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Victor Feldman - Part 1: The Arrival


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Victor arranged four of the seven tunes on Leroy Walks! (Contemporary/OJC, 1957), and since the other three tunes on the album were "head" arrangements, he essentially arranged virtually all the tunes in addition to performing on them for what was his very first recording in Los Angeles—certainly an impressive way to make his mark in new, musical surroundings. Nat Hentoff concluded his liner notes comments about him by declaring: "He is a flowing swinger with a forcefully inventive conception."

Victor also toured briefly with clarinetist Buddy De Franco's quartet in 1957 (the gig that actually brought him to L.A.) and, although they didn't record together at that time, when Buddy in 1964 wanted to do an album playing primarily the bass clarinet for Vee Jay, he asked Victor to fly into Chicago for the recording. The result was Blues Bag (Vee Jay/Affinity) on which Victor plays piano, with Victor Sproles on bass, Art Blakey on drums and, on two tracks, Lee Morgan on trumpet and Curtis Fuller on trombone.

Five of the seven compositions follow a standard blues pattern, including Monk's "Straight, No Chase," Coltrane's "Cousin Mary" and Ornette Coleman's "Blues Connotation." The other two, "Kush" by Dizzy Gillespie and "Rain Dance" by Victor, are according to Leonard Feather "unmistakably related to the blues if only by indirection." Leonard commented further about "Rain Dance":

""This unusually attractive Victor Feldman composition is the only track in the album for which, in the ensemble passages only, De Franco reverts to soprano clarinet. Blended with Morgan's trumpet and Fuller's trombone, this gives the ensemble a highly engaging sound in Feldman's ingenious voicings. The chorus is oddly constructed, consisting mainly of two 16-bar stanzas followed by a six-measure linking interlude. Morgan and Fuller are both featured in solos on the tune's beguiling changes."

However, it would be misleading to paint a picture of Victor landing in Los Angeles in 1957 and simply "taking it by storm" by launching into a recording career replete with arranging assignments while writing a host of original compositions. At this time, Victor had already established a substantial and significant career involving performing, writing and arranging before coming to the U.S.A.

[Victor's rather extensive recording career in London before emigrating to the United States will be the subject of another Jazz Profiles feature at a later date].

Suite Sixteen: The Music of Victor Feldman (Contemporary) contains a sampling of Victor's work done in England in 1955 just before he immigrated to the United States. Recorded with a host of fine British musicians, including Jimmy Deuchar and Dizzy Reece (tp), Derek Humble (as), Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott (ts) and Tony Crombie or Phil Seamen (d), these recordings feature the music of Victor Feldman in big band, septet and quartet settings.

As Lester Koenig, Contemporary Records owner and the producer of this album, commented in his liner notes:

"The album is an authentic musical portrait of Victor Feldman at the peak of his career in England, and shows him to advantage as a performer on three instruments [drums, vibes and piano], composer, arranger and leader."

As composed and arranged by Victor, the fiery and intricate big band tracks alone, such as "Cabaletto" and "Maenya" are worth the price of admission for this album. What becomes very obvious to the listener about "The Music of Victor Feldman" on Suite Sixteen and ultimately on all of his recordings is everything that is significant about it has to do with rhythm or, to loosely quote Bill Crow: "He generates a good strong swing and I liked the physical feeling of playing with him."

The significance of rhythm in Jazz cannot be overemphasized.

As Wynton Marsalis stressed in his interview with Ben Sidran, published in Talking Jazz: An Oral History in 43 Jazz Conversations (New York: Da Capo, 1995, p.344):

"... harmony is not the key to our music. Harmony is used in motion. And motion is rhythm. And rhythm is the most important aspect. I mean everything is important. But whenever you find a valid rhythmic innovation, the music changes. ... You change the rhythm, you change the music."

Perhaps it was the fact that he started in music as a drummer and continued on as a vibraphonist and ultimately as a pianist—two other percussive instruments—but there was a distinct physicality to Victor's music. Victor's orientation is always rhythmic first, which perhaps also explains why drummers such as Shelly Manne, Stan Levey and Frank Butler loved to work with him.

1957 was a turning point in Victor's career, for as Victor explains it: "I was very fortunate in ending up at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California." [Tynan interview]


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