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Artist Profiles

Victor Feldman - Part 5: The Final Years, 1978-87

By Published: February 20, 2009
It was also to become the site of his next, significant jazz recording, this one as part of a trio backing Joe Farrell on Farrell's Inferno (Jazz a la Cart), an LP that has never been issued to disc. On it, Joe plays flute, soprano and tenor saxophones. Joining Victor to form the rhythm section are bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer John Guerin.

Born Joe Firantello, Joe was a veteran of stratospheric trumpeter Maynard Ferguson's big band [1960- 61], a founding member of the Thad Lewis and Mel Lewis Orchestra (1966-69, and was a featured member of drummer Elvin Jones quartet from 1967-1970. As noted in the The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (ed. Barry Kernfeld, p.355), " ...his modal style, which incorporated inflections of Latin Jazz, blended well with the approach of [Chick Corea's] Return to Forever, a group he joined in 1971."

Farrell's work with Return to Forever ultimately brought him to the West Coast, where he became a session player after leaving Chick's group. Victor met Joe in the studios and worked regularly with him both in the quartet and in a 18-piece (largely rehearsal) band that Joe fronted.

Made up of performances recorded at Pasquale's in the early 1980s, the seven tracks on Farrell's Inferno are an excellent indication of Farrell's "adventurous modal approach and his interest in purse sound. ...He was perhaps a better flautist than saxophonist, but his soprano work always had what one-time colleague-vocalist Flora Purim described as a 'singing' quality that eliminates the horn's often rather shrill character" (Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed., p.497).

For the album, Farrell selected three standards, and Victor contributed two originals, one of which— would you be surprised to learn was?—"Whipitup!" The other Feldman original—"Let's Go Dancing"—a flute feature for Farrell—is a wickedly fast bossa nova with a clever bridge that would be issued in 1982 as part of Victor's jazz-rock fusion album, Secret of the Andes.

Joe's 18-piece band often rehearsed at Musicians' Union Local 47, which maintained rooms for such purposes at its location on Vine Street in Hollywood. For a time, Joe and I worked together in a professional organization associated with the union, the RMA (an organization of recording musicians) and the Los Angeles Symphony. Quite coincidentally, a meeting of these entities was scheduled at the Union Hall just following a rehearsal by Joe's band. Since the time following the rehearsal and before the association meeting, Joe and I were chatting about his band when the conversation suddenly turned to Victor: Joe said, "You know, he has the best musical mind of anyone I've ever worked with. He has a love for music that knows no bounds. And I can't imagine him not swinging; even the slow stuff we play has a 'pop' to it when he's on the band. Yet, if you passed him on the street, you'd think he was an accountant!"

After our brief time together with the professional association, I lost touch with Joe and later learned that things did not end well for him. He died in 1986 from something that has been killing Jazz musicians prematurely since time immemorial. As we shall see, the timing of his death did nothing to lessen the burdens in Victor's personal life in the mid-1980's.

Next up for Victor was performing on four tracks (with featured solos on three of these) for Dark Orchid (Dark Orchid Jazz, 1981), a big band LP by legendary composer-arranger Sammy Nestico, who is probably best known for the many charts he wrote for the Count Basie band. The album, whose line-up reads like a Who's Who of musicians then active in the Hollywood studios, finds Victor in his element doing everything on these Nestico originals from playing unison lines on the Fender Rhodes with Bill Watrous' whistling on This is Love (yes, whistling!), to being the featured soloist on "Willow Gold and Shoreline Drive" (along with tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb (whose solo on this cut still leaves me with goose bumps). The band, the compositions and arrangements, and the ensemble and solo performances on Dark Orchid are the epitome of the musicianship to be found in Hollywood studios just prior to the take-over of much of this analog world by the Onslaught-of-the-Synthesizers by the end of the decade.

On September 27, 1981 Victor was part of a concert at UCLA's Royce Hall that paired alto saxophonist Art Pepper and tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims for their first and only performance together. Along with Ray Brown on bass and Billy Higgins on drums and Barney Kessel on guitar, this concert was released as Art 'N' Zoot (Discovery/Pablo).

Michael Cuscuna, who was one of the co-producers of the concert, which was part of a three-part, nine-hour special developed by Tim Owens of National Public Radio entitled Central Avenue Breakdown: A Portrait of a Jazz City ... Los Angeles, had this to say about Victor in his insert notes:

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