Victor Feldman - Part 4: The Artful Dodger, 1967-1977
“ 'All kinds of music can be done well. It's just that there's certain types that, tonally, I get bored with very easily.' ”
During the decade in question, due to the responsibilities of establishing myself in a career outside of music and because of the obligations of a growing family, I did not see Victor as often.
Fortunately for me, he did appear regularly with his quartet at Donte's, a nightclub in North Hollywood that was a short drive from my home in nearby Burbank, California. Whenever I could get away to hear a set, we usually visited for a time and he would sometimes "catch-me-up" on many of the things happening in his career.
For whatever the reason, around this time Victor became smitten with the phrase: "More work than you can shake a stick at." When I or someone asked him "How Things Were Going," he would reply: "I've got more work than you can shake a stick at." He would then chuckle to himself, or walk away chortling with a self- satisfied smile on his face.
He had even identified the etymological origin of the phrase: "using a stick as a pointer while counting a herd of sheep or cattle" (to denote a lot or too many to count). This expression couldn't have been more appropriate because, from 1967 to 1977, Victor went from performing around town with his trio and being a first-call session player to continuing in the latter capacity while also becoming a scion of jazz-rock fusion in Los Angeles. Achieving such status resulted in his serving as a quasi musical director for pop and rock stars such as Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan (among others) and forming and performing in fusion groups like the L.A. Express and his own Generation Band.
Yet, although these jazz-rock amalgamations made him very secure financially, Victor continued to also perform in purely Jazz settings throughout this period. And it is these jazz frameworks that form the basis for part 4 of this piece on Victor.
Tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins returned the favor of appearing on two tracks of Victor's It's a Wonderful World LP by having Vic play on his album Quietly There (Riverside, 1967).
Morgan Ames, in his liner notes to the LP, had this to say about Victor's performance: "Vic Feldman plays so many instruments so well that it's hard to keep up.... I marvel at the fragility he reaches on ballads, but like his companions, Vic swings hard when it's time, his dynamic range equaling his versatility."
Made up exclusively of Johnny Mandel compositions, in addition to Victor on piano, vibes and organ(!), the group included John Pisano [guitar], Red Mitchell [bass] and Larry Bunker [drums], with "Perk" playing tenor and baritone sax, flute and bass clarinet. The album includes some of Mandel's beautiful ballads like "Emily," "A Time for Love" and "Just a Child" along with wistful versions of bossa novas, including "The Shadow of Your Smile" and "Quietly There." The latter is from the 1966 Warner Brothers film Harper, which starred Paul Newman. Perk and the group also play "Sure As You're Born," the theme from Harper,, as a medium-tempo cooker and two other Mandel originals that have become Jazz classics"Keester Parade" and "Groover Wailin.'"
When I brought up this recording with Bill Perkins while he was relaxing between sets at one of the many 4-day festivals sponsored by the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, a look of surprise came over his face and he exclaimed:
"I really enjoyed making that album and what a band! I always liked John Pisano's playing from when I first heard him with Chico Hamilton's quintet. And could you find a better rhythm section than Red Mitchell on bass and Larry Bunker on drums? Like Victor, Larry never got the credit he deserved as a jazz player they were both such great all-around performers. And what can you say about Victor? You never had to worry when something came up on a date. He would go over to the piano and come up with two or three perfect solutions. He had such a great musical mind."
As mentioned in my profile, both Victor and Larry Bunker were my mentors as well as my heroes. And while I admired their versatility as complete percussionists, my admiration for them was particularly focused on their abilities with what Victor always referred to as "sit-down drumming."
Victor played very little drums on the Los Angeles Jazz scene preferring instead vibes and especially piano. He explained that this was due to the melodic and harmonic limitations of "sit-down drumming." As a result, Victor rarely recorded on drums. However, an opportunity to do so presented itself in 1967 with Victor Feldman Plays Everything In Sight. Even here playing "everything else" tends to overshadow his drumming, but if one listens closely, one can hear a master "sit-down drummer" at work on this LP.
In a 1969 with Les Tomkins, Victor offered more background about the album, which has never been released on CD: