Victor Feldman - Part 3: Miles & Beyond
“ ...the true, primary and sole author of 'Seven Steps to Heaven' ...was Victor Feldman, as I heard him play it many times in a variety of trio settings (including one with Frank Butler) before he recorded it with Miles. ”
"His keyboard technique is above reproach and is matched by his brilliance on vibes and drums; his knowledge of rhythms and meters, and the possibilities inherent in combining melodic lines with percussion expressions, greatly expounds the sounds of any group within which he works." (Philip Elwood, The San Francisco Examiner)
These eloquently phrased words of high praise for Victor Feldman were shared by no less a jazz luminary than Miles Davis, who sought out Victor to perform and record with him during his April 1963 sojourn to the Left Coast.
"Ironically, Victor closed his June 1963 Downbeat interview by sharing the following anecdote with John Tynan:
"The other day I was fortunate enough to record with Miles Davis. When I was 16, I went to Paris with a friend of mine. Charlie Parker was supposed to play; he never did play there. But meanwhile, we'd walk along the Paris streets and I'd be singing Miles Davis solos. We'd learnt them off the records. I never ever thought I would record with Miles."
The details for Miles' trip to California in 1963 are well-documented in a number of sources, including Jack Chambers' Milestones 2: The Music and Times of Miles Davis Since 1960 (New York: Morrow, 1985, pp. 54- 55).
It seems as though the first quarter of 1963 was a time of troubles for Miles when, for a variety of reasons, pianist Wynton Kelly and bassist Paul Chambers, and ultimately, drummer Jimmy Cobb, too, left Miles. Miles claims these departures came about abruptly. They asserted that they gave him sufficient notice, but that he refused to accept the fact that they wanted to leave.
Whatever the actual reasons for this falling out, they are beyond the scope of this piece. But the fact of their departure meant that Miles had to hastily put together a rhythm section for upcoming appearances, including those at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco and the It Club in Los Angeles. Pianist Harold Mabern went on the band for a preceding date, but as the time for the Jazz Workshop gig was approaching, it was becoming apparent that things weren't working between him and Miles.
Miles always had a tremendous respect for Cannonball Adderley, and it was he who suggested to Miles that he might turn to Victor and see if he was available to help out during these West Coast gigs.
I recall Victor sharing that when the call came in from Miles' booking agent, he was recording a Viceroy cigarette [do they still make these?] radio jungle [with lots of bombastic percussion], composed no less by Marty Paich, at the RCA sound studios on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
During the rehearsal, someone from the recording engineer's booth came down and passed Victor a message. He excused himself to make the call and soon came back with a "cat-that-swallowed-the- canary" look that had everyone curious.
With the expensive recording studio meter running, everyone had to wait until they were packing up before he told them the good news that Miles wanted him to come up to San Francisco for the Jazz Workshop gig.
The bad news was that Victor was on the Hollywood ABC TV staff orchestra at the time and was forced to tell Miles that he could arrange with the show's contractor to get a few days off " ...while you try to get someone else."
As Victor recounted in an interview with Les Tomkins while in England in 1969:
"It was enjoyable, although I didn't know any of the things we had to play. And Miles doesn't tell you anything, which bugged me a bit. It's inconsiderate but, on the other hand, maybe it was a compliment and he figured I could pick up very quick. Everyone seemed to be happy, anyhow. Then a few weeks later Miles came out to Los Angeles to do an album, and I was to be on it. Before the date I used to go up to his hotel room, and we'd come down into the lounge lobby, where there was a piano, and talk about various tunes."
In what Jack Chambers refers to as "the Hollywood ballad sessions," Victor [piano] would join with Frank Butler [drums] along with Miles, George Coleman [tenor sax] and Ron Carter on bass on April 16, 1963 at the Columbia Hollywood Studios to record four ballads: I Fall in Love Too Easily, Baby Won't You Please Come Home," "So Near So Far" and "Basin Street Blues."
Although "Joshua" and "Seven Steps to Heaven," two originals by Victor, were recorded the following day, Miles re-recorded them a month later as features for Herbie Hancock [piano] and Tony Williams [drums]. These two tunes plus three of the ballads were released as Seven Steps to Heaven [Columbia/Legacy, 1963). [Although re-united on the CD version, "So Near So Far" wasn't originally issued until 1981 by Columbia.]
As a point in passing, it should be noted that as the composer of "Seven Steps to Heaven," Victor Feldman created the vehicle that introduced to the world the drumming brilliance of Tony Williams.