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.
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 precision, power and speed. Stan Levey, Shelly Manne, Colin Bailey and John Guerin knew what very few others in the U.S. jazz world were even aware ofnamely, that Victor Feldman was one of the best drummers on the planetbar 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 an extensive 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 musicians 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 sayingand I respected him and still doone day in a cafe, 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-vibraphonist, 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."
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, as Lees recounts, offered him the vibes position in the band previously held by Red Norvo, Marjorie Hymans, Terry Gibbs and Milt Jackson.
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 wasto go with Woody's bandI 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 had 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, 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 broke up, Victor returned to England for a short vacation, but by then his mind was 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 observes: "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 chordsI never heard anything like it in my life.'"
Victor arranged four of the seven tunes on Leroy Walks! (Contemporary/OJC, 1957), and since the other three tunes on the album were "head" arrangements, he essentially arranged virtually all the tunes in addition to performing on them for what was his very first recording in Los Angelescertainly an impressive way to make his 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 Buddy in 1964 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/Affinity) on which Victor plays piano, with 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 Chase," 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 misleading 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 time, Victor had already established a substantial and significant career involving performing, writing and arranging before coming to the U.S.A.
[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) 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 loosely quote 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 music. Harmony 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 pianisttwo other percussive instrumentsbut 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 as Victor explains it: "I was very fortunate in ending up at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California." [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 pianist."
"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 woodshedded [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 him 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, 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 distinctive, 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. On the recording 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/OJC, 1958).
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/OJC), 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 I 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 firm-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 tracksSonny Rollins' "Paul's Pal" (misnamed "It Could Happen to You" on the record) and John Coltrane's Bass Bluesthese 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). 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.
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"). It was a characteristic of Victor's playing that always impressed mehis 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/ OJC).
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 recalls (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 gighis 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 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" (Penguin Guide, 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-ass 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."