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Mark Feldman: His Own Music, His Own Sound, His Own Aesthetic

By Published: January 29, 2007
AAJ: How were the country bands you played in musically?

MF: The two bands I was in—the Loretta and the Ray Price bands—were great. They were great bands doing what they did. They were really excellent. The other stuff I did was mostly studio stuff. Some people have gotten something wrong about me: I was never a country fiddler. I was a commercial violinist who could adapt like hell. So if I got a call to go on the road with Ray Price, if I got a record of their show or their recordings, I could play exactly what the last guy played. Probably in twelve hours' time.

I remember when I went out with Ray and had to play lead, I got all this oversized music paper and made cheat sheets and put them on the floor at my feet. No one could see them. I would just try to play what the last guy played. But I was never a guy who could, say, go to a bluegrass jam session. And with Loretta Lynn, I was playing second fiddle to a guy named Buddy Spiker, so he'd give me all the parts to play. He'd just dictate them to me. I met Buddy Spiker in Chicago at the Old Town School of Folk Music, and that's how I ended up going down there. I was living in Chicago in New Town—Belmont and Broadway—in the late seventies. I was playing in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, which was the training group for the symphony. That was probably my most formal education. And then I was playing in all these Chicago bar bands, back when Chicago had music in every bar. You're from Chicago—do you remember?

AAJ: Yes.

Mark FeldmanMF: So I had jobs in all these bars, at least from Thursday through Saturday. Some of them didn't even have a stage; you just set up where the jukebox was. So I played with all these groups—rockabilly, early rock n' roll, country, western swing. There was tons of work. Every bar had a sign that said, "Old Style.

AAJ: The beer? Well, they still have that.

MF: So that hasn't changed. And underneath the words "Old Style was the name of the bar. Now, it wasn't always the highest culture you ever heard, but it was live music. I used to work all the joints on Lincoln Avenue, and after that I worked with this country swing band called the Jump 'n the Saddle Band. They had that hit—"The Curley Shuffle. Then I played with another one with a great name: the Flatland Bar Stars. They were the band that used to work all these places without a stage. It was a whole different life. I was 23 or so, and I'd end up being roommates with some band's guitarist, just moving from one place to another. I think my rent was under fifty bucks a month.

AAJ: Tell me what you'll be doing in 2007.

MF: Well, starting in February, I have a tour with Sylvie, followed by a tour with Abercrombie. I'm in a bit of a period of transition. I have little jobs, but in terms of my own thing, I dropped a lot of the sideman work I was doing. There was a period where I was working with Dave Douglas, Uri Caine, Zorn and Abercrombie—all at the same time. Plus one-offs. So I needed a change, and I'm not as busy now, because I'm trying to do my own things.

Selected Discography

Mark Feldman, What Exit (ECM, 2006)
Mark Feldman/Sylvie Courvoisier, Malphas: Book of Angels, Volume 3 (Tzadik, 2006)
Bar Kokhba Sextet, 50th Birthday Celebration, Volume 11 (Tzadik, 2006)
Masada String Trio, Azazel: Book of Angels, Volume 2 (Tzadik, 2005)
Masada Recital, Masada Anniversary Edition, Volume 4 (Tzadik, 2005)
John Abercrombie, Class Trip (ECM, 2004)
Sylvie Courvoisier, Abaton (ECM, 2003)
Marc Ribot, Filmworks 2 (Tzadik, 2003)
John Zorn, Cobra (Tzadik, 2002)
John Abercrombie, Cat 'n' Mouse (ECM, 2002)
John Zorn, Filmworks XI: Under the Wing (Tzadik, 2002)
Raz Mesinai, Before the Law (Tzadik, 2001)
Dave Douglas, Witness (Bluebird/BMG, 2001)
Muhal Richard Abrams, The Visibility of Thought (Mutable Music, 2001)
Dave Douglas, A Thousand Evenings (BMG/RCA Victor, 2000)
John Abercrombie, Open Land (ECM, 1999)
Mark Feldman/Sylvie Courvoisier, Music For Piano and Violin (Avant, 1999) Wolfgang Puschnig/Mark Feldman, Spaces (Emarcy, 1999)
Dave Douglas, Convergence (Soul Note, 1998)
John Zorn, The Circle Maker (Tzadik, 1998)
Mark Helias, Fictionary (GM, 1998)
Billy Hart, Oceans of Time (Arabesque, 1997)
Mark Dresser, Banquet (Tzadik, 1997)
Trilok Gurtu, Bad Habits Die Hard (CMP, 1996)
Arcado String Trio, Live in Europe (Avant, 1996) Mark Feldman, Music For Violin Alone (Tzadik, 1995)
New & Used, Consensus (Knitting Factory, 1995)
Michael Jefry Stevens/Mark Feldman, Haiku (Leo, 1995)
Marilyn Crispell, Santuerio (Leo, 1994)
Arcado, For Three Strings and Orchestra (JMT, 1992)
Tim Berne, Fractured Fairy Tales (JMT, 1989)

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Valerie Trucchia, courtesy of ECM Records
Second Photo: Christopher Tribble, courtesy of ECM Records
Third Photo: Nunzio Mari
Bottom Photo: Valerie Trucchia, courtesy of ECM Records

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