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Victor Feldman - Part 1: The Arrival


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Listening (and watching) Victor Feldman play drums was a jaw-dropping experience, especially if you were a drummer and knew how difficult it was to play at Victor's very high level of precision, power and speed. Stan Levey, Shelly Manne, Colin Bailey and John Guerin knew what very few others in the U.S. jazz world were even aware of—namely, that Victor Feldman was one of the best drummers on the planet—bar none.

Ever the showman, Woody Herman knew what he had in Victor and would come to feature him nightly in an extended drum solo on "Mambo the Most." Thanks to a friend in New Zealand, who has an extensive knowledge of jazz in general and Woody Herman in particular, I was able to hear Victor play this feature on a 1956 radio broadcast by the band at the New Lagoon in Salt Lake City. I would venture to say that if you gave this track to 10 drummers as a "blindfold test" that 9 out of 10 would swear they were listening to one of Buddy Rich's extended, solo masterpieces.

Unlike Rich, who had never studied formally, Victor had studied drums in London as a young lad, beginning at the age of six. But like Rich, Victor had, as Stan Levey observed in the March 20, 1958 issue of Downbeat "...that God-given talent."

According to a 1999 e-mail that I received from Mr. Lawrence Woolf, who went to school with both Victor and tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes:

"We all attended school together in the North London suburb of Edgware. Victor was only a fair student. He was more interested in tapping on his desk and humming along. Sometimes he got 'balled out' over it by teachers and students alike! His Uncle, Max Bacon, a standup comic and quite good drummer was teaching Victor to play drums which he took to 'like water.' Vic would talk and think about nothing else but 'Being the best drummer in the world.'

To cut a long story short, he became a child drum prodigy and played the music halls across England under the careful eye of his Uncle Max. Vic became a guest drummer with the Ted Heath and Ambrose orchestras and appeared on BBC radio...

In my opinion Victor Feldman [rest in piece] was one of the most underestimated musicians ever born."

Victor's drumming mates in England, such as Allan Ganley and Tony Crombie, shown in this photograph taken while Victor was making one of his appearances at Ronnie Scott's club at Number 39 Gerrard Street in London, knew of his protean prowess on the instrument, and another drummer, Ronnie Stephenson, who worked with Victor at Ronnie's club in 1965, said of him: "He could just take your breath away with his combination of speed and power. You just had to put it out of your mind to be able to play drums behind him."

Victor's voyage of discovery to the U.S.A. is explained by John Tynan in his article entitled "A Long Way from Piccadilly" that appeared in the June 6, 1963 edition of Downbeat.

During the interview with John that makes up most of the article, Victor recounted that it was during his tenure with Ronnie Scott's band that he made the crucial decision to emigrate to the United States. "I remember Ronnie saying—and I respected him and still do—one day in a cafe, with a certain look on his face, that I should go to America. The way he said it, he seemed so sure. I had been thinking of it in my mind, and it gave me added confidence."

The year was 1953, and by then Victor had become a multi-instrumentalist drummer-pianist-vibraphonist, having studied the latter in London with Carlo Krahmer, a well-known London mallet man. He has also spent a bit of time studying piano as well as theory, composition and harmony at the London College of Music, beginning at the precocious age of 15.

In July 1954, at the beginning of a tour of Europe, the Woody Herman Band shared a bill with Ronnie Scott's group at the U.S. Air Force base at Scunthorpe, England. Gene Lees in his Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) noted: "One of the members of the Scott group was Victor Feldman, a young virtuoso of drums, piano and vibes by whom Woody was impressed."

Victor shared in the Tynan Downbeat article that while at Scunthorpe:

"'I got to know some of the Herman sideman including Al Porcino (lead trumpet), Chuck Flores (drummer), Bill Perkins (tenor sax), Nat Pierce (pianist) and Cy Touff (bass trumpet).' Their brief encounter with the young Englishman was probably forgotten by most of them, but later, in New York, it was to be happily remembered.

In October, 1955, Feldman made the plunge and sailed on the French liner Liberte, landing in New York on October 25th. ... Fate, as they say, took a hand in Feldman's destiny. Woody Herman was in town and Feldman ran into Cy Touff, who asked him if he was interested in joining the band.

Shortly thereafter, Cy and Nat Pierce took Victor to a band rehearsal where Woody, as Lees recounts, offered him the vibes position in the band previously held by Red Norvo, Marjorie Hymans, Terry Gibbs and Milt Jackson.


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