© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
As Victor Feldman recounted to John Tynan in a 1963 interview for Downbeat, “I was newly married and Cannonball had called me about a month before I went back to England in 1960 to introduce my wife to my family and friends. 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.”
In my 1999 interview with Orrin Keepnews of Riverside Records when we were both residing in San Francisco, I asked him about how Victor Feldman came to be on Cannonball’s “Poll Winners” 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?”
“The Man I Love” by George and Ira Gershwin tune has always been among my favorite Great American Songbook standards, especially the version by Victor Feldman which accompanies the video tribute to the Gershwins that concludes this feature.
It would appear that the tune is also a favorite of many Jazz musicians as there are over 80 versions of it in my LP, tape and CD collection.
While with Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet and living in New York, Victor had the opportunity to record his own album on Riverside, Merry Olde Soul [Riverside RLP-9366; OJCCD-402-2] which was recorded in December, 1960 and January, 1961.
As Orrin Keepnews, the co-owner and producer for Riverside Records recalled: “There was no question of using Sam Jones and Louis Hayes on it as by now they had formed quite a rhythm section in Cannonball’s quintet; 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 to Merry Olde Soul 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. …
‘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 filling a large amount of space with music that consistently sustains interest.”
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.
As to the song itself, here’s some background about its evolution and information about notable recorded versions by Ted Gioia from his The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire [New York: Oxford University Press, 2012].
“This song had a long, troubled history before becoming a hit. "The Man I Love" initially appeared in the 1924 musical Lady Be Good, where it served as a feature for Adele Astaire — but only lasted a week before getting yanked from the show. The tune was recycled in 1927 for Strike Up the Band, but that production never made it to New York, and when the musical was retooled and revived in 1930 the song was no longer part of it. "The Man I Love" was next assigned to the 1928 Flo Ziegfeld show Rosalie but was cut before opening night (and, if Ira Gershwin can be believed, wasn't even heard in rehearsals before getting axed). At this point, the Gershwins' publisher Max Dreyfus, in a desperate gesture, convinced the composers to take a one-third reduction in their royalty rate as an incentive for bandleaders to release "The Man I Love" on record.
This last-gasp strategy worked, and four different recordings of "The Man I Love" — by Marion Harris, Sophie Tucker, Fred Rich, and Paul Whiteman — were top 20 hits in 1928. The latter version features a dramatic arrangement by Ferde Grofe and includes a sax interlude by Frankie Trumbauer, best known for his collaborations with Bix Beiderbecke but here delivering one of his better solos from his stint with the Whiteman orchestra. The composition also became closely associated with torch singer Helen Morgan, and Gershwin himself gave her much of the credit for its eventual popularity; but, strange to say, she made no commercial recording of this signature song.
Benny Goodman brought the piece back into the limelight almost a decade later, enjoying a hit with his 1937 quartet recording of "The Man I Love." Goodman continued to feature the work in a variety of settings — with a combo at Carnegie Hall in 1938, in an Eddie Sauter big band arrangement from 1940, with his bop-oriented band from the late 1940’s, with symphony orchestra in the 1950’s, with various pick-up bands in later decades — for the rest of his career. But equally influential in jazz circles was Coleman Hawkins's 1943 recording, which finds the tenorist constructing a harmonically expansive solo that ranks among the finest sax improvisations of the era. Over the next 18 months, more than two dozen cover versions of "The Man I Love" were recorded — more than in the entire decade leading up to Hawk's session.
This song's popularity has never waned in later years. The hand-me-down that couldn't find a home in a Broadway show eventually became one of Gershwin's most beloved and recorded compositions. British composer and musicologist Wilfrid Mellers would extol "The Man I Love" as the "most moving pop song of our time." Others have been equally lavish in their praise. "This is the music of America," proclaimed Gershwin's friend and patron Otto Kahn. "It will live as long as a Schubert lieder."
In truth, the melodic material employed here is quite simple — many of the phrases merely move up and down a half or full step before concluding up a minor third. Gershwin employs this device no fewer than 15 times during the course of a 32-bar song. Yet the repetition of this motif contrasts most markedly with the constant movement in the song's harmonies. The contrast gives added emphasis to Gershwin's repeated use of the flat seven in the vocal line, an intrinsically bluesy choice that transforms what might otherwise sound like a folkish 19th-century melody into a consummate Jazz Age lament.”
Paul Whiteman (with Frank Trumbauer), New York, May 16,1928
Benny Goodman (with Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa), live at Carnegie Hall, New York, January 16,1938
Billie Holiday (with Lester Young), New York, December 13,1939
Coleman Hawkins, New York, December 23,1943
Lester Young (with Nat King Cole and Buddy Rich), Los Angeles, March-April 1946
Art Tatum, live at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, April 2,1949
Miles Davis (with Thelonious Monk and Milt Jackson), from Miles Davis and the
Modern Jazz Giants, Hackensack, New Jersey, December 24,1954
Art Pepper (with Red Garland), from Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, Los Angeles, January 19,1957
Mary Lou Williams, from Live at the Cookery, live at the Cookery, New York, November 1975
Fred Hersch, from Heartsongs, New York, December 4-5,1989
Herbie Hancock (with Joni Mitchell and Wayne Shorter), from Gershwin's World, New York (March-April 1998) and Los Angeles (June 1998)