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Victor Feldman - Part 3: Miles & Beyond


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"We've recorded for Vee Jay, and I'm very excited about the album we did. Most of the tracks weren't more than three or four minutes long. At one time, I never used to like making short jazz records and I still think doing so just for commercial reasons is a drag, actually. But, in another way, I find that to keep on playing a long solo, when you've said what you have to say—I don't think that's too good, either. In these albums I've managed to stay away from that. I approached it from the standpoint so that we'd have some cohesion through the whole thing. To be honest about it—some of them were short because they could be made into singles, of course. But I felt it was as much of a challenge to condense what you have to say into capsule form. A few of them I didn't allow to be cut down, because it would have lost the whole point of the piece.

"I find the trio context very satisfying. I'm always looking for new tunes. I don't find it easy finding tunes that I can mold to the way I want to play, but I'm sure there are a lot around that are suitable. The trouble is, I've never been one of those people—I don't think I know the lyrics of one tune. I don't know the authors of many tunes, I'm ashamed to say. Now it's becoming annoying to me, because I think it would help to find new material if I knew more about what standard tunes have been written by various people. We have about 60 tunes that we play with the trio, and that's quite a lot, really. But we need new things to rehearse... You have to start hearing new phrases and playing in a different way."

Leonard Feather, long a champion of Victor and his music, offered these thoughts about It's a Wonderful World [Vee Jay VJS2507] in his liner notes to the album which was released in 1964:

"The maturing process in a musician is far easier to trace today than it was a few years ago and infinitely simpler than before the advent of LP records. Not only has the quantity of recorded output increased, but as a general rule the artist, at least if he is respected by the recording companies with whom he is associated, is granted a substantial measure of freedom in the selection and interpretation of his material.

Victor Feldman is a case in point. In the ten years since he arrived in this country, or more particularly in the eight years since he made his first album as a leader, his style both as a pianist and vibraharpist has been observable in a series of performances that offer a portrait in depth of his evolution during this period.

The setting selected by Victor for the present sides is the one that usually shows off a jazz pianist to fullest advantage, offering him as centerpiece of a trio in which bass and drums fulfill something more than a mere accompanist function. The material is a carefully selected and intelligently programmed series of standards and originals...

In sum, these two sides offer a splendidly rounded picture of Victor Feldman as pianist, vibraharpist and combo leader. ... It is Feldman music, and for anyone familiar with what these two words have meant in recent years that should be all the categorization required."

As has been established throughout these pieces, Victor's playing has always had a tremendous emotional impact on me. I view his solos as being beautifully crafted and usually expressed with a driving sense of swing; not that he couldn't be lyrical as well. Usually his playing in almost any context was rhythmic and forceful or what Cook & Morton note as a "... characteristically percussive touch" in their 6th Edition of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD.

In this same work, these authors also put forth the following observation about Victor's playing:

"It's an interesting aspect of his solo work that its quality seems to be in inverse proportion to its length. Feldman was a master of compression who often lost his way beyond a couple of choruses."

Needless to say, while I would agree with their contention that "...Feldman was a master of compression," I take serious exception to the claim that "... he often lost his way" in longer solos (a contention for which Cook & Morton offer no examples). There are many examples of miniature masterpieces in the form of shortened solos contained in the Feldman discography, and since the "master of compression" point is not in dispute, I won't belabor it here.

But I would like to underscore its significance with the following excerpts from Gene Lees' interview with pianist Junior Mance that appeared in hisJazzletter [March, 1997, Vol. 16, No. 3, p. 7]. In an aside to his discussion about Mance's time with Dizzy, Gene explained:

"Groups get hotter as the evening wears on, but Dizzy's groups always 'started' hot. I once asked Dizzy how come; how did he do that. The group would swing on the first tune of the first set. I said, 'What's the secret?' Dizzy said: 'Play short tunes.'

Later in the interview with Gene, Junior comments:


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