Victor Feldman - Part 1: The Arrival


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In their 6th Edition of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, Richard Cook and Brian Morton offer this evaluation of the Arrival album:

"Arrival is a marvelous record, completed just after Victor had settled in Los Angeles. LaFaro's role in extending the vocabulary of the piano trio is well-documented in his association with Bill Evans, but given how tragically foreshortened his career was, it's surprising that these sides haven't received more attention. As ever, the young bassist is firm-toned, melodic and endlessly inventive, and the interplay with the piano is stunning: long, highly wrought lines round basic bop figuration. Levey's accents are quietly insistent and the whole recording seems to have been miked very close, as was the practice at the time. 'Serpent's Tooth,' 'Satin Doll,' and 'There's No Greater Love' are the outstanding tracks. This should certainly be in the collection of anyone interested in the evolution of the piano trio in jazz..."

Victor, Scotty and Stan were recorded by Howard Rumsey later in September, 1958 in a performance at The Lighthouse along with tenor saxophonist, Richie Kamuca. Consisting of two tracks—Sonny Rollins' "Paul's Pal" (misnamed "It Could Happen to You" on the record) and John Coltrane's Bass Blues—these two tracks were issued along with three cuts by trumpeter Joe Gordon performing with Shelly Manne and His Men at the Lighthouse in 1960 as West Coast Days: Joe Gordon & Scott LaFaro (Fresh Sound). One can only hope that more of the music from this great trio will one day surface from The Lighthouse vault.

I recall Victor commenting about this trio in retrospect by saying: "Scotty and I were so young in those days and so caught up in the music that we had no idea of what we couldn't do. Stan [Levey] had such great time and laid it down so hard that it made it possible for Scotty to free up the time, something that he really went on to develop later with Bill Evans. But Stan and I were such straight-ahead players that we couldn't wait for him to start playing in 4/4 and away from the freer feeling. He really set the instrument on a different course"

This recollection harkens back to Wynton Marsalis' point: "Change the rhythm and you change the music."

Howard Rumsey, The leader of the Lighthouse All-Stars and the bassist in the group described Scott LaFaro's accomplishment this way: "His use of two base voices, a falsetto-like solo sound and a full-bodied, well- rounded walking tone timbre, made him an inspiration to most jazz players that heard him or followed him." [quoted in the insert notes to West Coast Days: Joe Gordon & Scott LaFaro.

Unfortunately, a trio that Stan Levey described as "a moment in time" disbanded when Scotty left for New York in 1959 and Victor decided to move on to other things and to leave The Lighthouse All-Stars. As he told John Tynan, the reason for this decision was "because I felt I had been in one place too long; musically you can stay in one place just so long."

However, Victor's availability would prove portentous as it would make it possible for him to participate as a temporary replacement for pianist Russ Freeman in Shelly Manne's group during its September, 1959 two- week engagement at Guido Cacianti's Blackhawk at the corner of Turk & Hyde in San Francisco.

One of my earliest impressions of Victor centered around how the All-Stars radiated a crackling, propulsive drive underscored by Stan Levey's impeccable time coupled with Victor's percussive and hard-driving piano "comping" (musician-speak for "accompaniment"). It was a characteristic of Victor's playing that always impressed me—his drive was formidable as can be heard in any variety of settings and I think it was largely responsible for transforming Shelly Manne's group in the seminal sessions recorded and issued by Contemporary from the group's Blackhawk appearances (Contemporary/ OJC).

Let's "talk" further about these classic recordings and Victor's role in helping to make them so singular from the perspective of three authorities on West Coast jazz: Ted Gioia, author of West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 (New York: Oxford, 1992), Bob Gordon, author of Jazz West Coast: The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950s (London: Quartet, 1990), and Lester Koenig, the owner of Contemporary Records who produced these in-performance albums and wrote their liner notes.

As Gioia recalls (pp. 279-280):

"The final newcomer [Shelly reorganized The Men in 1959 adding Joe Gordon on trumpet and Richie Kamuca on tenor sax] to the Manne group for the Blackhawk session was an unexpected last-minute substitution. Manne regular pianist Russ Freeman had left on a road trip with Benny Goodman around the time of the San Francisco engagement. Looking for a replacement on short notice, Manne settled on Victor Feldman.

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