Victor Feldman - Part 1: The Arrival
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."