Victor Feldman - Part 5: The Final Years, 1978-87
“ 'Victor was all about music, and although he had a lot of native ability he was constantly applying himself, always learning something new. He made himself into a phenomenal pianist.' ”
Looking back to 1978, it's hard to believe that in less than 10 years, Victor would no longer be with us.
Woody Herman was never out of Victor's musical life. His career in the States had begun when he joined Woody's band and he often expressed his gratitude to the Old Man for making it all happen for him. Victor once shared with me:
"Right from the first, he made me feel at home on the band. I had many chances to solo on vibes, and I even had a long drum feature which the brass players loved because it gave them a chance to rest their chops. In those days, being an alumni of the Kenton or Herman band was helpful in being accepted on the West Coast scene because so many of the first call guys had come off those bands. It was like our time together at university.
"Although I hardly knew him, I never recall anyone saying a bad word about Stan Kenton and the same holds true for the guys who played with Woody. We would do anything for him. I think the reason that they were able to hold a band together for a long time was that they were real "Men," fatherly guys who took their obligations and responsibilities seriously.
"So when Woody called, if I could make it, I always tried to return the favor. It all began with him: coming to the Coast, the Lighthouse gig, meeting [my wife] Marilyn, having my own bands, making my own records; none of this would have happened the same way without him. Ronnie Scott is another person I feel this way about. He changed my life, too, by urging me to go to the States."
The first "call" came in 1959 when Woody was invited to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival. As Gene Lees explains in Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman (New York: Oxford, 1995, p. 228):
"For that 1959 festival, Woody put together a group of his veterans. By now his alumni association had grown so large that in New York and on the west coast, he could easily pull together a new band made of old members who already knew the book, or most of it. The band he assembled included: Zoot Sims, Bill Perkins, and Richie Kamuca, tenors; Don Lanphere, alto and tenor; Med Flory, baritone; Al Porcino, Bill Chase, Conte Candoli, and Ray Linn, trumpets; Urbie Green and Si Zentner among the trombones, Charlie Byrd, guitar; Victor Feldman, vibes; and the powerful Mel Lewis, drums The band played in a hot afternoon sun as civilian aircraft droned overhead; the U.S. Navy and Air Force had graciously routed their flights away from the festival. You can hear the annoying aircraft on the album derived from the concert."
Fortunately, Atlantic Records recorded the band at the festival and issued an LPWoody Herman's Big New Herd at the Monterey Jazz Festival, which has since been re-issued on CD by Koch Jazz.
Victor takes a funky vibes solo that opens "Like Some Blues Man" (which might be aptly named, "Like Some Very Slow Blues Man"), and his introductory eight bars on piano sets a jaunty pace for the following tune"Skoobeedoobee," both of which are Ted Richards originals. (Incidentally, my sons assure me that the latter tune had absolutely no relationship to the yet-to-come TV cartoon series featuring the floppy-eared hound with a similar, sounding name.)
For the record, Mel Lewis had never played with Woody's band before this MJF appearance. Had he, there would have been talk in jazz lore about the Mel Lewis Herd in addition to the references to past aggregations driven by drummers Davey Tough and Don Lamond as well as those to be commandeered by Jake Hanna and Ronnie Zito in the 1960s and the Jeff Hamilton Herd of the 1970s. Any jazz drummer worth his salt would want to take a crack at driving this band.
For confirmation of this assertion, all one need do is listen to the manner in which Mel puts the band through its paces on "(Monterey) Apple Tree." Victor's cookin' on vibes gets so hot that you can hear Woody in the background giving him two additional choruses.
According to Ralph Gleason's liner notes, Woody commented: "I wish I could take this band on the road." Gleason went on to say that "Everyone agreed that it one of the greatest bands Woody had ever stood before." Given the mutual respect and affection that Woody and Victor had for each other, it was no surprise that, when in 1978 Woody decided to do an album featuring an extended piece by Chick Corea and the songs of Steely Dan's Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, he would turn to Victor to arrange and play on one of the tunes. The album is Chick, Donald, Walter & Woodrow (BBC/Century, 1978). On it, Victor arranged "I've Got the News," which features Tom Scott on tenor saxophone.