Victor Feldman - Part 1: The Arrival
“ Victor could have that effect on people. He played drums from the piano stool and booted the band along. ”
Mentioning my name in the same context as that of Gene Lees, the esteemed jazz writer, might be the height of presumption on my part, but in doing so in this instance, I intend to use 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 have been patiently waiting for what could only be termed the definitive work on Bill and his music as provided by Gene Lees, one of the cardinal writers on the subject of jazz in the second half of the 20th century. And yet, while there is an exquisite chapter by Lees about Bill entitled "The Poet" in his compilation, Meet Me at Jim and Andy's, Mr. Lees has not ventured forth with the long- awaited, full-length treatment on Evans.
The reasons why Lees' book on Bill Evans has not materialized can only be surmised, but perhaps, and this is mere conjecture on my part, the admired writer-lyricist is too close to his subject. Also, he may be overwhelmed by the immensity of dealing with the size of the footprint that Evans left on Jazz. Or, it may be, again a supposition on my part, that the loss of his friend is still something that weighs heavily upon him, making the task of writing objectively about Evans a difficult one.
If the latter is the case, then I well know the feeling as I have been stymied in publishing something anythingabout 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 a piece commensurate with the importance of this immensely talented musician and wonderful human being.
That is, until now.
Three factors prompted me to at least start the process of talking about Victor and his music:
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:
"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 Messers 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 Mannes and the Feldmans were great friends. 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. 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/VSOP, 1957): "By any standard of comparison, Vic Feldman is an extraordinary musician."
Indeed, 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 prodigious displays of virtuosity on drums at a very young age he achieved early notoriety in his native England as "Kid Krupa." Yet, after his stint with Woody Herman's big band, and with the exception of a few gigs to help pay the rent while settling into Los Angeles in 1956, he would rarely play the instrument in public again, preferring instead piano and vibes.