Victor Feldman - Part 2: From Cannonball to Russia


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As someone who was an indirect beneficiary of the "overage," I can personally testify to the fact that during 1962, Victor's studio activity increased dramatically—that is until, as Victor described it, "... the temptation to travel reappeared." This time it took the form of Benny Goodman's tour of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic, which commenced on May 28, 1962. According to Ross Firestone (Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life & Times of Benny Goodman, New York: Norton, 1993):

"The rhythm section consisted of John Bunch on piano, Turk van Lake on guitar, Bill Crow on bass and Mel Lewis on drums. Teddy Wilson and the vibraphonist Victor Feldman were to be featured on the small group numbers." [p.409]. Victor returned from the Goodman tour of the USSR, but this time he literally picked up where he left off in terms of studio work as there was so much of it and he was such an accomplished reader, both as a pianist/vibraphonist and as an overall percussionist. He was also dependable, prompt and courteous, not to mention very well-liked by the coterie of contractors and first-call studio players.

Also upon his return from the Soviet Union, Victor signed an exclusive recording contract with Fred Astaire's Ava records. The first project that Victor completed for the label was to record three "Jazz Impressions of... " tracks with Bob Whitlock (b) and Colin Bailey (d) to augment the release of the original sound track by Mark Lawrence to the then highly acclaimed film David & Lisa: An Unusual Love Story

But while at Ava records, Victor was at work preparing a real gem of a recording based on compositions that he and Leonard Feather had come across during his trip to Russia with the Goodman band. Released in 1963, The Victor Feldman All-Stars Play Soviet Jazz Themes is composed of two recording sessions involving three Soviet Jazz originals, both with the rhythm section of Bob Whitlock on bass and Frank Butler on drums. The first took place on October 26, 1962 with Victor on vibes, Nat Adderley on cornet, Harold Land on tenor saxophone and Joe Zawinul on piano, and the second session was done on November 12, 1962 with Victor on piano and vibes, Herb Ellis on guitar, Carmel Jones on trumpet and Harold Land once again on tenor.

Leonard Feather's original liner notes offer a perspective on both the Cold War politics of the time as well as the Soviet Jazz musicians and their music, which Victor represented on this recording:

"There has never been an album quite like this before in the annals of recorded jazz.

"The very existence of Soviet jazz, of artists who could play or write it, was virtually unknown outside the USSR until 1959. That was the year when two intrepid Americans named Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff, in the guise of Yale choral group members, entered the Soviet Union and let it be bruited around that they were really jazz musicians. The resultant impromptu concerts led them to discover that a cadre of young musicians existed whose interest in the American jazz world, bolstered by Voice of America broadcasts, was as deep and intense as their feeling for the music.

"Three years later, on a more official and far more broadly publicized basis, Benny Goodman's band, the first American jazz orchestra of modem times to play the Soviet Union (under U.S. State Department auspices) opened May 30, 1962, at the Central Army Sports Arena in Moscow. On this tour the brilliant and versatile Victor Feldman played vibraphone in the small combo numbers; and most valuably, during the six weeks of the tour, he gained a fairly broad picture of the musical life of the Russians, the Georgians and other citizens of this endless land."

"I was lucky enough to be in Moscow for the opening. and later to spend a little time in Leningrad. At a press conference I heard much talk of arranging for local jazzmen to sit in with Goodman and show him some of their music. The plans failed to materialize however, for B.G. never sought out these Soviet youths whose music amazed those of us who did get together with them. And aside from token gestures such as the use of a couple of Soviet pop songs, there was no acknowledgement in the band's program that such a phenomenon as Soviet jazz existed.

"The aims of Victor Feldman's LP are, first, to compensate for this omission; second, to provide a program of modern jazz by superior soloists with plenty of blowing room; third, to point up the similarities, rather than the differences, that can be found in a comparison of jazz composition as it is conceived in Moscow, Tbilisi or Leningrad vis-a-vis New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

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