bit. It’s inconsiderate but, on the other hand, maybe it was a compliment and he figured I could pick up very quick. Everyone seemed to be happy, anyhow. Then a few weeks later Miles came out to Los Angeles to do an album, and I was to be on it. Before the date I used to go up to his hotel room, and we’d come down into the lounge lobby, where there was a piano, and talk about various tunes.”

In what Jack Chambers refers to as “the Hollywood ballad sessions,” Victor [piano] would join with Frank Butler [drums] along with Miles, George Coleman [tenor sax] and Ron Carter on bass on April 16, 1963 at the Columbia Hollywood Studios to record four ballads: I Fall in Love Too Easily, Baby Won’t You Please Come Home, So Near So Far and Basin Street Blues.

Although Joshua and Seven Steps to Heaven, two originals by Victor were recorded the following day, Miles re-recorded them a month later as features for Herbie Hancock [piano] and Tony Williams [drums]. These two tunes plus three of the ballads were released as Seven Steps to Heaven [Columbia CL 2501; Columbia/Legacy CK 48827]. [Although re-united on the CD version, So Near So Far wasn’t originally issued until 1981 on Columbia KC2 36472.]

As a point in passing, it might be interesting to reflect that as the composer to Seven Steps to Heaven, Victor Feldman created the vehicle that introduced to the world the drumming brilliance of Tony Williams.

In the concluding paragraph to her article on the piano prodigy, Matt Savage, that appeared in the October 29, 2008 edition of The Wall Street Journal, Corina da Fonseca-Williams states that: “’Seven Steps to Heaven’ was a pivotal recording in the history of jazz… [and] the title tune is a piece that insists on the primacy of harmony.”

Although co-credited to Miles, I know for a fact that the true, primary and sole author of Seven Steps to Heaven and the advanced harmonies that it employs was Victor Feldman as I heard him play it many times in a variety of trio settings [including one with Frank Butler] before he recorded it with Miles.

Keeping the melody of Seven Steps to Heaven in mind, one could re-read the Philip Elwood quotation that opens this piece [repeated below] and easily come to the conclusion that Victor, not Miles, had the predilections of mind necessary to compose such a tune.

“His keyboard technique is above reproach and is matched by his brilliance on vibes and drums; his knowledge of rhythms and meters, and the possibilities inherent in combining melodic lines with percussion expressions, greatly expounds the sounds of any group within which he works.” [Philip Elwood, The San Francisco Examiner]

Joshua, however, may have been more of a joint effort as Miles describes in the following from the 1969 Tomkins interview:

“Miles said: ‘Write something.’ Just like that. So I went home, messed around, and wrote ‘Joshua.’ Actually, I think I finally finished that one day prior to the recording. In between, I’d go to the hotel and we’d take the tunes that we were going to do, he’d suggest certain changes and I’d say: ‘How can that be?” But sure enough, a lot of the time what he’d suggest would turn out fine. The only thing, he’d sort of put you in a frame of mind where you really didn’t know what you were doing; you were groping. I sensed that he was looking for something, but he didn’t know how to tell me what he wanted. The feeling he gave you of searching, this finally brought out the chord structure for the arrangement. We’d been experimenting with the tune and it was: ‘Not this way – no, that way,’ until we molded it into shape.”

Basin Street Blues, one of the tunes on Seven Steps to Heaven that author Jack Chambers categorizes as one of the “Hollywood ballads,” was a traditional Jazz, 16 bar blues that Victor had been intrigued by for years.  Once, when I asked him why he was so interested in the tune I remember him replying: “I just like the way it lays out [unfolds melodically] and it has such a lovely melody. I get picture in my mind of what jazz in the early days down in New Orleans might have sounded like.”

When I first heard him “fooling around with it,” Victor played it in a slow, measured manner and as a solo piece.  He was also constantly taking the song’s rudimentary changes and re-harmonizing them in a manner that became increasingly stylish and more and more sophisticated over time.

It was this slow, refined version of Basin Street Blues which Victor introduced to Miles for the Seven Steps to Heaven album.  Although perhaps unaware of this background, Jack Chambers alludes to it in the following excerpt from Milestones 2: The Music and Times of Miles Davis Since 1960:

“’Basin Street Blues’ written by Spencer Williams … was part of the standard repertoire of New Orleans bands in the earliest days of jazz history and subsequently passed into the repertoires of revival bands. Traditionally, it was played as a medium-tempo paean to the city that the musicians had left behind them when they moved north along the Mississippi. …

Davis plays it as a kind of requiem, slow and mournful, emphasizing the elements of nostalgia which in traditional versions exists only as an undertone. His deliberate, wispy tone makes a striking reinterpretation of the content of the original song.” [p. 55]

Bill Milkowski made these comments about the playing of ‘Basin Street Blues’ in the insert notes to the Seven Steps to Heaven CD:

“Miles’ melancholy muted trumpet sets a dark tone on this rendition. The combination of his velvety smooth lines alongside Feldman’s gentle touch and sparse comping recalls the intimate mood that Miles and Bill Evans had conjured up on “Blue and Green’ and ‘Flamenco Sketches’ from ‘Kind of Blues.’”

Concluding about his association with Miles in the Les Tompkins interview Victor said:

“Miles Davis brought out my creativity.  Before working with him, I’d heard a lot of stories about him. But I never believe things people tell me about anybody like that.

… Everyone has a quality within themselves that’s beautiful: who are we to set up standards about how a person should act? I enjoyed playing with Miles and I enjoyed meeting him. He certainly seems to be very straightforward; he says what he wants to say. … That’s the way he plays – in a very honest way.  Whenever you play with him, you get a feeling of starting afresh, and wiping the cobwebs away. He creates an atmosphere round him that helps you steer clear of clichés.

In fact he gets on my nerves sometimes, in a way, because he gets hold of a piece and wants to change it around so completely that I think he takes it too far. Then, on the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing to do that – to really tread new ground.”

Although I have emphasized Victor’s relationship with Miles to underscore his status as a major Jazz player and to reflect on what might have been, the fact was that Victor was increasingly busy in his own right on the West Coast Jazz scene before and after his time with Miles.

He had made albums as a sideman with Frank Rosolino [Turn Me Loose!, Reprise R9-6016; Collectibles COL-CD-6159], Barney Kessel [Music from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”; Reprise R9-6019; Collectibles COL-CD-2857 ], Curtis Amy [Way Down, PJ46; released as part of the 3 CD Mosaic Select set, MS-007], and  Joe Maini, [Joe Maini Memorial [Fresh Sound FSR 408], all of which were released in late 1962 prior to his April 1963 dates with Miles.


Through a family connection, I had a brief involvement with Reprise Records during its early years. As a result, I was able to attend the November, 1961 Turn Me Loose! recording session that marked Frank Rosolino’s debut as a vocalist.

I remember Frank commenting that he was so pleased that Victor could make the date which also included Chuck Berghofer on bass and Irv Cotler on drums. Frank said of Victor.

“I worked with the man for about two years and he swung his a** off every night at the Lighthouse.  His comping keeps the time so alive. And his solos are always so driving and full of fresh ideas. Vic is one of the best kept secrets in LA.”

Curtis was so impressed with Victor’s work with Cannonball that he hired him for his Pacific Jazz Way Down session and featured his name on the album cover.

And, in May, 1963, the month after recording with Miles he was in the Columbia Hollywood studios recording with Paul Horn [Jazz Impressions of Cleopatra, Columbia CL2050] before commencing two albums with his own trio of Monty Budwig [bass] and Colin Bailey [drums] that were released on Vee Jay in 1964: Love Me With All Your Heart [VJ1096] and It’s a Wonderful World [VJS2507].

Bassist Chuck Israel, who played on the Paul Horn Cleopatra date with Victor along with Colin Bailey on drums to form the rhythm section wrote the following to me in a 1997 E-mail:

“Aside from this early association with Victor in LA, when we moved to San Francisco in 1981 (Margot was singing with the SF Opera) Victor had a number of performances for which he hired me. … He was a fine player and a good composer. … Victor was a gifted musician and could not do anything un-musical.”
Victor talked at length about his trio and his two Vee Jay recordings in an earlier interview that he gave to Les Tomkins that coincided with a February 1965 appearance at Ronnie Scott’s Club. He also had some deservedly complimentary things to say about his new “mates” in this same interview.

“I have a trio in the States consisting of Monty Budwig on bass and Colin Bailey on drums. Colin is from Swindon, England – a terrific drummer. What I’ve done is brought over music that we play. But we’ve played it for months and months. I’d never worked with Rick [Laird, bass] and Ronnie [Stephenson, drums] before and I think it’s marvelous the way they picked it up so quickly. Unbelievable, in a way. But naturally, Colin, Monty and I feel that the three of us have got kind of spoilt, because we’ve got such a good thing going. Which is inevitable, after the right combination of people have played together for a long time. We really seem to have empathy for each other’s playing….

We’ve recorded for Vee Jay, and I’m very excited about the album we did. Most of the tracks weren’t more than three or four minutes long. At one time, I never used to like making short jazz records and I still think doing so just for commercial reasons is a drag, actually. But, in another way, I find that to keep on playing a long solo, when you’ve said what you have to say – I don’t think that’s too good, either. In these albums I‘ve managed to stay away from that. I approached it from the standpoint so that we’d have some cohesion through the whole thing. To be honest about it – some of them were short because they could be made into singles, of course. But I felt it was as much of a challenge to condense what you have to say into capsule form. A few of them I didn’t allow to be cut down, because it would have lost the whole point of the piece.

I find the trio context very satisfying. I’m always looking for new tunes. I don’t find it easy finding tunes that I can mold to the way I want to play, but I’m sure there are a lot around that are suitable. The trouble is, I’ve never been one of those people – I don’t think I know the lyrics of one tune. I don’t know the authors of many tunes, I’m ashamed to say. Now it’s becoming annoying to me, because I think it would help to find new material if I knew more about what standard tunes have been written by various people. We have about 60 tunes that we play with the trio, and that’s quite a lot, really. But we need new things to rehearse. … You have to start hearing new phrases and playing in a different way.”
Leonard Feather, long a champion of Victor and his music, offered these thoughts about It’s a Wonderful World [Vee Jay VJS2507] in his liner notes to the album which was released in 1964:

“The maturing process in a musician is far easier to trace today than it was a few years ago and infinitely simpler than before the advent of LP records. Not only has the quantity of recorded output increased, but as a general rule the artist, at least if he is respected by the recording companies with whom he is associated, is granted a substantial measure of freedom in the selection and interpretation of his material.

Victor Feldman is a case in point. In the ten years since he arrived in this country, or more particularly in the eight years since he made his first album as a leader, his style both as a pianist and vibraharpist has been observable in a series of performances that offer a portrait in depth of his evolution during this period.

The setting selected by Victor for the present sides is the one that usually shows off a jazz pianist to fullest advantage, offering him as centerpiece of a trio in which bass and drums fulfill something more than a mere accompanist function. The material is a carefully selected and intelligently programmed series of standards and originals. …

In sum, these two sides offer a splendidly rounded picture of Victor Feldman as pianist, vibraharpist and combo leader. … It is Feldman music, and for anyone familiar with what these two words have meant in recent years that should be all the categorization required.”

As has been established throughout these pieces, Victor’s playing has always had a tremendous emotional impact on me. I view his solos as being beautifully crafted and usually expressed with a driving sense of swing; not that he couldn’t be lyrical as well. Usually his playing in almost any context was rhythmic and forceful or what Cook & Morton note as a “… characteristically percussive touch” in their 6th Edition of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD.

In this same work, these authors also put forth the following observation about Victor’s playing:

“It’s an interesting aspect of his solo work that its quality seems to be in inverse proportion to its length. Feldman was a master of compression who often lost his way beyond a couple of choruses.”

Needless to say, while I would agree with their contention that “… Feldman was a master of compression,” I take serious exception to the claim that “… he often lost his way” in longer solos [a contention for which Cook & Morton offer no examples]. 

There are many examples of miniature masterpieces in the form of shortened solos contained in the Feldman discography and since the “master of compression” point is not in dispute, I won’t belabor it here.

But I would like to underscore its significance with the following excerpts from Gene Lees’ interview with pianist Junior Mance that appeared in his Jazzletter [March, 1997, Vol. 16, No. 3, p. 7]. In an aside to his discussion about Mance’s time with Dizzy, Gene explained:

“Groups get hotter as the evening wears on, but Dizzy’s groups always ‘started’ hot. I once asked Dizzy how come; how did he do that. The group would swing on the first tune of the first set. I said, ‘What’s the secret?’  Dizzy said: ‘Play short tunes.’

Later in the interview with Gene, Junior comments:

“Dizzy never played more than three or four choruses; very condensed. A lot of older musicians, the old masters were the same way. … [Charlie Parker would] say, ‘Listen, if you can’t say it in three or four choruses, you’re not going to say it. Wait ‘till the next tune. … Lester Young said the same thing. Some cats would get to that fifth or sixth chorus, he’d say, ‘Save some ‘till later.’

One thing Dizzy told me when I first joined the group that really stuck with me, he said the sign of maturity in a musician was when you learned what not to play, what to leave out.”

Perhaps, Victor learned this lesson well early in his career?
Although not released until over 30 years later, the 1965 appearance at Ronnie Scott’s Club resulted in – Victor Feldman: His Own Sweet Way –  and this recording offers 11 excellent examples of Victor’s skill with extended solos.  And yet, even here, while the tunes may be longer in overall length and Victor may take longer solos, Victor shares the spotlight with the bassist and the drummer keeping the group ethos as paramount.

Ironically, in many ‘ways,’ this most comprehensive and expressive recording of Victor’s playing available was recorded by an amateur on a portable tape recorded! This recording is a fortunate audio documentary of The Return of the Prodigal Son – Indeed, All Hail the Conquering Hero!

What was commonplace to those of us who had occasion to hear Victor’s trio in various Los Angeles venues throughout the decade of the 1960s is captured on this recording made by combining performances that took place at Ronnie Scott’s on the evenings of February 8 and 10, 1965, respectively.  The eleven tracks come together to form an almost perfect 78 minute set. It’s all here. 

Victor’s original Azul Serape played as an up tempo cooker with a marvelous Latin lead-in involving four bar exchanges between Victor on piano and some expert drumming by Ronnie Stephenson.  The alternating two chord tag which takes the tune out builds into an excitement that is almost palpable before Victor intrudes to introduce Rick and Ronnie to the most appreciative audience that was fortuitously at Ronnie’s to hear this glorious music first-hand.

Another Feldman original – Too Blue – was for a time was Victor’s theme song. It offers an absolutely brilliant vibes solo based on eight superbly crafted blues-inflected choruses. And, following Rick Laird’s bass solo, Victor comes back with four more choruses before taking the tune out! He must have been in the mood to play the blues as he also contributes another original blues - Alley Blues – to the set.


A Fine Romance makes an appearance as do magnificent treatments of Autumn Leaves and Swinging on a Star, all unfurled by way of medium tempo, intricate arrangements that feature extensive solos by Victor who at times, alternates between piano and vibes during the same tune adding color and depth to these performances.

Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way is also on the bill and the trio joyously plays the heck out of it.  There’s even a “slow-roasted” rendition of Basin Street Blues on hand to close the set [although Victor can’t resist double-timing it in places].

The elaborate and extended solos by Victor on this album are the complete antithesis of the short track Vee Jay album that chronologically preceded it and are an example of a musician at the top of his form and who has more than adequately found his way through longer more elaborate musical formats.

Let’s close this segment on the career of Victor Feldman with excerpts from Les Tomkins liner notes to Victor Feldman: His Own Sweet Way.

“Although he was only to be seen at Ronnie Scott’s club for one week – his shortest showing yet – Victor Feldman made a greater impression than ever. There was a general acknowledgement that Victor is a great in his own right. New factors of the Feldman performance: the predominance of piano, the exclusive use of arrangements. Appreciation was also voiced for the overall bass/ drums integration of Rick Laird and Ronnie Stephenson.

Vic Ash enthused: "To me it's like a breath of fresh air, after some things I've heard recently-some good, some not so good. After this trip I'm even more convinced that Victor is one of the finest of all jazz musicians. At one time it was mostly his vibes that I listened to, but now I think his piano matches it easily. He's the complete musician - jazz wise and technically. And Rick and Ronnie have been giving him beautiful support."

Comparison between British and American environments was made by drummer Benny Goodman. "You can only get so much here. His approach has widened considerably since his exposure with people like Cannonball and Miles. He has greater confidence now. His music is much more academic-and I don't mean that in a derogatory sense. Everything is well set-out. He pays a close attention to detail without losing the basic swing. Being in the States has made him very conscious of the sound and the mechanics of the music. This trio sounds like it's been playing together for months-such close rapport. I experienced the high musical standard of his arranging when I did some TV with him. He really gets the best possible out of you. He's tremendous."

As a pianist Michael Garrick found many pleasing virtues in Victor's playing. "The thing that impresses me about him is his sheer professionalism. This is emphasised by the fact that he uses arrangements now. Rick and Ronnie worked in superbly with him, adding to the glitter and sheen of the whole presentation. Victor has become a 100 per cent showman. He knows exactly what he's going to do, where his climax is going to be placed. And he never puts a foot wrong. Someone like Sonny Rollins goes out on a limb, and perhaps tends to draw the audience after him more. In the case of Victor, it's as if an excellent, finished product is being demonstrated before our eyes. There's no risk of disorganisation. This probably comes from the vast amount of session work he does.

"I particularly liked his changing from 3/4 to 4/4 on” Fly Me To The Moon." And his arrangement of "Surrey With The Fringe On Top" pleased me and involved me very much. I loved the way he used this repetitive melody line to present one or two rhythmic surprises. At the point of the harmony change towards the end of the tune, he extended the repetition of the main phrase about four bars, so that you were wondering when the final phrase was going to come. He cleverly built up your expectations, and fulfilled them at the last minute.

"'You hold your breath when he jumps from vibes to piano and comes in right on the beat. He creates the effect of there being two separate musicians on the stand. He has complete familiarity with both instruments. And he plays vibes quite differently from piano. The technique doesn't overlap.

Watching Victor, I can see the dualism of the professional musician on the one hand and the soulful jazzman on the other. The two sides seem to be pulling against one another. But this doesn't prevent him from providing peaks of excellence and engaging the attention of the audience.

To these expert comments I can only add that I’m very glad I was there to preserve some of these magic moments, that prove conclusively that Victor Feldman was an all-time great.” – Les Tomkins.


Victor Feldman – Part 4: The Artful Dodger, 1967-1977

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.



During the decade in question, due the responsibilities of establishing myself in a career outside of music and because of the obligations of a growing family, I did not see Victor as often.

Fortunately for me, he did appear regularly with his quartet at Donte’s, a nightclub in North Hollywood which was a short drive from my home in nearby Burbank, CA. Whenever I could get away to hear a set, we usually visited for a time and he would sometimes “catch-me-up” on many of the things happening in his career.

For whatever the reason, around this time Victor became smitten with the phrase: “More work than you can shake a stick at.” When I or someone asked him “How Things Were Going” he would reply: “I’ve got more work than you can shake a stick at.” He would then chuckle to himself, or walk away chortling with a self-satisfied smile on his face.

He had even identified the etymological origin of the phrase as – “using a stick as a pointer while counting a herd of sheep or cattle” [to denote a lot or too many to count].

This expression couldn’t have been more appropriate because from 1967 to 1977, Victor went from performing around town with his trio and being a first-call session player to continuing in the latter capacity while also becoming a scion of jazz rock fusion in Los Angeles. Achieving such status resulted in him serving as a quasi musical director for pop and rock stars such as Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan [among others] and forming and performing in jazz-rock fusion groups like the L.A. Express and his own Generation Band.

Yet, although these jazz rock fusion activities made him very secure financially, Victor continued to also perform in purely Jazz settings throughout this period.

And it is these Jazz frameworks that form the basis for part 4 of this piece on Victor.

Tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins returned the favor of appearing on two tracks of Victor’s It’s a Wonderful World LP by having Vic play on his album Quietly There [Riverside RLP-3052; OJCCD—1776-2] which was released in 1967.

Morgan Ames has this to say about Victor’s performance in his liner notes to the LP:

“ … Vic Feldman plays so many instruments so well that it’s hard to keep up. … I marvel at the fragility he reaches on ballads, but like his companions, Vic swings hard when it’s time, his dynamic range equaling his versatility.”

Made up of exclusively of Johnny Mandel tunes, in addition to Victor on piano, vibes and organ[!], the group includes John Pisano [guitar], Red Mitchell [bass] and Larry Bunker [drums] with “Perk” playing both tenor and baritone sax, flute and bass clarinet. The album includes some of Mandel’s beautiful ballads like Emily, A Time for Love and Just a Child and wistful versions of bossa novas including The Shadow of Your Smile and Quietly There. The latter is from the 1966 Warner Brothers film Harper which starred Paul Newman. Perk and the group also play Sure As Your Born, the theme from Harper, as a medium tempo cooker and two other Mandel originals that have become Jazz classics – Keester Parade and Groover Wailin’.

When I brought up this recording with Bill Perkins while he was relaxing between sets at one of the many 4-day festival sponsored by the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, a look of surprise came over his face and he exclaimed:

“I really enjoyed making that album and what a band! I always liked John Pisano’s playing from when I first heard him with Chico Hamilton’s quintet. And could you find a better rhythm section than Red Mitchell on bass and Larry Bunker on drums? Like Victor, Larry never got the credit he deserved as a Jazz player – they were both such great all-around performers. And what can you say about Victor? You never had to worry when something came up on a date. He would go over to the piano and come up with two or three perfect solutions. He had such a great musical mind.”

As mentioned in my profile, both Victor and Larry Bunker were my mentors as well as my heroes.  And while I admired their versatility as complete percussionists, my admiration for them was particularly focused on their abilities with what Victor always referred to as “sit-down drumming.”

Victor played very little drums on the Los Angeles Jazz scene preferring instead vibes and especially piano. He explained that this was due to the melodic and harmonic limitations of “sit-down drumming.”

As a result, Victor rarely recorded on drums. However, an opportunity to do so presented itself in 1967 with Victor Feldman Plays Everything In Sight [Liberty-World Pacific PJ-10121].  Playing “everything else” tends to overshadow his drumming, but if one listens closely, one can hear a master “sit-down drummer” at work on this LP.
In a 1969 with Les Tomkins, Victor offered more background about this album which has never been released on CD:

“A few years ago I made another multi-dubbed album on Liberty; I once did that over here for Carlo Krahmer's Esquire label. This one was called "Victor Feldman Plays Everything In Sight." On most of the tracks I played the drums first. I used a metronome in my ear on the first tune I did; then after that I did without the metronome. I had to act it out in my mind, visualising what the end-product was going to be, and try and make it sound spontaneous, too. if I could. It was quite challenging and I was happy with some of it.

The record company talked me into doing tunes that I wasn't overjoyed about; but some of them surprised me, in that, in spite of that obstacle, I managed to make something happen with them. I get very annoyed, though, about that kind of thing. I don't think I'm an egomaniac, but I really like to do my own things the way I want to do them. I don't mind somebody making suggestions, but not to insist on you doing what they say. I understand, too, that they've got to try and sell the record. And if they sell records, then they can make more.

There are companies who do put money back from their record sales, and try to record same more artistic things. In other words, things that they don't necessarily think are going to sell a whole lot, but they put their creative energy behind it to try and sell it. To me this element seems to be sadly lacking in the record business. That's one thing in the last few years that’s been a bit disturbing, that record companies have seemed to be less and less inclined to put their profit to use in this way.

Now, I don't know every company; so I could be wrong about it. But I am doing sessions every day, and I see what's going on, the kind of thing they're recording, their attitude and everything. It's very pleasant working in the studios most of the time, but there does seem to be this obsession with the dollar, or the pound. I make a good living at it - so I don't wish to sound hypocritical, you know.

And Arnold Shaw offered these [at times, melodramatic] comments about the recording in his liner notes to Victor Feldman Plays Everything In Sight :

“Victor Feldman without a musical instrument is like an elephant without tusks, a lion without a roar, a fish without fins. Master of so many instruments it is difficult to keep track, he undertakes the more difficult feat in this debut LP on World Pacific by playing many of them simultaneously. Marvel at the musicianship of this one-man band, but savor with delight the feast of swinging and ear-tingling sounds it produces.

Although this is not Feldman’s first recording as a one-man-band – he made an LP for Esquire while he was still a British musician – it is his first release in the genre here. In response to questions regarding the mechanics of playing all the instruments himself he explained:

‘I start out by recording either the piano or the drum track first. I work from a sketch arrangement, adding other instruments as I go along [for the record, in addition to piano, vibes and drums, Victor also employs on the album: novachord, alto vibes, tympani, electric piano, electric fender bass piano, organ, marimba, xylophone, conga drum, tambourine, chocalho, jawbone, cowbells, triangle and squeak sticks].

Once the melodic and harmonic designs are clearly established, I bring in the Fender bass piano, which is so important to the rhythm. I introduce my third major instrument toward the end. Afterwards, I put in the decorative touches – like a punctuating triangle on ‘Have a Heart.’  It takes a minimum of four demanding hours in the studio to complete a tune.

The toughest part is getting back into the swing of a number each time around, not merely the problem of timekeeping but the vital matters of beat and pulse.

And don’t overlook the engineering problems involved. Dick Bock, who produced this LP, as well as the engineers[Lanky Linstrot & Dino Lappas], did a masterful job of balancing the various instruments and keeping the sound fresh and vibrant through the various stages of recording.”

While Victor is certainly correct about the unevenness of the music on the ten tracks that comprise the album, from a purely Jazz perspective, it does contain three outstanding performances: [1] By Myself – the only thing better than the rousing piano choruses on this track are the vibes solo choruses that follow them [2] Sure As Your Born – yet another version of Johnny Mandel’s then popular theme from the 1966 movie Harper which once again shows both Victor’s singularity and originality as a vibist, and [3] Have a Heart, played as a jazz waltz and featuring more of Victor’s characteristic rollicking and percussive piano work.

Also in 1967, British tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes made his fourth appearance in the States, as part of the exchange scene with Ronnie’s Scott ‘s club [the “New Place” on 47 Firth Street]. As Tubby tells it in an interview with Les Tomkins:

“I was fortunate enough this time to get two weeks at Shelly Manne’s club, the Manne–Hole, in Los Angeles. I was also very fortunate to work with Victor Feldman’s trio. That was a most enjoyable experience. As you know, I’ve known Victor for about 15 years and worked with him in the past over here on several record dates and in the clubs. He has a very tightly–knit trio now, with Monty Budwig on bass and Colin Bailey on drums.

They’ve worked quite a bit together.  I took over some of my original material, plus a few of the arrangements of standards that I use with the quartet here. We also did some of the things Victor had written, mainly to feature him on vibes and me on flute, which made a contrast to  the tenor–and–three–rhythm type of thing.

I didn’t bother to play the vibes, because his playing is so tremendous that anything I did would have been quite superfluous.  From the musicianship point of view, it was wonderful to work with the trio. I wouldn’t say it was better than working  with Cedar Walton’s trio, which I did in New York last year, because that was fantastic, you know. This was a different sort of feel in a lot of ways, but equally as good.

Victor can hold his own anywhere, I think, on piano or vibes. And he’s brilliant when it comes to piano backing for a soloist. He thinks one step ahead of you all the time, without actually bugging you. Like, certain piano players I know think one step ahead of you, and they play what you’re going to play — and mess you up something horrible. Whereas, Victor will just suggest little things. And you find yourself doing things, not that you thought you couldn’t do, but that you’d never thought of doing.

It’s beautiful — gets you tingling all over.  He’s putting ideas into your head —without actually knocking on your head.  He’s always had that ability, but I’d sort of forgotten about it. Working with him every night, I found that, where I might  go into the same kind of thing two nights running, he’d switch me away from that and make me do something different.

On the opening night, George Shearing came down and sat in on piano. Victor went on the vibes and we played a couple  of tunes — ‘Soon’ and ‘Nardis,’  I think it was. I went all the way to Los Angeles, and I’m up on the bandstand with three Limeys and one American!

… The amount of jazz work there is for people like Victor and Colin Bailey is not so great, actually. Victor does tremendously in the studios.  The audiences in Shelly’s were great. You could hear a pin drop when I played a ballad, or when Victor was playing the vibes, something like that. They were a really appreciative audience, and I was told that they’re pretty discerning, too.”

Thanks to Chuck Niles, a Los Angeles based Jazz FM radio announcer and a huge fan of Tubby’s playing, I found out on one of his broadcasts that this gig was happening and I was fortunate to hear the group during Tubs’ stay at Shelly’s. You could tell just by their banter before and after tunes that Tubby and Victor were happy to be in one another’s company again, both musically and socially, with the result being music that was simply sublime.

Because of other studio commitments, Victor had to send a substitute to the first set of the gig on a few occasions [Mike Melvoin comes to mind], but he told me that “I almost got myself killed rushing to Shelly’s. I connected with Tubby during that gig in a way that I never had before during our days in London together. It was frightening how locked-in we were at times. We all had a ball.”

The Venezuela Joropo, Victor’s next recording in 1967 brings to mind once again Philip Elwood’s assessment of “… his knowledge of rhythms and meters, and the possibilities inherent in combining melodic lines with percussion expressions, greatly expounds the sounds of any group within which he works.”  Only someone with Victor’s bent-of-mind could even conceive of taking music such as this into a Jazz setting.

To digress from a moment, Latinsville, an album done much earlier in his career, was Victor’s first, major recorded statement of his affinity for various Latin jazz styles. And while it served as a precursor to The Venezuela Joropo it can also be considered a direct link to it from the standpoint of Victor’s lifelong fascination with different rhythms and his uncanny ability to place them successfully in a Jazz context.

Another influence that helped spawn the original 1958-59 recording project was the great admiration that Victor had for Cal Tjader, both as a vibist and as a fellow drummer, and the Latin Jazz music Cal was then performing with his quintet.

Pianist Vince Guaraldi was a member of Cal’s group at that time and he and Victor were great friends from their stint together on the Woody Herman band [Vince even replaced Victor with the Lighthouse All-Stars for a time before returning to his native San Francisco in 1960]. Vince and Victor had many conversations about Latin Jazz, often demonstrating certain figures or phrases while playing “montuno” 5-note rhythmic patterns using claves [two small wooden rods about 8 inches long and 1 inch in diameter; they are typically made of rosewood, ebony or genadillo].
Long deleted from the Contemporary Records LP catalogue, Latinsville’s welcomed reissue as a CD [Contemporary CCD-9005-2] also includes five tracks from the original project that were not on the LP version.

With the liner notes for Latinsville once again in the capable hands of Leonard Feather, here are some background thoughts and comments about Victor’s life-long interest in Latin American and Afro-Cuban beats and pulses:  

“A twofold process of cross-pollination led to the creation of the music for this album. Victor Feldman, a Londoner born in 1934, grew up during a period when virtually no live American jazz was to be heard in his country; his entire knowledge of this art form, during his childhood far more exclusively a U.S. product than today, was acquired through the study of records and association with older British jazzmen who had gained their knowledge in a similar manner. But soon after he had settled in Los Angeles, Feldman became crucially aware of the Latin American and Afro-Cuban rhythms that were considered at one time to be as alien to jazz as jazz itself had been to the British. That he absorbed the Latin idiom as swiftly and intelligently as he had acquired the sensibility for jazz is made clear in this, his first all-Latin session.

‘Of course, there was just a little of this kind of music around London when I was a kid,’ says Feldman. ‘When I was 15, I learned some African rhythms on a conga drum; my teacher was a drummer from Ghana, which was then called the Gold Coast.

When I came to California, I was very much impressed by Machito when I heard his band. He was singing riffs to the trumpet section or the reeds, more or less making up arrangements right on the bandstand, and this had some of the spontaneous spirit of jazz. And I heard Tito Puente and found his group very exciting from the rhythmic standpoint.’

Victor recalls the Gillespie orchestra of the late 1940s as a significant factor in his growing awareness of the new trend. ‘While I was in England I heard some records of the big band Dizzy had at that time-the first band, to my knowledge, that ever united modern jazz improvising and writing with Afro-Cuban rhythms. I suppose everyone familiar with the modern movement in jazz knows by now that a lot of jazz musicians recorded with Afro rhythm accompaniment from the late Forties, including, of course, Charlie Parker.’

For his own maiden venture in this challenging area, he says,’ I tried to blend straightforward arrangements in the Latin and Afro-Cuban vein with the improvisations of the jazz soloists, and it seems to me that Conte Candoli, Walter Benton, and Frank Rosolino play with the swinging pulsation that they normally would with regular piano-bass-and-drums rhythm. Vince Guaraldi and Andy Thomas also play beautiful solos which to me are very Latin in flavor. As for my own work-well, with the conga and the timbales and the bongos and bass patterns, I found myself playing in a different rhythmical groove.’ …

The cross-fertilization process is underlined by using themes of non-Latin origin. Most of the melodies originally were not even intended for incorporation with the Latin idiom, though the titles and lyrics logically indicated the type of treatment Feldman's arrangements give them here.”
[Incidentally, if you ever wondered what all the fuss was all about concerning Scott LaFaro’s impact on Jazz bass prior to his time with the Bill Evans trio, treat yourself to the 5.34 minute up-tempo version of Poinciana available on the expanded Latinsville CD. I think it may answer any and all questions you may have on Scotty’s influence in transforming Jazz bass. Joining Scotty on this and four other “recently discovered” tracks that formed the initial concept for the album are Frank Rosolino, trombone, Walter Benton, tenor saxophone, Victor on piano and vibes and drummer Nick Martinis].

The seeds for what became The Venezuela Joropo [Liberty Pacific Jazz PJ-20128] must have been “germinating” in Victor’s mind for quite some time as he talked about his interest in this music during his 1965 interview with Les Tomkins:

“I've heard some music from Venezuela that I have some tapes of at home. Everything's in 6/4. There's a harp player, a maracas player, a guitar-or, actually, it's a quarto-and a gultarone on there, playing the bass notes. And it's the first time I've heard a harp player really swing. I've heard people try to play the harp in jazz, but it's syncopation, rather than swing. This guy's fantastic. There's a few of 'em in Venezuela. I can't recall his name; it's on the tip of my tongue.

The maracas player is also a marvelous musician. He makes fill-ins at the right time into the bridges, he can make trills on the maracas-all kinds of amazing things. And the sound these guys get with what they do! It really swings. I'm going to try and incorporate it into something I do on a record, and let it be sort of an influence. Te harmonic structure's so simple. There's 7th chords and major chords-but it's a matter of knowing how to improvise on that. Because when you've improvised on the chord structures that I commonly use-this is entirely different. So I'm working on it.”

With Marty Paich [with whom Victor studied arranging] contributing an arrangement of one of the tracks, there is some very beautiful music on The Venezuela Joropo and it is regrettable that it has never made it to CD.

On it, Victor, who plays vibes and/or marimba on all tracks, uses two bands: [1] Emil Richards [vibes/marimba], Bill Perkins [flute/alto flute], Dorothy Remson [harp], Al Hendrickson [guitar], Max Bennett [bass], Larry Bunker [timbales], and Milt Holland [maracas and percussion]; [2] Bill Perkins [flute/alto flute], Dennis Budimir [acoustic and electric guitars], Monty Budwig [bass] and Colin Bailey [drums].

Dr. Robert Garfias, then of the Archives of Ethnic Music and Dance of the University of Washington, Seattle, WA wrote the liner notes for the album. They tell a fascinating story of the serendipitous way in which the album came about and, since the album has never been issued in CD form, they are re-printed here in their entirety.

“Perhaps a little more than a year ago I received a phone call from Victor Feldman. He had by chance happened to hear in Los Angeles one of my radio programs dealing with the traditional and folk music of Venezuela and was anxious to hear more of this music, and to know something about it.  In this way a rather sporadic exchange of tapes, letters and phone calls was begun which at last resulted in the exciting music included on this LP.

Before this, Victor Feldman was known to me only as the very sensitive pianist who had played for a time with Miles Davis. I was honestly surprised at the thought that a musician in the main stream of jazz today might be attracted by the music of Venezuela as a possible vehicle for his own expression.

Certainly there have been incursions of Latin-American music into jazz and popular music in the United States. The several waves of Cuban music and most recently the Sambas, Maracatus and Baiaos of Bossa Nova have each had strong and lasting effects.

But the music of Venezuela is somehow rather special. Being primarily an outgrowth of the old popular music of the Spanish Colonial period in Venezuela with little Afro-American influence, this music has not lent itself to the fervor or flashy intensity of the music of Cuba or Brazil.

There is certainly a high degree of rhythmic intensity in the music of Venezuela but its usual rhythms occur In groups of six beats with the characteristic groupings and alterations of 3-3 with 2-2-2, which link this music with other remnants of Spanish Colonial music, the Mariachi of Southwestern Mexico, the harp music of Vera Cruz, the popular songs and dances of Yucatan, Colombia, Peru, and Chile.

The typical Venezuelan ensemble of Spanish harp, cuatro (a small four-string guitar) and maracas, does not at first glance appear to lend itself to easy assimilation with jazz. It is a real tribute to the imagination and good taste of Victor Feldman that this first attempt should be musically such a success. He has given a beautiful sampling of his talents on this LP.

There are a few examples of resetting of traditional Venezuelan songs. The others are a mixture of standards from the jazzman's repertoire and original compositions showing varying degrees of Venezuelan influence. The result is not only a fascinating document of the meeting of two traditions but the entire LP as a unit is an excellent example of ‘musique a faire plaisir,’ music to give pleasure.

Although on first hearing the music recorded here goes smoothly and effortlessly by, careful listening reveals a wealth of musical subtleties and refinements. One of the highlights of the LP is an original by Victor Feldman, ‘Summer Island.’ The composition follows the now standard formal structure A A B A, but the orthodoxy ends there. While it is becoming increasingly common to hear jazz musicians play in asymmetrical rhythmic patterns and meters, this beautiful and light tune dances easily through some truly amazing changes. The four phases of the A section are in 11 beats (5 plus 6), 11 beats, ten beats (5 plus 5) and 11 beats which are repeated before coming to the B section which is set in a regular six beat meter. This is in turn followed by another statement of the A section. The rhythmic structure does not conveniently become regular to accommodate the solos, and Victor's vibes solo especially highlights the logic of this otherwise unconventional meter. One has only to listen to the beautiful ease of this evocative tune to realize that this is no mere exercise in esoterica.
Another adventure in irregular rhythms is the Marty Paich original ‘Caracas Nights.’ The piece is solidly set in a meter of five beats (3 plus 2), which is relieved only by a short section in six beats towards the end of the second section. A quiet kind of insistence is built up in the piece through the use of a repeated drone in the bass part which changes to a new tonality in the second section. Tight, sure and neatly structured solos by Victor and Dennis Budimir add another level of definition to the performance and are further highlighted by yet another change of tonality in the supporting bass part. Bill Perkins' solo bursts in at the section in six beats and brings with it the faint suggestions of the return to the composed melody and the close of the piece.

The third original composition on the record is another from the distinguished Victor Feldman pen. This one is entitled simply ‘Pavane,’ and although it bears little formal resemblance to the Renaissance or Baroque forms of the ancient dance of the peacock , it does suggest much of the graceful ease of the original. Set in an easy meter of six beats, ‘Pavane’ is perhaps structurally the simplest piece of the group and yet, for me, the most haunting and the one which remains longest in the memory, reappearing unexpectedly long after I have put the record away.  Bill Perkins' flute sings through the first statement of the melody, but even afterwards the same melody seems to be quietly winding its way on through Victor's and then Bill's improvised solos. Dennis Budimir's guitar solo then leads to the unobtrusive return of the melody that seems never to have ceased at all.

The two standards in the group, ‘Frenesi’ and ‘The Shadow of Your Smile,’ each receive very different treatment. ‘Frenesi’ is marvelously transformed by removing it
from its traditional Cuban Bolero rhythm of four beats to a Venezuelan flavored rhythm of six. One wonders if other well-worked Latin standards could appear so revitalized in a new setting. The transformation for ‘The Shadow of Your Smile’ is, at first hearing, less pronounced. However, the sure and steady bass line of Monty Budwig makes thorough use of the many possible permutations offered by the Venezuelan rhythm of six, albeit at something slower than the standard Venezuelan tempo. Over the quiet pulsations of the rhythm this now well-known melody moves steadily along without changing any of its essential character.

The four remaining pieces on this LP have the strongest Venezuelan flavor. ‘Obsession Waltz,’ a popular Venezuelan waltz, is set here in a slow yet undulating tempo of a romantic ballad rather than a tight cross-rhythmic six of the usual Venezuelan waltz. Although this popular song is not known widely outside of Venezuela, in this setting it seems difficult to believe that its origins are any different from those of ‘The Shadow of Your Smile.’ The melody is given rather straightforward treatment throughout, opening with an alto flute solo, followed by vibes and guitar solos - Victor's vibes solo being the only one to dramatically depart from the original melody.

‘Por El Camino Real’ and ‘El Gavilan’ are traditional Venezuelan dance tunes of the ‘Pasale’ and ‘Joropo’ type. ‘Por El Camino Real’ is an original composition by the famous Venezuelan harpist, Juan Vicente Torrealba. It follows the traditional rhythmic and melodic pattern of many Venezuelan songs. Its first section is in a minor key. The startling element in the tune occurs in the second section which in each statement begins with a measure of eight beats, in an otherwise strictly six beat meter. The change is quite refreshing and I suspect that it was exactly this that caught Victor’s imagination.

The piece opens with a statement of the melody on the vibes and bass done in the style of a semi-free introduction.  This soon leads to a soft-spoken version the Venezuelan ‘Pasaje’ rhythm supporting the rest of the performance. ‘El Gavilan’ is an old traditional ‘Joropo,’ the composer of which is no longer even known. The text to this song is one of those deceptively simple Spanish folk songs that may be filled with surprising double meanings, which may have been considered the height of spiciness a century ago. This song is given the most authentically Venezuelan treatment of any of the selections on the LP. The little ensemble of instruments that Victor has put together for this performance  gives an excellent idea of the fire and bite of a good Venezuelan trio.

Certainly the most amazing piece on the entire record is Victor Feldman's composition ‘Pasion.’ Although it is an original composition by Feldman it captures as much of the true flavor of Venezuelan music as can be heard in ‘El Gavilan.’ The performance retains the tight synchronized rhythmic quality of Venezuelan music throughout, but it is the natural ease and the strong Venezuelan flavor of the tune itself which make it practically impossible to distinguish from traditional Venezuelan music.

Whether or not Venezuelan music henceforth exerts a great wave of influence jazz does not detract in any way from the success and delightfulness of the musical experiments contained in this record.”

By the time of his 1969 return to England, a lot had happened in Victor’s life, including the fact that in addition to continuing with his standard Jazz trio consisting of Monty Budwig [bass] and Colin Bailey [drums], he had formed the new jazz rock fusion group that he had brought over with him for an engagement at Ronnie Scott’s club.


In his interview with Les Tomkins, Victor provided this personal and professional update:

Since my last playing visit back here in '65, I've been over for a holiday in '69, when I just did one little TV spot with Tony Kinsey. This time I brought my family again, and also played at Ronnie's with my regular group. My eldest boy is nine now [Joshua]; the other two are six and five [Jake and Trevor]. I have my nephew with me, a babysitter, and my wife, of course; there's seven of us altogether.

Only being here for a few days, I really come back as a tourist. I always have a good time when I come over; it doesn't seem to change that much. I'll tell you one thing, Ronnie's club is really great. You know, the acoustics and everything. We were all very excited about working there; it was a lot of fun.

Our tenor player, Tom Scott, is quite well-known, and is also an excellent writer. John Guerin, our drummer, was born in Hawaii, actually he moved to San Diego when he was very young. I first heard him with Buddy De Franco, and tried to encourage him to come to Los Angeles, because I loved playing with him right away.

Finally he did make the move, and now he's one of the most in-demand drummers in the city. He does all kinds of work, from rock things to jingles.

The most recent showcase for our bass player, Chuck Domanico, was a 'cello quartet album on A&M Records [issued on CD as Verve 6024-986-10626], with Roger Kellaway - who is a brilliant, very creative musician.

It isn't four cellos, you understand; it's with Chuck, and Roger's playing piano, Emil Richards is on percussion instruments. The 'cello player is Edgar Lustgarten. Really a beautiful thing. Anyway, Chuck is very busy, because besides being a great musician, he's very distinctive and very telepathic. Actually, we feel that telepathy element with all of us, playing together.

We all do sessions most of the time; so we're a bit frustrated, due to not getting enough chances to play. However, we do get to work in clubs like Donte's. And just before we left we'd started at a little place called the Baked Potato, on Monday nights; we also played a weekend there. When we get back, we're hoping to do some concerts around. But we don't have to go on the road any more - I've had enough of that. If we can just work these kind of jobs in, well have more of a fulfilling life. Although we do get to play a variety of music in the studios-including. a lot that we don't like. In some of the idioms you can improvise to an extent; for instance, I play conga drums sometimes. I very rarely play piano on recordings over there, because I'm a little bit stubborn; I like to play my way.

I'm known as a general percussionist. The only thing I don't do is play sit-down drums too much any more; but I'm liable to start again, if I can get time to just get myself together with it for a few days, or weeks. So I play congas, tymps, and the whole family of percussion instruments.

Usually I play one or two tunes a set on vibes with the group. As we grow, III probably play more. But I find the vibes a little bit limiting: I feel I can do more things on the piano, because of the very nature of the instrument. When I play vibes. I miss a piano player, or a chordal background, like a guitar or something. Thank goodness I've got Chuck, and it's fantastic with him and the drums-but that's it, you see. Eventually, I think, if we keep playing together, Tom might play some piano. That's the reason I don't play a lot of vibes, though; there's only certain things I can do to make it fill out.

I've always used the four mallets, but I'm doing more of it now. With this group I have to. Gary Burton's influenced me a lot. He's a tremendous innovator on the instrument - a virtuoso. I really admire what he does. I love Milt Jackson, too, you know. I'm not going to start making comparisons; they're each doing their own thing.

… As for the rock ingredient, personally I get a little bored with it; but maybe people get bored with what we do. For my taste, other idioms are more interesting; such as Bill Evans, Milt Jackson. And Brazilian music - I love it. I like variety; we try to play a few different things in contrast, from set to set.

Of course, some of the guys are genuinely into the rock thing; they like the rhythms. Although I know some drummers who don't like rock drumming. I've always found the most interesting aspect of rock music to be the drummer and the fender bass player-the bass drum thing, the independent rhythms that get going are good. I'm only sorry that they get hold of one kind of music and jam it down everybody's throat, and it becomes a conforming, tyrannical type of thing.

All kinds of music can be done well. It's just that there's certain types that, tonally, I get bored with very easily. I've listened to things that have been happening lately, and I admire the togetherness of it. It can be sort of anarchistic; they don't know where they're going, and yet they have a certain unity and a feeling that amazes me sometimes. So I don't put it down. Then I'm also aware that I don't get a chance to delve into listening to music as much as I might, because of my work schedule and my general mode of life. But I hope to be always striving to develop and improve myself.”
Fortunately, in 1973 Gerry Macdonald of Choice Records recorded the group for an LP issued as Your Smile [Choice CRS 1005; issued as a Japanese CD – ABCJ-149].

Leonard Feather once again sets the stage for us with these introductory comments from his liner notes:

“Victor Feldman’s return to center stage as a leader of his own recording group is a welcome and belated event. His success as a sideman, constantly in demand in the Hollywood studios during the past decade, has kept him too busy to bring to the public a reminder of the multiplicity and caliber of his individual talents.

Time and again his name has appeared on albums, usually in the role of percussionist. Because of the habit of typecasting so prevalent in the commercial music world, his achievements in that area have largely obscured other abilities that were more often in evidence during the first few years after he settled in California.

As this album [co-produced by Lincoln Mayorga] buoyantly demonstrates, Feldman is a superbly creative pianist, a greatly neglected vibraphonist (he won the Down Beat Critics’ Poll as New Star on vibes in 1958), a no less significantly a composer whose works, diversified though they are, have in common a consistent melodic creativity.”

As Leonard summarized, it’s all here: a mature and forceful command of the piano, a style of playing vibes that had noticeably veered in Gary Burton’s four-mallet direction [not an easy thing to do], and a bevy of typically-Victor-fun-to-play-on compositions reflecting an admixture of bossa nova, rock and straight-ahead Jazz rhythms.

What jumps out at the listener on this recording is how in his prime Victor’s piano and vibes playing are on all eight tracks [the last four of which are recorded “live” at Donte’s]. His fast tempo piano playing on The Theme from I Love Lucy and blistering vibe playing on Seven Steps to Heaven are impressive for both their control and their expression of ideas. What he hears in his head he is able to instantly push out through his hands. And whatever he plays has that characteristically forceful and percussive swings that just rocks the house.

As drummer Johnny Guerin shared in one of the many conversations we had at the club during a set break:

“Victor will push you right out of the building, especially when he gets it going on piano. He digs the groove in so deep that it almost feels like a physical presence. Here’s this small, quiet guy who becomes an explosion of sound. And what ideas he has; constantly moving in and out of the time. His knowledge of rhythms is just incredible. Sometime when we are trading fours and eights, I like listening to his better than the ones I’m playing!”

In performance recordings are generally full of excitement and Your Smile doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Victor really turns it loose on piano on his originals - Brazilian Fire, Your Smile, Minor Catastrophe and Crazy Chicken which segues into a showcase for Johnny Guerin on Seven Steps to Heaven.

As Leonard Feather concludes in his liner notes: “We are indebted to Gerry Macdonald and Choice Records for bringing this truly exceptional album to the public.” 

In a similar vein, we are also indebted to Carl Jefferson, owner of Concord Records, for the 1977 recording and release of Victor Feldman: The Artful Dodger [CCD-4038] with which we will close part four of this piece.

At the urging of guitarist Herb Ellis, Concord signed Victor for this date which also included Chuck Domanico on bass [Monty Budwig is on two tracks] and Colin Bailey on drums. Trumpeter Jack Sheldon also makes an appearance singing and playing on one track.
To my ears, the two most memorable tracks on this CD are structured in a way that is very similar to Seven Steps to Heaven in the sense that they explore “… the possibilities inherent in combining melodic lines with percussion expressions.”

These two Feldman originals are Agitation and The Artful Dodger and Philip Elwood does an excellent job of detailing what makes up the complexities of both tunes in the following excerpts from his insert notes to the disc:

“’Agitation’ begins like it is a 21st century bebop anthem, tricky and complex. Oriental chords and pentatonic scales [Victor had a penchant for these major and minor 5 note scales] roam through stop-time, syncopated strains and Bailey has a field day, ultimately playing a solo that sounds like a duet with himself.”

“‘Artful Dodger,’ like ‘Agitation,’ is a Feldman tour de force special. Not just for him, of course, but for the trio. The stop-start rhythms, Feldman’s unison lines (both hands), Domanico’s gradual involvement with the melodic theme, Bailey’s impeccably tight drumming and cymbal work – and, finally, Feldman’s remarkable chorus. New themes come and go, block chording gives way to lightning-like zigs-zags of right hand. Quite a number.”

Quite a number, indeed; both Agitation and The Artful Dodger are an indication of two master drummers at work, except, in Victor’s case, he’s playing piano!  They are also an indication of the kind of cohesiveness and intuitive anticipation that can be developed between musicians after 15 years of playing together. Very few pianists and drummers could bring off the intricacy inherent in these two tunes.

Philip Elwood’s insert notes to this recording also provide an excellent way to conclude this segment on Victor’s career up to the year 1977:

“ Victor Feldman is a brilliant multi-instrumentalist. … Feldman, in a word, is phenomenal; and has been all his life, since from his 1940 stage debut to this trio recording no one has been in more areas of pop music than has he.

Listening to this recording the first impression is of Feldman’s remarkable strength, his forcefulness. And that doesn’t imply pounding or volume for its own sake. It does mean that Feldman has not only remarkable musical concepts but also the ability to play them with clarity and assertion.”

…. To be continued in Part 5: a  time of reunion with Woody Herman, Nat Adderley, & Shelly Manne and some new adventures with Art Pepper, Zoot Sims, Pepper Adams and a Generation Band.


Victor Feldman – Part 5: The Final Years, 1978-87

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Looking back to 1978, it’s hard to believe that in less than 10 years, Victor would no longer be with us.

Woody Herman was never out of Victor’s musical life. His career in the States began when he joined Woody’s band and he often expressed his gratitude to the Old Man for making it all happen for him. Victor once shared with me:

“Right from the first, he made me feel at home on the band. I had many chances to solo on vibes and I even had a long drum feature which the brass players loved because it gave them a chance to rest their chops.

In those days, being an alumni of the Kenton or Herman band was helpful in being accepted on the West Coast scene because so many of the first call guys had come off those bands. It was like our time together at university.

Although I hardly knew him, I never recall anyone saying a bad word about Stan Kenton and the same holds true for the guys who played with Woody. We would do anything for him. I think the reason that they were able to hold a band together for a long time was that they were real “Men,” fatherly guys who took their obligations and responsibilities seriously.

So when Woody called, if I could make it, I always tried to return the favor. It all began with him: coming to the Coast, the Lighthouse gig, meeting [my wife] Marilyn, having my own bands, making my own records; none of this would have happened the same way without him. Ronnie Scott is another person I feel this way about. He changed my life, too, by urging me to go to the States.”

The first “call” came in 1959 when Woody was invited to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival.  As Gene Lees explains in Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman [New York: Oxford, 1995, p. 228]:

“For that 1959 festival, Woody put together a group of his veterans. By now his alumni association had grown so large that in New York and on the west coast, he could easily pull together a new band made of old members who already knew the book, or most of it. The band he assembled included: Zoot Sims, Bill Perkins, and Richie Kamuca, tenors; Don Lanphere, alto and tenor; Med Flory, baritone; Al Porcino, Bill Chase, Conte Candoli, and Ray Linn, trumpets; Urbie Green and Si Zentner among the trombones, Charlie Byrd, guitar; Victor Feldman, vibes; and the powerful Mel Lewis, drums The band played in a hot afternoon sun as civilian aircraft droned overhead; the U.S. Navy and Air Force had graciously routed their flights away from the festival. You can hear the annoying aircraft on the album derived from the concert.”

Fortunately, Atlantic Records recorded the band at the festival and issue an LP – Woody Herman’s Big New Herd at the Monterey Jazz Festival - [1328] which has since been re-issued on CD by Koch Jazz [KOCCD-8508].

Victor takes a funky vibes solo that opens Like Some Blues Man which might be aptly named, Like Some Very Slow Blues Man, and his introductory eight bars on piano sets a jaunty pace for the following tune – Skoobeedoobee; both of which are Ted Richards originals. [Incidentally, my sons assure me that the latter tune had absolutely no relationship to the yet-to-come TV cartoon series featuring the floppy-eared hound with a similar, sounding name.]

For the record, Mel Lewis had never played with Woody’s band before this MJF appearance. Had he, there would have been talk about the Mel Lewis Herd in Jazz lore in addition to the references to those in the past headed by Davey Tough and Don Lamond  and those to be led by Jake Hanna and Ronnie Zito in the 1960s and the Jeff Hamilton Herd of the 1970s. Any Jazz drummer worth their salt would want to take a crack at driving this band.

For a confirmation of this assertion, all one need do is listen to the manner in which Mel puts the band through its paces on [Monterey] Apple Tree. Victor’s cookin’ on vibes gets so hot that you can hear Woody in the background giving him two additional choruses.

According to Ralph Gleason’s liner notes, Woody’s commented that “I wish I could take this band on the road.” Gleason went on to say that “Everyone agreed that it one of the greatest bands Woody had ever stood before.”

Given the mutual respect and affection that Woody and Victor had for each other, it was no surprise that when, in 1978, Woody decided to do an album featuring an extended piece by Chick Corea and the songs of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker that he would turn to Victor to arrange and play on one of the tunes.

The album is Chick, Donald, Walter & Woodrow [Century LP CR-1110; BBC Century CD CJ 830]. On it, Victor arranged  I’ve Got the News which features Tom Scott on tenor saxophone.

Also in 1978, Nat Adderley, another old friend, came calling with a request that Victor appear on his album for Galaxy Records, Orrin Keepnews new label, entitled A Little New York Midtown Music [Galaxy GXY-5120; issued on CD as Fantasy OJCCD 10082].

Joining Nat and Victor on this excursion into post modern, harp bop are Johnny Griffin on tenor sax, and the rhythm section of Ron Carter on bass and Roy McCurdy on drums.

Around the time of this recording, Victor had adopted “whip it up!” as a new, favorite expression at which he would snigger [“snuffle” might be a more apt description].  I have no idea as to its source, but he would just blurt it out as one word – “whipitup” – and laugh at the sound of the phrase for no apparent reason at all.

Nat wrote four of the seven tunes on the album and he asked Victor to bring up an original to the recording sessions which took place on September 17-18, 1978 at the Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA.

I’m sure that you wouldn’t be surprise to learn that the name Victor gave to the new chart he wrote for this date was – wait for it – Whipitup!

Like Seven Steps to Heaven, Agitation and The Artful Dodger, tunes by Victor whose melodies are framed over cleverly structured rhythmic phrases, Whipitup is a wickedly fast drummer’s delight that employs an insistent rhythmic vamp over which is played a simple melody with intriguing changes.  Needless to say, given such a compositional “magic carpet, the likes of a Johnny Griffin who, at one time was labeled “the world’s fastest tenor player,” just flies on it.

1978 was another, very busy year in the recording studios for Victor. In addition to the projects with Woody Herman and Nat Adderley, he also made albums with flautist Hubert Laws, tenor saxophonist John Klemmer and flute and reed player Joe Farrell [about which, more later].

But the happiest occurrence for him that year was the call he received from Yupiteru Records, a subsidiary of a Japanese electronics firm by the same name whose owner was a huge Jazz fan.  He invited Victor to cut six tracks for a Jazz LP, the material and musicians for which were to be of his own choosing.

Released as Together Again [Yupiteru YJ25-7015], the LP reunited Victor, who playes piano exclusively, with Monty Budwig on bass and Shelly Manne on drums.
Victor’s playing on this recording is electric and electrifying, no doubt in part due to the presence of Monty and Shelly.  This LP gives us the a chance to hear a musician whose command of the piano now reflects a deep understanding of the instrument’s full range of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic possibilities. His three chorus improvisation on Bud Powell’s Budo [Hallucinations]  is comprised of Jazz inventions [particularly on the bridge] that are so perfectly original that Victor almost sounds as though he has devised a style that is closed to being sui generis.

Victor contributed two originals to the date – Money’s Blues [the man could write terrific Blues lines] and Down in Cancun [played as a bossa samba] – on which he spins out an intriguing series of choruses that reflect a Jazz pianist in his prime. He gets the piano rocking and rumbling on the Blues track which he closes out with some superb 12-bar exchanges with Shelly.

The strong sense of joy and good fun that emanates from Victor, Monty and Shelly making music on this recording extends through all of its tunes:  the beautifully rendered ballad Remind Me, What Kind of Fool Am I which is offered as a Jazz waltz, and a funky, medium tempo version of the Motown pop hit How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the incredible growth in Victor’s acoustic piano playing is that during the late 1970s and into the 1980s he was playing it fairly regularly at Pasquale’s, a Jazz club located in the Malibu Colony near his home.

The club’s appellation came from the Italian given name of bassist ‘Pat’ Senatore, who owned an operated it along with his wife Barbara.  Pat maintained a resident trio at the club that, in addition to Victor on piano, also featured from time-to-time, Alan Broadbent, Frank Collett and Roger Kellaway along with drummers including Peter Erskine, Roy McCurdy and Frankie Severino.

It was one thing for Victor to stop off at Donte’s Jazz club in North Hollywood if he was doing studio work in Hollywood or at Warner Brothers in Burbank or at Universal Studios in Universal City, CA [literally walking distance from Donte’s on Lankershim Blvd.].

However, anyone who knows anything about Los Angeles traffic knows that a commute from coastal Malibu through the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains while next traversing the Simi and San Fernando Valleys is at best – horrendous.

“Pasquale’s” located just up the Pacific Coast Highway [CA Highway 1] from Victor’s home was a welcome alternative for him and he was there often.

It was also to become the site of his next, significant Jazz recording, this one as part of a trio backing Joe Farrell on Farrell’s Inferno [Jazz a la Carte 004], an LP that has never been issued to disc.

On it, Joe plays flute, soprano and tenor saxophones. Joining Victor to form the rhythm section are bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer John Guerin.

Born Joe Firantello, Joe was a veteran of stratospheric trumpeter Maynard Ferguson’s big band [1960-61], a founding member of the Thad Lewis and Mel Lewis Orchestra [1966-69] and was a featured member of drummer Elvin Jones quartet from 1967-1970. As noted in the The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz [ed. by Barry Kernfeld, p.355] “… his modal style, which incorporated inflections of Latin Jazz, blended well with the approach of [Chick Corea’s] Return to Forever, a group he joined in 1971.”

His work with Return to Forever ultimately brought Joe to the West Coast where he became a session player after leaving Chick’s group.  Victor met Joe in the studios and worked regularly with him both in the quartet and in a 18-piece [largely rehearsal] band that Joe fronted.

Made up of performances recorded at Pasquale’s “… in the early 1980s,” the seven tracks on Farrell’s Inferno are an excellent indication of Farrell’s “ … adventurous modal approach and his interest in purse sound. … He was perhaps a better flautist than saxophonist, but his soprano work always had what one-time colleague Flora Purim described as a ‘singing’ quality that eliminates the horn’s often rather shrill character.” [Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed., p.497].

For the album, Farrell selected three standards and Victor contributed two originals, one of which – would you be surprised to learn was – Whipitup!  The other Feldman original – Let’s Go Dancing – a flute feature for Joe Farrell is wickedly fast bossa nova with a clever bridge that would be issued in 1982 as part of Victor’s jazz rock fusion album, Secret of the Andes.

Joe’s 18 piece band often rehearsed at Musicians’ Union Local 47 which maintained rooms for such purposes at it’s location on Vine Street in Hollywood, CA. For a time, Joe and I worked together in a professional organization associated with the union, the RMA [an organization of recording musicians] and the Los Angeles Symphony.

Quite coincidentally, a meeting of these entities was scheduled at the Union Hall just following a rehearsal by Joe’s band.  Since there time following the rehearsal and before the association meeting, Joe and I were chatting about the band when the conversation suddenly turned to Victor and Joe said: “You know he has the best musical mind of anyone I’ve ever worked with. He has a love for music that knows no bounds. And I can’t imagine him not swinging; even the slow stuff we play has a ‘pop’ to it when he’s on the band. Yet, if you passed him on the street, you’d think he was an accountant!”
After our brief time together with the professional association, I lost touch with Joe and later learned that things did not end well for him. He died in 1986 from something that has been killing Jazz musicians prematurely since time immemorial. As we shall see the timing of his death did nothing to lessen the burdens in Victor’s personal life in the mid-1980’s.

Next up for Victor was performing on 4 tracks [with featured solos on three of these] for Dark Orchid [Dark Orchid Jazz 601-04018] a 1981 big band LP by legendary composer-arranger Sammy Nestico who is probably best known for the many charts he wrote for the Count Basie band.

The album, whose line-up reads like a Who’s Who of musicians then active in the Hollywood studios, finds Victor in his element doing everything on these Nestico originals from playing unison lines on the Fender Rhodes with Bill Watrous’ whistling on This is Love [yes, whistling], to being the featured soloist on Willow Gold and Shoreline Drive [along with tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb whose solo on this cut still leaves me with goose bumps].

The band, the compositions and arrangements and the ensemble and solo performances on Dark Orchid are the epitome of the musicianship to be found in Hollywood studios just prior to the take-over of much of this “World” by the Onslaught-of-the- Synthesizers by the end of the decade.

On September 27, 1981, Victor was part of a concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall that paired alto saxophonist Art Pepper and tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims for their first and only performance together. Along with Ray Brown on bass and Billy Higgins on drums and Barney Kessel on guitar, this concert was released as Art ‘N’ Zoot [Discovery DS-870; Pablo PACD-2310-957-2.


Michael Cuscuna, who was one of co-producer of the concert, which was part of a  three-part, nine-hour special developed by Tim Owens of National Public Radio entitled “Central Avenue Breakdown: A Portrait of a Jazz City … Los Angeles” had this to say about Victor in his insert notes:

Victor Feldman is a pianist, drummer, vibist, percussionist, composer and arranger … [whose] considerable skills made him very much in demand in Los Angeles studios, often at the expense of his Jazz career. Despite tenures with Cannonball Adderley in 1960 and Miles Davis in 1963 and a scattering of recordings as a leader and sideman, his jazz artistry remains very underrated. His performances here should go a long way toward correcting that.

It’s hard to disagree with Michael’s assessment listening to Victor skip and romp his way all over the keyboard during his solo on Broadway, or as he sets the tone with an orchestral and flowing piano introduction to a bright tempo version of The Girl from Ipanema on which he takes three brilliant choruses between Zoot and Art’s solos or as he tears the place up with his “down and dirty” piano rumblings on Breakdown Blues.

To close out 1981, Victor embarked on a sentimental journey that reunited him with tenor saxophonist Spike Robinson for whom he had played drums thirty years earlier on Spike’s debut album on England’s Esquire label entitled The Guv’nor [Esq. S318].

Playing alto saxophone at that time, Robinson was an American who came to England as a result of a naval posting.  The reunion of sorts with Victor came about in December, 1981 when he along with Victor, Ray Brown on bass and Johnny Guerin on drums recorded eight songs by Harry Warren that was issued as Spike Robinson Plays the Music of Harry Warren [Discovery DS870].  In August, 1983, Robinson recorded 6 additional tuned by Warren with Pete Jolly, piano, John Leitham, bass and Paul Kreibich, drums for the CD version released on HEP CD2056.

With Warren’s wonderful melodies to improvise on and the likes of Ray Brown and Johnny Guerin backing you up, how can you go wrong? Victor certainly doesn’t and offers inspired solos This Heart of Mine, Chattanooga Choo Choo, and Lulu’s Back in Town, while offering Robinson his usual masterful accompaniment on all the tunes that make up this easy-to-listen-to, but not necessarily, easy-listening recording.

March, 1983 brought Victor into the company of Pepper Adams for the first time and happily this union was preserved on California Cookin’ [Interplay IPCD 8608]. They are joined on this recording by Ted Curson on trumpet, Bob Magnusson on bass and drummer Carl Burnett.  In his insert notes, Fred Norsworthy provides the following background for the recording:

This album was recorded during the 15th Annual OCC Jazz Festival hold In Costa Mesa, CA. The quintet was the opening act for the Bill Berry L.A. Big Band, with all members of the quintet also giving clinics and judging the College/High School Bands, which were competing during the daytime.

It Is worth noting that Pepper's original ‘Valse Celtique’ had their premier performance at this Festival. He was to record the tune at a later date, featuring Kenny Wheeler and Frank Foster on 2 different sessions. Pepper usually worked with pick-up groups during the later stages of his career, although he was a poll winning performer on the baritone, Popper never achieved the prominence that Garry Mulligan reached. Although both had their own original sound, with Pepper having the harder tone, despite his always being #2 in the polls, he was, to many, the number one baritone player, always exciting and creating original music.

This is also the first time that Pepper had worked with Victor Feldman. Ted Curson had worked with Pepper in Europe during the seventies; both Magnusson and Burnett had worked with Pepper during one of his earlier California appearances .... During the brief rehearsal time prior to the concert, Victor found some slight mistakes in Pepper's originals, which he corrected, much to Pepper's chagrin; otherwise Pepper was determined to avoid a jam session sound as an opening act. The opening number [‘Valse Celtique’] used the full quintet;  ‘Summertime’ followed as a feature for Ted Curson; Victor Feldman then offers a trio version of his original -  ‘Last Resort;’  Pepper is up next for his ballad feature, ‘Now In Our Lives; the full quintet returns for the theme, Sonny Rollins original ‘Oleo.’”

Victor turns in another of his patented, rhythmically action-packed solos on Last Resort, with its “Monkish” bridge that completely changes the feeling of the tune, but he is a tower of power when it comes time to solo on all of the other tunes. Through his comping, rhythmic riffing, and other subtle, musical devices, he does an especially fine job of serving as a group integrator to keep this essentially from sounding like just what it is – a pick-up session involving musicians who had had very little experience playing with one another before the concert.
“Pick-up session” would be the last phrase one could use to describe Victor’s next album released in May, 1983 as To Chopin with Love [Hindsight HCD-610] because the rehearsals to prepare it with numerous and arduous.  With the marvelous John Patitucci on bass and Victor’s son Trevor on drums here are Victor insert notes to explain how and why the album came about:

“Frederick Francois Chopin's music has been described by music historian James Huneker as too often bejeweled, far too lugubrious, too tropical, having the exotic savor of the heated conservatory not the fresh scent of the flowers grown out in the open. He said it was desperately sentimental, some of the compositions not altogether to the taste of the present generation and anemic in feeling. He stated that more vigor, a quickening of the time pulse and a less languishing touch would rescue them from lush sentimentality. Huneker went on to note that Chopin loved the night and it's starry mysteries and that his nocturnes are true night pieces, some wearing an agitated, remorseful countenance while others are like whisperings at dusk.

I only read these comments during the final stages of preparation for this album and was surprised to realize that I had similar reactions as a child upon hearing Chopin for the first time. I felt strangely melancholy yet deeply touched. In the course of my piano training I learned the B-flat Minor Waltz when I was ten. But then, I put Chopin (and the impressions I shared with Huneker) in the back of my mind and went on listening to Art Tatum, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and other great American jazz musicians on short wave radio - English weather permitting reception. Much to my mother's dismay the best broadcasts were at 5 A.M. I was working five nights a week until midnight with Terry Thomas in a show at London's West End and I was twelve years old. The sounds of American music had me captivated and I wasn't quite ready to deal with the genius of an older great composer - one from Poland - whose music I have since grown to love. With my interpretations I hope to share Chopin with an audience that otherwise might not be exposed to his music and at the same time bring some surprises, sunshine, and humor to those ears already familiar with it.

My first arrangement of a Chopin piece started before leaving England in 1955. I was playing the A-flat Major Waltz to improve my technique in my teens. At this time I was learning harmony from Charlie Parker, Al Haig and Dizzy Gillespie and found that Chopin's Waltz was really a chord progression like something Bird or Dizzy were basing their great be-bop lines on. Years later, in Los Angeles, when Lester Koenig of Contemporary Records asked me to make a trio album, I recorded the A-flat Major Waltz with Stan Levy and the late Scotty La Faro. I have included a new version of it on this album and it is dedicated to Scotty.

I wish to express my appreciation to Trevor Feldman, 17, for his musical maturity and ability to play with the sensitivity beyond his age so necessary for a drummer playing this type of music. My thanks to John Patitucci for all the rehearsals and such marvelous playing in which he brings a uniqueness to this instrument so often neglected by the present generation. And to Chopin, who must have loved improvisation because he loved freedom-which was as precious and precarious in his time in his homeland of Poland as it is today-with all due respect, my thanks and my love.”

As part of these same insert notes, Victor Jazz pianist “buddy” John Williams [who has since gone on to become a world famous composer of music for the movies and the conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra] wrote the following tribute to Victor:

“I met Victor Feldman just after he arrived in this country from England some twenty-five years ago. We were brought together by Henry Mancini, in whose orchestra we both played at that time.

Victor made an instant hit with all of his fellow musicians because he was so multifaceted, highly musical and always an inspiration to play with. He exuded a love of music that was projected and passed on to anyone who came in contact with him.

His love of the classics has always been evident in his music, and in his new album treats us to reminiscences of childhood Chopin studies. As always, his work, which continues to grow and grow, delights us.

John Williams, Boston, MAJune 9, 1983

During the recording sessions for the Chopin project, three of the trio’s warm-up tracks were saved and Hindsight Records released these as part of a compilation in 1998 under the title of Rio Nights [Hindsight HCD-615].  Included are two originals by Victor – Don’t Ask Oscar [a blues with a truly amazing bass solo by Patitucci] and You Gave Me the Runaround – and, perhaps fittingly a quarter of a century later, a reflective and introspective seven-and-a-half minute version of Basin Street Blues.


For a variety of reasons, The Blues, musically and emotionally, became a very large factor in Victor’s life as his beloved wife Marilyn died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. If you will recall, Joe Farrell also died in 1986 and, in September of that year, he would be further shattered by the news of his dear friend Shelly Manne’s sudden death from a heart attack.

Not too long after enduring all of these personal tragedies, Victor would be gone, too. He passed away on May 12, 1987 at the age of 53.

In the Producer’s Notes for his JVC compilation of recordings by Victor’s jazz rock Soft Shoulder and Generation Bands whose music – although excellent – falls outside the purely Jazz scope of this piece, Mike Brown had this to say about the significance of Victor Feldman and his legacy:

“WHEN WE THINK OF JAZZ LEGENDS,THE NAMES THAT USUALLY COME TO MIND MOST QUICKLY ARE ARTISTS SUCH AS DIZZY GILLESPIE, MILES DAVIS, ELLA FITZGERALD, CHARLIE PARKER ….  ONE NAME THAT IS RARELY HEARD IN THE CONTEXT OF THESE LEGENDS IS VICTOR FELDMAN. YET ANYONE FAMILIAR WITH HIS WORK WOULD NOT DENY HIS IMMENSE TALENT OR INDELIBLE INFLUENCE ON ANY ARTIST HE HAS WORKED WITH. THIS REPUTATION SECURED VICTOR FELDMAN'S PLACE AS A MUSICIAN'S MUSICIAN AND GAVE HIM THE OPPORTUNITY TO PUT HIS STAMP ON A NUMBER OF NOW CLASSIC RECORDINGS. HIS WORK WITH A VIRTUAL WHO'S WHO OF ARTISTS RANGING FROM, CANNONBALL ADDERLEY TO STEELY DAN MAKES HIM A TRUE 'LEGEND.’”



Bob Cooper, who shared the bandstand with Victor at The Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach, CA, back when it all began for Victor had this to say after his death:

“Victor was all about music and although he had a lot of native ability he was constantly applying himself, always learning something new. He made himself into a phenomenal pianist; a guy who could play something that would really turn your head around.

It seemed like he was everywhere in the studios, but he always had something going on around town with his trio, over at Donte’s with Tom Scott or [tenor saxophonist] Ernie Watts or involved with some concert project.

He wasn’t an open man. He always seemed to be absorbed in his own thoughts. But if you asked him something or needed him for anything, he would stop whatever he was doing and help you right away.

He was very successful commercially; he took care of his family in style. There can be a lot of tension on a studio gig, but if he was on the date, his knowledge and ability was a real calming influence.

Victor was a real musical presence and I’ll miss him terribly.”

Bob wasn’t alone.