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.' Victor Feldman ”
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:
"A few years ago I made another multi-dubbed album on Liberty; I once did that over here for Carlo Krahmer's Esquire label...Victor Feldman Plays Everything In Sight. On most of the tracks I played the drums first. I used a metronome in my ear on the first tune I did; then after that I did without the metronome. I had to act it out in my mind, visualizing what the end-product was going to be, and try and make it sound spontaneous, too, if I could. It was quite challenging, and I was happy with some of it.
"The record company talked me into doing tunes that I wasn't overjoyed about; but some of them surprised me, in that, in spite of that obstacle, I managed to make something happen with them. I get very annoyed, though, about that kind of thing. I don't think I'm an egomaniac, but I really like to do my own things the way I want to do them. I don't mind somebody making suggestions, but not to insist on you doing what they say. I understand, too, that they've got to try and sell the record. And if they sell records, then they can make more.
"There are companies who do put money back from their record sales, and try to record same more artistic things. In other words, things that they don't necessarily think are going to sell a whole lot, but they put their creative energy behind it to try and sell it. To me this element seems to be sadly lacking in the record business. That's one thing in the last few years that's been a bit disturbing, that record companies have seemed to be less and less inclined to put their profit to use in this way.
"Now, I don't know every company; so I could be wrong about it. But I am doing sessions every day, and I see what's going on, the kind of thing they're recording, their attitude and everything. It's very pleasant working in the studios most of the time, but there does seem to be this obsession with the dollar, or the pound. I make a good living at it - so I don't wish to sound hypocritical, you know."
And Arnold Shaw offered these (at times, melodramatic) comments about the recording in his liner notes to Victor Feldman Plays Everything In Sight :
"Victor Feldman without a musical instrument is like an elephant without tusks, a lion without a roar, a fish without fins. Master of so many instruments it is difficult to keep track, he undertakes the more difficult feat in this debut LP on World Pacific by playing many of them simultaneously. Marvel at the musicianship of this one-man band, but savor with delight the feast of swinging and ear-tingling sounds it produces.
Although this is not Feldman's first recording, as a one-man-bandhe made an LP for Esquire while he was still a British musicianit is his first release in the genre here. In response to questions regarding the mechanics of playing all the instruments himself he explained:
'I start out by recording either the piano or the drum track first. I work from a sketch arrangement, adding other instruments as I go along [for the record, in addition to piano, vibes and drums, Victor also employs on the album: novachord, alto vibes, tympani, electric piano, electric fender bass piano, organ, marimba, xylophone, conga drum, tambourine, chocalho, jawbone, cowbells, triangle and squeak sticks].
'Once the melodic and harmonic designs are clearly established, I bring in the Fender bass piano, which is so important to the rhythm. I introduce my third major instrument toward the end. Afterwards, I put in the decorative toucheslike a punctuating triangle on 'Have a Heart.' It takes a minimum of four demanding hours in the studio to complete a tune. The toughest part is getting back into the swing of a number each time around, not merely the problem of timekeeping but the vital matters of beat and pulse.
'And don't overlook the engineering problems involved. Dick Bock, who produced this LP, as well as the engineers[Lanky Linstrot & Dino Lappas], did a masterful job of balancing the various instruments and keeping the sound fresh and vibrant through the various stages of recording."
While Victor is certainly correct about the unevenness of the music on the ten tracks that comprise the album, from a purely Jazz perspective it does contain three outstanding performances:  "By Myself"the only thing better than the rousing piano choruses on this track are the vibes solo choruses that follow them  "Sure As Your Born"yet another version of Johnny Mandel's then popular theme from the 1966 movie Harper, which once again shows both Victor's singularity and originality as a vibraphonist, and  Have a Heart, played as a jazz waltz and featuring more of Victor's characteristic rollicking and percussive piano work.
Also in 1967, British tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes made his fourth appearance in the States, as part of the exchange scene with Ronnie's Scott 's club [the "New Place" on 47 Firth Street]. As Tubby tells it in an interview with Les Tomkins:
"I was fortunate enough this time to get two weeks at Shelly Manne's club, the ManneHole, in Los Angeles. I was also very fortunate to work with Victor Feldman's trio. That was a most enjoyable experience. As you know, I've known Victor for about 15 years and worked with him in the past over here on several record dates and in the clubs. He has a very tightlyknit trio now, with Monty Budwig on bass and Colin Bailey on drums.
'They've worked quite a bit together. I took over some of my original material, plus a few of the arrangements of standards that I use with the quartet here. We also did some of the things Victor had written, mainly to feature him on vibes and me on flute, which made a contrast to the tenorandthree rhythm type of thing.
'I didn't bother to play the vibes, because his playing is so tremendous that anything I did would have been quite superfluous. From the musicianship point of view, it was wonderful to work with the trio. I wouldn't say it was better than working with Cedar Walton's trio, which I did in New York last year, because that was fantastic, you know. This was a different sort of feel in a lot of ways, but equally as good.
'Victor can hold his own anywhere, I think, on piano or vibes. And he's brilliant when it comes to piano backing for a soloist. He thinks one step ahead of you all the time, without actually bugging you. Like, certain piano players I know think one step ahead of you, and they play what you're going to playand mess you up something horrible. Whereas, Victor will just suggest little things. And you find yourself doing things, not that you thought you couldn't do, but that you'd never thought of doing.
'It's beautifulgets you tingling all over. He's putting ideas into your head without actually knocking on your head. He's always had that ability, but I'd sort of forgotten about it. Working with him every night, I found that, where I might go into the same kind of thing two nights running, he'd switch me away from that and make me do something different. On the opening night, George Shearing came down and sat in on piano. Victor went on the vibes and we played a couple of tunes'Soon' and 'Nardis,' I think it was. I went all the way to Los Angeles, and I'm up on the bandstand with three Limeys and one American!
' ...The amount of jazz work there is for people like Victor and Colin Bailey is not so great, actually. Victor does tremendously in the studios. The audiences in Shelly's were great. You could hear a pin drop when I played a ballad, or when Victor was playing the vibes, something like that. They were a really appreciative audience, and I was told that they're pretty discerning, too."
Thanks to Chuck Niles, a Los Angeles based Jazz FM radio announcer and a huge fan of Tubby's playing, I found out on one of his broadcasts that this gig was happening and I was fortunate to hear the group during Tubs' stay at Shelly's. You could tell just by their banter before and after tunes that Tubby and Victor were happy to be in one another's company again, both musically and socially, with the result being music that was simply sublime. Because of other studio commitments, Victor had to send a substitute to the first set of the gig on a few occasions [Mike Melvoin comes to mind], but he told me that "I almost got myself killed rushing to Shelly's. I connected with Tubby during that gig in a way that I never had before during our days in London together. It was frightening how locked-in we were at times. We all had a ball."
The Venezuela Joropo, Victor's next recording in 1967, brings to mind once again Philip Elwood's assessment of "... 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." Only someone with Victor's bent-of-mind could even conceive of taking music such as this into a Jazz setting.
Latinsville, an album done much earlier in his career, was Victor's first, major recorded statement of his affinity for various Latin jazz styles. And while it served as a precursor to The Venezuela Joropo, it can also be considered a direct link to it from the standpoint of Victor's lifelong fascination with different rhythms and his uncanny ability to place them successfully in a Jazz context.
Another influence that helped spawn the original 1958-59 recording project was the great admiration that Victor had for Cal Tjader, both as a vibraphonist and as a fellow drummer, and the Latin jazz music Cal was then performing with his quintet.
Pianist Vince Guaraldi was a member of Cal's group at that time, and he and Victor were great friends from their stint together on the Woody Herman band. (Vince even replaced Victor with the Lighthouse All-Stars for a time before returning to his native San Francisco in 1960.) Vince and Victor had many conversations about Latin jazz, often demonstrating certain figures or phrases while playing "montuno" 5-note rhythmic patterns using claves (two small wooden rods about 8 inches long and 1 inch in diameter; they are typically made of rosewood, ebony or genadillo).
Long deleted from the Contemporary Records LP catalog, Latinsville's welcomed reissue as a CD also includes five tracks from the original project that were not on the LP version. With the liner notes once again in the capable hands of Leonard Feather, here are some of his background thoughts and comments about Victor's life-long interest in Latin American and Afro-Cuban beats and pulses:
"A twofold process of cross-pollination led to the creation of the music for this album. Victor Feldman, a Londoner born in 1934, grew up during a period when virtually no live American jazz was to be heard in his country; his entire knowledge of this art form, during his childhood far more exclusively a U.S. product than today, was acquired through the study of records and association with older British jazzmen who had gained their knowledge in a similar manner. But soon after he had settled in Los Angeles, Feldman became crucially aware of the Latin American and Afro-Cuban rhythms that were considered at one time to be as alien to jazz as jazz itself had been to the British. That he absorbed the Latin idiom as swiftly and intelligently as he had acquired the sensibility for jazz is made clear in this, his first all-Latin session.
'Of course, there was just a little of this kind of music around London when I was a kid,' says Feldman. 'When I was 15, I learned some African rhythms on a conga drum; my teacher was a drummer from Ghana, which was then called the Gold Coast.
'When I came to California, I was very much impressed by Machito when I heard his band. He was singing riffs to the trumpet section or the reeds, more or less making up arrangements right on the bandstand, and this had some of the spontaneous spirit of jazz. And I heard Tito Puente and found his group very exciting from the rhythmic standpoint.'
Victor recalls the Gillespie orchestra of the late 1940s as a significant factor in his growing awareness of the new trend: 'While I was in England I heard some records of the big band Dizzy had at that time-the first band, to my knowledge, that ever united modern jazz improvising and writing with Afro-Cuban rhythms. I suppose everyone familiar with the modern movement in jazz knows by now that a lot of jazz musicians recorded with Afro rhythm accompaniment from the late Forties, including, of course, Charlie Parker.'
For his own maiden venture in this challenging area, he says: 'I tried to blend straightforward arrangements in the Latin and Afro-Cuban vein with the improvisations of the jazz soloists, and it seems to me that Conte Candoli, Walter Benton, and Frank Rosolino play with the swinging pulsation that they normally would with regular piano-bass-and-drums rhythm. Vince Guaraldi and Andy Thomas also play beautiful solos which to me are very Latin in flavor. As for my own work-well, with the conga and the timbales and the bongos and bass patterns, I found myself playing in a different rhythmical groove.' ...
The cross-fertilization process is underlined by using themes of non-Latin origin. Most of the melodies originally were not even intended for incorporation with the Latin idiom, though the titles and lyrics logically indicated the type of treatment Feldman's arrangements give them here."
(Incidentally, if you ever wondered what all the fuss was all about concerning Scott LaFaro's impact on Jazz bass prior to his time with the Bill Evans trio, treat yourself to the 5.34 minute up-tempo version of Poinciana available on the expanded Latinsville CD. I think it may answer any and all questions you may have on Scotty's influence in transforming Jazz bass. Joining Scotty on this and four other "recently discovered" tracks that formed the initial concept for the album are Frank Rosolino, trombone, Walter Benton, tenor saxophone, Victor on piano and vibes and drummer Nick Martinis).
The seeds for what became The Venezuela Joropo (Liberty Pacific Jazz) must have been "germinating" in Victor's mind for quite some time as he talked about his interest in this music during his 1965 interview with Les Tomkins:
"I've heard some music from Venezuela that I have some tapes of at home. Everything's in 6/4. There's a harp player, a maracas player, a guitar-or, actually, it's a quarto-and a gultarone on there, playing the bass notes. And it's the first time I've heard a harp player really swing. I've heard people try to play the harp in jazz, but it's syncopation, rather than swing. This guy's fantastic. There's a few of 'em in Venezuela. I can't recall his name; it's on the tip of my tongue.
"The maracas player is also a marvelous musician. He makes fill-ins at the right time into the bridges, he can make trills on the maracas-all kinds of amazing things. And the sound these guys get with what they do! It really swings. I'm going to try and incorporate it into something I do on a record, and let it be sort of an influence. Te harmonic structure's so simple. There's 7th chords and major chords-but it's a matter of knowing how to improvise on that. Because when you've improvised on the chord structures that I commonly use-this is entirely different. So I'm working on it."
With Marty Paich (with whom Victor had studied arranging) contributing an arrangement of one of the tracks, there is some very beautiful music on The Venezuela Joropo, and it is regrettable that it has never made it to CD. On the album, Victor, who plays vibes and/or marimba on all tracks, uses two bands:  Emil Richards [vibes/marimba], Bill Perkins [flute/alto flute], Dorothy Remson [harp], Al Hendrickson [guitar], Max Bennett [bass], Larry Bunker [timbales], and Milt Holland [maracas and percussion];  Bill Perkins [flute/alto flute], Dennis Budimir [acoustic and electric guitars], Monty Budwig [bass] and Colin Bailey [drums].
Dr. Robert Garfias, then of the Archives of Ethnic Music and Dance of the University of Washington, Seattle, wrote the liner notes for the album. They tell a fascinating story of the serendipitous way in which the album came about and, since the album has never been issued in CD form, they are re-printed here in their entirety:
"Perhaps a little more than a year ago I received a phone call from Victor Feldman. He had by chance happened to hear in Los Angeles one of my radio programs dealing with the traditional and folk music of Venezuela and was anxious to hear more of this music, and to know something about it. In this way a rather sporadic exchange of tapes, letters and phone calls was begun which at last resulted in the exciting music included on this LP.
"Before this, Victor Feldman was known to me only as the very sensitive pianist who had played for a time with Miles Davis. I was honestly surprised at the thought that a musician in the main stream of jazz today might be attracted by the music of Venezuela as a possible vehicle for his own expression.
"Certainly there have been incursions of Latin-American music into jazz and popular music in the United States. The several waves of Cuban music and most recently the Sambas, Maracatus and Baiaos of Bossa Nova have each had strong and lasting effects. But the music of Venezuela is somehow rather special. Being primarily an outgrowth of the old popular music of the Spanish Colonial period in Venezuela with little Afro-American influence, this music has not lent itself to the fervor or flashy intensity of the music of Cuba or Brazil.
"There is certainly a high degree of rhythmic intensity in the music of Venezuela but its usual rhythms occur In groups of six beats with the characteristic groupings and alterations of 3-3 with 2-2-2, which link this music with other remnants of Spanish Colonial music, the Mariachi of Southwestern Mexico, the harp music of Vera Cruz, the popular songs and dances of Yucatan, Colombia, Peru, and Chile.
"The typical Venezuelan ensemble of Spanish harp, cuatro (a small four-string guitar) and maracas, does not at first glance appear to lend itself to easy assimilation with jazz. It is a real tribute to the imagination and good taste of Victor Feldman that this first attempt should be musically such a success. He has given a beautiful sampling of his talents on this LP. There are a few examples of resetting of traditional Venezuelan songs. The others are a mixture of standards from the jazzman's repertoire and original compositions showing varying degrees of Venezuelan influence. The result is not only a fascinating document of the meeting of two traditions but the entire LP as a unit is an excellent example of 'musique a faire plaisir,' music to give pleasure.
"Although on first hearing the music recorded here goes smoothly and effortlessly by, careful listening reveals a wealth of musical subtleties and refinements. One of the highlights of the LP is an original by Victor Feldman, 'Summer Island.' The composition follows the now standard formal structure A A B A, but the orthodoxy ends there. While it is becoming increasingly common to hear jazz musicians play in asymmetrical rhythmic patterns and meters, this beautiful and light tune dances easily through some truly amazing changes. The four phases of the A section are in 11 beats (5 plus 6), 11 beats, ten beats (5 plus 5) and 11 beats which are repeated before coming to the B section which is set in a regular six beat meter. This is in turn followed by another statement of the A section. The rhythmic structure does not conveniently become regular to accommodate the solos, and Victor's vibes solo especially highlights the logic of this otherwise unconventional meter. One has only to listen to the beautiful ease of this evocative tune to realize that this is no mere exercise in esoterica.
'Another adventure in irregular rhythms is the Marty Paich original 'Caracas Nights.' The piece is solidly set in a meter of five beats (3 plus 2), which is relieved only by a short section in six beats towards the end of the second section. A quiet kind of insistence is built up in the piece through the use of a repeated drone in the bass part which changes to a new tonality in the second section. Tight, sure and neatly structured solos by Victor and Dennis Budimir add another level of definition to the performance and are further highlighted by yet another change of tonality in the supporting bass part. Bill Perkins' solo bursts in at the section in six beats and brings with it the faint suggestions of the return to the composed melody and the close of the piece.
'The third original composition on the record is another from the distinguished Victor Feldman pen. This one is entitled simply 'Pavane,' and although it bears little formal resemblance to the Renaissance or Baroque forms of the ancient dance of the peacock , it does suggest much of the graceful ease of the original. Set in an easy meter of six beats, 'Pavane' is perhaps structurally the simplest piece of the group and yet, for me, the most haunting and the one which remains longest in the memory, reappearing unexpectedly long after I have put the record away. Bill Perkins' flute sings through the first statement of the melody, but even afterwards the same melody seems to be quietly winding its way on through Victor's and then Bill's improvised solos. Dennis Budimir's guitar solo then leads to the unobtrusive return of the melody that seems never to have ceased at all.
'The two standards in the group, 'Frenesi' and 'The Shadow of Your Smile,' each receive very different treatment. 'Frenesi' is marvelously transformed by removing it from its traditional Cuban Bolero rhythm of four beats to a Venezuelan flavored rhythm of six. One wonders if other well-worked Latin standards could appear so revitalized in a new setting. The transformation for 'The Shadow of Your Smile' is, at first hearing, less pronounced. However, the sure and steady bass line of Monty Budwig makes thorough use of the many possible permutations offered by the Venezuelan rhythm of six, albeit at something slower than the standard Venezuelan tempo. Over the quiet pulsations of the rhythm this now well-known melody moves steadily along without changing any of its essential character.
'The four remaining pieces on this LP have the strongest Venezuelan flavor. 'Obsession Waltz,' a popular Venezuelan waltz, is set here in a slow yet undulating tempo of a romantic ballad rather than a tight cross- rhythmic six of the usual Venezuelan waltz. Although this popular song is not known widely outside of Venezuela, in this setting it seems difficult to believe that its origins are any different from those of 'The Shadow of Your Smile.' The melody is given rather straightforward treatment throughout, opening with an alto flute solo, followed by vibes and guitar solos - Victor's vibes solo being the only one to dramatically depart from the original melody.
'Por El Camino Real' and 'El Gavilan' are traditional Venezuelan dance tunes of the 'Pasale' and 'Joropo' type. 'Por El Camino Real' is an original composition by the famous Venezuelan harpist, Juan Vicente Torrealba. It follows the traditional rhythmic and melodic pattern of many Venezuelan songs. Its first section is in a minor key. The startling element in the tune occurs in the second section which in each statement begins with a measure of eight beats, in an otherwise strictly six beat meter. The change is quite refreshing and I suspect that it was exactly this that caught Victor's imagination.
The piece opens with a statement of the melody on the vibes and bass done in the style of a semi-free introduction. This soon leads to a soft-spoken version the Venezuelan 'Pasaje' rhythm supporting the rest of the performance. 'El Gavilan' is an old traditional 'Joropo,' the composer of which is no longer even known. The text to this song is one of those deceptively simple Spanish folk songs that may be filled with surprising double meanings, which may have been considered the height of spiciness a century ago. This song is given the most authentically Venezuelan treatment of any of the selections on the LP. The little ensemble of instruments that Victor has put together for this performance gives an excellent idea of the fire and bite of a good Venezuelan trio.
Certainly the most amazing piece on the entire record is Victor Feldman's composition 'Passion.' Although it is an original composition by Feldman it captures as much of the true flavor of Venezuelan music as can be heard in 'El Gavilan.' The performance retains the tight synchronized rhythmic quality of Venezuelan music throughout, but it is the natural ease and the strong Venezuelan flavor of the tune itself which make it practically impossible to distinguish from traditional Venezuelan music. Whether or not Venezuelan music henceforth exerts a great wave of influence jazz does not detract in any way from the success and delightfulness of the musical experiments contained in this record."
By the time of his 1969 return to England, a lot had happened in Victor's life, including the fact that in addition to continuing with his standard Jazz trio consisting of Monty Budwig [bass] and Colin Bailey [drums], he had formed the new jazz rock fusion group that he had brought over with him for an engagement at Ronnie Scott's club. In his interview with Les Tomkins, Victor provided this personal and professional update:
'Since my last playing visit back here in '65, I've been over for a holiday in '69, when I just did one little TV spot with Tony Kinsey. This time I brought my family again, and also played at Ronnie's with my regular group. My eldest boy is nine now [Joshua]; the other two are six and five [Jake and Trevor]. I have my nephew with me, a babysitter, and my wife, of course; there's seven of us altogether.
'Only being here for a few days, I really come back as a tourist. I always have a good time when I come over; it doesn't seem to change that much. I'll tell you one thing, Ronnie's club is really great. You know, the acoustics and everything. We were all very excited about working there; it was a lot of fun.
'Our tenor player, Tom Scott, is quite well-known, and is also an excellent writer. John Guerin, our drummer, was born in Hawaii, actually he moved to San Diego when he was very young. I first heard him with Buddy De Franco, and tried to encourage him to come to Los Angeles, because I loved playing with him right away.
'Finally he did make the move, and now he's one of the most in-demand drummers in the city. He does all kinds of work, from rock things to jingles.
'The most recent showcase for our bassist, Chuck Domanico, was a cello quartet album on A&M Records with Roger Kellaway - who is a brilliant, very creative musician.
'It isn't four cellos, you understand; it's with Chuck, and Roger's playing piano, Emil Richards is on percussion instruments. The 'cello player is Edgar Lustgarten. Really a beautiful thing. Anyway, Chuck is very busy, because besides being a great musician, he's very distinctive and very telepathic. Actually, we feel that telepathy element with all of us, playing together.
'We all do sessions most of the time; so we're a bit frustrated, due to not getting enough chances to play. However, we do get to work in clubs like Donte's. And just before we left we'd started at a little place called the Baked Potato, on Monday nights; we also played a weekend there. When we get back, we're hoping to do some concerts around. But we don't have to go on the road any more - I've had enough of that. If we can just work these kind of jobs in, well have more of a fulfilling life. Although we do get to play a variety of music in the studios-including. a lot that we don't like. In some of the idioms you can improvise to an extent; for instance, I play conga drums sometimes. I very rarely play piano on recordings over there, because I'm a little bit stubborn; I like to play my way.
'I'm known as a general percussionist. The only thing I don't do is play sit-down drums too much any more; but I'm liable to start again, if I can get time to just get myself together with it for a few days, or weeks. So I play congas, tymps, and the whole family of percussion instruments.
'Usually I play one or two tunes a set on vibes with the group. As we grow, III probably play more. But I find the vibes a little bit limiting: I feel I can do more things on the piano, because of the very nature of the instrument. When I play vibes. I miss a pianist, or a chordal background, like a guitar or something. Thank goodness I've got Chuck, and it's fantastic with him and the drums-but that's it, you see. Eventually, I think, if we keep playing together, Tom might play some piano. That's the reason I don't play a lot of vibes, though; there's only certain things I can do to make it fill out.
'I've always used the four mallets, but I'm doing more of it now. With this group I have to. Gary Burton's influenced me a lot. He's a tremendous innovator on the instrument - a virtuoso. I really admire what he does. I love Milt Jackson, too, you know. I'm not going to start making comparisons; they're each doing their own thing.
....'As for the rock ingredient, personally I get a little bored with it; but maybe people get bored with what we do. For my taste, other idioms are more interesting; such as Bill Evans, Milt Jackson. And Brazilian music - I love it. I like variety; we try to play a few different things in contrast, from set to set.
'Of course, some of the guys are genuinely into the rock thing; they like the rhythms. Although I know some drummers who don't like rock drumming. I've always found the most interesting aspect of rock music to be the drummer and the fender bassist-the bass drum thing, the independent rhythms that get going are good. I'm only sorry that they get hold of one kind of music and jam it down everybody's throat, and it becomes a conforming, tyrannical type of thing.
'All kinds of music can be done well. It's just that there's certain types that, tonally, I get bored with very easily. I've listened to things that have been happening lately, and I admire the togetherness of it. It can be sort of anarchistic; they don't know where they're going, and yet they have a certain unity and a feeling that amazes me sometimes. So I don't put it down. Then I'm also aware that I don't get a chance to delve into listening to music as much as I might, because of my work schedule and my general mode of life. But I hope to be always striving to develop and improve myself."
Fortunately, in 1973 Gerry Macdonald of Choice Records recorded the group for an LP issued as Your Smile (Choice; issued as a Japanese CDABCJ). Leonard Feather once again sets the stage for us with these introductory comments from his liner notes:
"Victor Feldman's return to center stage as a leader of his own recording group is a welcome and belated event. His success as a sideman, constantly in demand in the Hollywood studios during the past decade, has kept him too busy to bring to the public a reminder of the multiplicity and caliber of his individual talents.
"Time and again his name has appeared on albums, usually in the role of percussionist. Because of the habit of typecasting so prevalent in the commercial music world, his achievements in that area have largely obscured other abilities that were more often in evidence during the first few years after he settled in California.
"As this album [co-produced by Lincoln Mayorga] buoyantly demonstrates, Feldman is a superbly creative pianist, a greatly neglected vibraphonist (he won the Down Beat Critics' Poll as New Star on vibes in 1958), a no less significantly a composer whose works, diversified though they are, have in common a consistent melodic creativity."
As Leonard summarized, it's all here: a mature and forceful command of the piano, a style of playing vibes that had noticeably veered in Gary Burton's four-mallet direction [not an easy thing to do], and a bevy of typically-Victor-fun-to-play-on compositions reflecting an admixture of bossa nova, rock and straight- ahead Jazz rhythms.
What jumps out at the listener on this recording is how in his prime Victor's piano and vibes playing are on all eight tracks [the last four of which are recorded "live" at Donte's]. His fast tempo piano playing on The Theme from I Love Lucy and blistering vibe playing on Seven Steps to Heaven are impressive for both their control and their expression of ideas. What he hears in his head he is able to instantly push out through his hands. And whatever he plays has that characteristically forceful and percussive swings that just rocks the house.
Drummer Johnny Guerin shared in one of the many conversations we had at the club during a set break: "Victor will push you right out of the building, especially when he gets it going on piano. He digs the groove in so deep that it almost feels like a physical presence. Here's this small, quiet guy who becomes an explosion of sound. And what ideas he has; constantly moving in and out of the time. His knowledge of rhythms is just incredible. Sometime when we are trading fours and eights, I like listening to his better than the ones I'm playing!"
In performance, recordings are generally full of excitement and Your Smile doesn't disappoint in this regard. Victor really turns it loose on piano on his originals - "Brazilian Fire," "Your Smile," "Minor Catastrophe" and "Crazy Chicken" which segues into a showcase for Johnny Guerin on "Seven Steps to Heaven."
As Feather concludes in his liner notes: "We are indebted to Gerry Macdonald and Choice Records for bringing this truly exceptional album to the public." In a similar vein, we are also indebted to Carl Jefferson, owner of Concord Records, for the 1977 recording and release of Victor Feldman: The Artful Dodger, with which we will close part four of this piece.
At the urging of guitarist Herb Ellis, Concord signed Victor for this date which also included Chuck Domanico on bass (Monty Budwig is on two tracks) and Colin Bailey on drums. Trumpeter Jack Sheldon also makes an appearance singing and playing on one track.
To my ears, the two most memorable tracks on this CD are structured in a way that is very similar to 'Seven Steps to Heaven,' in the sense that they explore ...' the possibilities inherent in combining melodic lines with percussion expressions."
These two Feldman originals are "Agitation" and "The Artful Dodger." Philip Elwood does an excellent job of detailing what makes up the complexities of both tunes in the following excerpts from his insert notes to the disc:
"'Agitation' begins like it is a 21st century bebop anthem, tricky and complex. Oriental chords and pentatonic scales [Victor had a penchant for these major and minor 5 note scales] roam through stop-time, syncopated strains and Bailey has a field day, ultimately playing a solo that sounds like a duet with himself."
"'Artful Dodger,' like 'Agitation,' is a Feldman tour de force special. Not just for him, of course, but for the trio. The stop-start rhythms, Feldman's unison lines (both hands), Domanico's gradual involvement with the melodic theme, Bailey's impeccably tight drumming and cymbal workand, finally, Feldman's remarkable chorus. New themes come and go, block chording gives way to lightning-like zigs-zags of right hand. Quite a number."
Quite a number, indeed; both "Agitation" and "The Artful Dodger" are an indication of two master drummers at work, except, in Victor's case, he's playing piano! They are also an indication of the kind of cohesiveness and intuitive anticipation that can be developed between musicians after 15 years of playing together. Very few pianists and drummers could bring off the intricacy inherent in these two tunes.
Philip Elwood's insert notes to this recording also provide an excellent way to conclude this segment on Victor's career up to the year 1977:
"Victor Feldman is a brilliant multi-instrumentalist. ... Feldman, in a word, is phenomenal; and has been all his life, since from his 1940 stage debut to this trio recording no one has been in more areas of pop music than has he.
"Listening to this recording the first impression is of Feldman's remarkable strength, his forcefulness. And that doesn't imply pounding or volume for its own sake. It does mean that Feldman has not only remarkable musical concepts but also the ability to play them with clarity and assertion."
...To be continued in Part 5: A Time of reunion with Woody Herman, Nat Adderley, & Shelly Manne and some new adventures with Art Pepper, Zoot Sims, Pepper Adams and a Generation Band.