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Artist Profiles

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

By Published: February 20, 2009
"Victor Feldman is a pianist, drummer, vibraphonist, percussionist, composer and arranger ... [whose] considerable skills made him very much in demand in Los Angeles studios, often at the expense of his Jazz career. Despite tenures with Cannonball Adderley in 1960 and Miles Davis in 1963 and a scattering of recordings as a leader and sideman, his jazz artistry remains very underrated. His performances here should go a long way toward correcting that."

It's hard to disagree with Cuscuna's assessment, listening to Victor skip and romp his way all over the keyboard during his solo on "Broadway," or as he sets the tone with an orchestral and flowing piano introduction to a bright tempo version of "The Girl from Ipanema," on which he takes three brilliant choruses between Zoot and Art's solos, or as he tears the place up with his down and dirty piano rumblings on "Breakdown Blues"

To close out 1981, Victor embarked on a sentimental journey that reunited him with tenor saxophonist Spike Robinson for whom he had played drums thirty years earlier on Spike's debut album on England's Esquire label, a date entitled The Guv'nor, 1981). Playing alto saxophone in 1951, Robinson was an American (from Kenosha, Wisconsin—the birthplace of Orson Welles) who came to England as a result of a naval posting. The reunion of sorts with Victor came about in December, 1981 when he, along with Victor, Ray Brown on bass and Johnny Guerin on drums, recorded eight songs by Harry Warren for a session that was issued as Spike Robinson Plays the Music of Harry Warren (Discovery, 1981). In August, 1983, Robinson recorded 6 additional tuned by Warren with Pete Jolly, piano, John Leitham, bass and Paul Kreibich, drums for the CD version released on HEP Records.

With Warren's wonderful melodies to improvise on and the likes of Ray Brown and Johnny Guerin backing you up, how can you go wrong? Victor certainly doesn't and offers inspired solos on "This Heart of Mine," "Chattanooga Choo Choo," and "Lulu's Back in Town," while offering Robinson his usual masterful accompaniment on an exquisite "This Is Always" and all the tunes that make up this easy-to-listen-to, but not necessarily easy-listening, recording.

March, 1983 brought Victor into the company of Pepper Adams for the first time, and happily this union was preserved on California Cookin' (Interplay). The pair are joined on this recording by Ted Curson on trumpet, Bob Magnusson on bass and drummer Carl Burnett. In his insert notes, Fred Norsworthy provides the following background for the recording:

"This album was recorded during the 15th Annual OCC Jazz Festival hold In Costa Mesa, California. The quintet was the opening act for the Bill Berry L.A. Big Band, with all members of the quintet also giving clinics and judging the college/high school Bands, which were competing during the daytime."

"It Is worth noting that Pepper's original 'Valse Celtique' had its premier performance at this festival. He was to record the tune at a later date, featuring Kenny Wheeler and Frank Foster on two different sessions. Pepper usually worked with pick-up groups during the later stages of his career and, though he was a poll- winning performer on the baritone, never achieved the prominence that Garry Mulligan reached. Although both had their own original sound, with Pepper having the harder tone, despite his always being #2 in the polls, he was, to many, the number one baritone player, always exciting and creating original music.

"This is also the first time that Pepper had worked with Victor Feldman. Ted Curson had worked with Pepper in Europe during the seventies; both Magnusson and Burnett had worked with Pepper during one of his earlier California appearances .... During the brief rehearsal time prior to the concert, Victor found some slight mistakes in Pepper's originals, which he corrected, much to Pepper's chagrin; otherwise Pepper was determined to avoid a jam session sound as an opening act. The opening number ['Valse Celtique'] used the full quintet; 'Summertime' followed as a feature for Ted Curson; Victor Feldman then offers a trio version of his original— 'Last Resort;' Pepper is up next for his ballad feature, 'Now In Our Lives; the full quintet returns for the theme, Sonny Rollins original 'Oleo.'"

Victor turns in another of his patented, rhythmically action-packed solos on "Last Resort," with its Monkish bridge that completely changes the feeling of the tune, but he is a tower of power when it comes time to solo on all of the other tunes. Through his comping, rhythmic riffing, and other subtle musical devices, he does an especially fine job of serving as a group integrator to keep this date from sounding essentially like just what it is—a pick-up session involving musicians who had had very little experience playing with one another before the concert.

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