Victor Feldman - Part 4: The Artful Dodger, 1967-1977
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: