Saturday, June 25, 2016

Scott LaFaro - "Young Mr. LaFaro" - Part 3

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


Vibraphone and piano: Victor Feldman Bass: Scott LaFaro Drums: Stan Levey

"Dad's stuff with Victor Feldman has such an extreme, high-velocity groove that it's almost cult jazz. It's hard to imagine anything that swings harder"
—David Levey

“Charlie Watts purchased this album immediately after its arrival in the U.K. Copies were snatched up all over Feldman's native England, where the brilliant multi-instrumentalist first appeared on the scene as a child prodigy drummer. Feldman went on to master the piano and vibraphone, and he plays both on this modern classic.

"Being English of my generation," Watts said, "we were extremely proud of Victor Feldman, who moved to Hollywood and made it, which was unheard of for an Englishman at the time. And Stan . . . along with a fantastic bass player named Scott LaFaro, played on The Arrival of Victor Feldman. A very famous album. A trio. I didn't know until much later that Stan's wife, Angela, who's just as interesting as Stan, took the picture on the cover with the three of them on a boat."

Nobody would argue with Watts's assessment of LaFaro. The young virtuoso's performance on this album, LaFaro's breakout appearance on record, must have been downright frightening to his peers.”
- Frank Hayde, Stan Levey Jazz Heavyweight: The Authorized Biography

“Exciting, profoundly affecting and altogether wonderful” would probably be apt ways of describing my reaction upon first hearing bassist Scotty LaFaro's performing on the The Arrival of Victor Feldman Contemporary LP.

Not surprisingly, a lot of other Jazz musicians felt that way, too.

Here’s a continuation of Gene Lees’ piece on Scotty that appeared in the July and August 2005 edition of his Jazzletter.

“In the summer of 1957, Scott worked at Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse, and recorded for the first time with Getz. Whether Stan was using or not using at the time, I can't guess. The album was Stan Getz with Cal Tjader on Fantasy. In January of the next year, Scott played on The Arrival of Victor Feldman. He returned to New York early in 1959, received the Down Beat Critics Poll New Star Award, and then in May recorded an album of songs from the musical Gypsy with Herb Geller. Helene recalled:

"When he was with Chet Baker, we were going back to the hotel in Philadelphia, and he said, 'I'm so mad at dad. Why didn't he make me play strings? Think how much farther ahead I could have been.' But the moment Scotty got really interested in music when he was playing the horn, my dad did a lot of training with him. He would sit at the piano with him and play chords. He worked with Scotty a lot when he asked. But it was always when Scotty wanted it. He never forced it on his kids.

"It was the same with Victor Feldman and his three boys. If they wanted to take lessons, if they showed the interest, fine. Because Victor was touring the continent when he was seven years old. And like my dad, he wanted to have a normal family life, because they didn't have a childhood themselves. And that's when Victor stopped traveling and started doing all the studio stuff. He was playing golf with music contractors in order to be able to stay in town with his family.

"It became apparent when he was very young that Scotty had absolute pitch. We started playing piano. It's the reasons that I don't play any instrument. He knew even at a very early age that I wasn't doing something right. There were only three times in my whole life that Scott was less than kind to me, and two of them had to do with the piano. As soon as we started having the initial piano lessons, he just started being sensitive to that. He said, 'Stop that noise!' and closed the keyboard cover on my hands.

"Scotty wasn't particularly crazy about the idea of going to college to start with. He wanted to go out and start playing.

"My dad told him he'd better get an education because he might not be able to make a living as a musician. I went to the college when I was back east recently and got Scotty's records. I found out that as soon as he took up the bass, he started not attending the clarinet classes. Almost anything besides the ear training. And I know from the girlfriend he had there and from the girl who was the bass player that that was all he did. He wouldn't even go swimming because he was cultivating the callus on his fingers. He would play until his hands were bloody.

"He was really very driven, and he had a real anxiety."

One day in 1957, Helene's father came into their doctor's office, where she worked, complaining of chest pains. The doctor did an EKG and told Helene to take her father directly to the hospital. The hospital was only about a mile away, but it seemed an infinity of distance to her. Her father took some deep breaths in the car, then slumped. When she reached the emergency entrance and summoned doctors, they told her he had was dead.

Helene said: "When my dad died was the first time he expressed his anxiety to me.
Scotty said, 'That does it. I know I'll be dead at twenty-five.' He said that, standing in our driveway. He said it just that casually, kicking stones in the driveway. It was kind of a weird thing. On the wall of the house that we had there was my father's violin bridge and Scotty's bridge."

"How old was your father?" I asked.

"Fifty-one. Scotty was twenty-one."

"He predicted that, that he'd be dead at twenty-five?" Herb Geller said. He and I were equally shocked.

"Yes. He was going with a girl named Maggie Ryan, but she married Bob Denver, who played Dobie Gillis in television in the early sixties. I'm still in touch with her. She was working in the production office of that show, which is where she met Bob Denver. She asked Scotty if there was ever going to be anything more than being the girlfriend of a jazz musician, and he expressed to her that he wasn't going to be around that long. He expressed it to me more than once. I've always had a thing that people know things about themselves.

"It really bothered him. He had so much that he wanted to get out, and he felt really compressed by time."

After their father's death, Scott and Helene decided that the family should be moved to Los Angeles. Scott had met Herb Geller's wife Lorraine, the house pianist at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. They had a house in the Hollywood Hills and invited Scott to use their spare bedroom until his family arrived. Herb said Scott practiced constantly, always facing into a corner of the room (for acoustic reasons, I surmise).

Helene arrived in early October and she and her brother moved into the upper floor apartment of a hillside house on High Tower Drive, not far from the Hollywood Bowl. Their balcony gave them a sweeping view of the city, but the smog bothered her.

"I think the thing with Scotty, which started in high school," Helene said, "was that people thought he was aloof because he became so focused on music. People who got to know him found him really humorous. He loved Victor Feldman's sense of humor, which was very dry. By then I was living in Los Angeles with Scotty, and after a lot of gigs, Victor would come over, and we would sit on the floor, just rolling with laughter. Scotty would be always pulling jokes on Victor.

"I think the aloofness was only because he was concentrating on other things. In high school, people used to say, 'He only talks to Ann and you.' His high school girlfriend was Anna Marie Paculli, and I'm still friends with her. He felt just so overtaken by music and what was in his head. He felt compulsive about getting things out."

I told her, "Bill had that kind of concentration. I remember once he and I were at Warren Bernhardt's apartment. We were listening to the Alban Berg violin concerto, and carrying on a three-way conversation, and Bill was writing out the trio's bass book. Somebody was always stealing the bass book, and we didn't have the photocopying we do today. And Bill would laboriously write it out again. And with all that going on, he was still able to concentrate on the bass book. I think that putting his head down almost into the piano had to do with contact and concentration. Glenn Gould did it too."

Helene said. "I would think, 'Don't they get backache?'"

Herb said, "I got a phone call from Scott, that he had just returned to Los Angeles. He'd been touring with Stan Kenton's band. They were playing a one-nighter somewhere, and a young man came up to Stan and said he was a drummer, and his lifetime ambition was to play with Stan Kenton's band. And Stan said, 'Okay, you start in two weeks.'

"After about the third night, Scott told Stan Kenton, 'Either he goes or I go.' Stan said, 'Well I'm going to keep the drummer.' The last engagement before Scott was to leave, they were in the middle of the country somewhere, like Omaha, Nebraska, where it was the same distance to either coast. And Stan said to him, Til pay your way home. Where do you want to go, New York or Los Angeles?' Scott said, 'I'll go back to Los Angeles.' And then he told me, 'As soon as I was approaching the plane, I said, 'I made the wrong decision; I should have gone to New York.'

"So he arrived in Los Angeles, telephoned me, and said he was back and available for work. I said, 'I'm leaving tomorrow morning for New York. I'm joining Benny Goodman's band for a tour.' He said, 'Do you think he might need a bass player?' I said, I’ll check it out.' He said, I’m willing to go there on a minute's notice.'

"It was my second tour with Benny. I said to Benny, 'Are you set on a bass player?'

"He said, Tve been auditioning bass players. Tommy Potter is the last one.'

"I said, 'If you're not happy, I know this very wonderful bass player in Los Angeles.'

"He said, I’ll keep that in mind.'

"After the rehearsal, Benny said, 'Can you get in touch with your friend and have him here tomorrow?' Benny was very critical. He didn't like Tommy's intonation, and his reading wasn't very good. So I called Scotty, and he said, 'Yeah, I'll be there tomorrow,' and he was. I told him, 'Benny is very conservative, don't do any of those fast things you can do. Play what's written there.' We rehearsed. Benny always did some quartet numbers. It was really great. Scott was being a bit on the conservative side. I watched Benny listening to Scotty, and he gave me a thumbs up. He really liked Scotty's playing, so we were happy.

"The end of the rehearsal, it was Scotty's first night in New York and my second. And I said, 'Scotty, did you ever hear Bill Evans in person?' He said, 'No.' Bill was playing in some club with a trio. Before they started, I said hello to Bill and I introduced him to Scotty and I said, 'He's a bass player from Los Angeles and a very very fine player.' And Bill said, 'Do you want to sit in on the second set?'
"So he played with him.

"The next day we went on tour with Benny. It was Benny Goodman's band, the Ahmad Jamal Trio with Israel Crosby on bass and Vernel Fournier on drums, and Dakota Staton.

"We did our six weeks tour of one-nighters and we came back to New York. There was a telegram waiting for Scott: Bill wanted him to join his group.

"My big contribution to jazz."

Then Herb asked Helene, "Who were his influences on bass? Who did he used to listen to?"

She replied, "The very first bassist that he heard live was Leroy Vinnegar, in our home town. He played a club there with Dizzy Gillespie. Leroy used to hum when he played, and Scotty acquired that habit. The first record that he bought in Geneva was Oscar Pettiford. And he liked Mingus and Paul Chambers and Percy Heath. That's who he was listening to in high school. But he always remarked about the record collection you had. He said he learned so much by listening to the records Herb had."

"Well," Herb said, "I had all the records I liked. I guess our tastes were similar."

Helene said, "Around the house, he listened to the records my dad had. He listened to Tatum and George Shearing. My dad was just nuts about them. Tatum we listened to a lot."

I said, Scott kept his strings quite low, right?"

"Yeah," Helene said. "Herb knows about that."

Herb said, "He was the first one who really did that. But he still got a hell of a sound. The conventional wisdom is that the higher the bridge, the bigger the sound.

"He lowered it because that increased his speed. Everybody does it now. All the good young jazz players play with lower strings. Scotty — as far as I know — was the first one to really do that

"He had to compromise in one sense. You aren't going to get as loud a sound, but you're getting something else."

Helene said, "Even when he was with Buddy Morrow he used to get in trouble. Eventually his girlfriend, Suzanne Stewart, came on the band as the vocalist. They were in a hotel room in Chicago, and he was practicing. And there was a knock on the door and it was Percy Heath, and he said, 'So why aren't you playing the guitar? What is it you're doing here?'"

To be continued in Part 4.

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