Victor Feldman - Part 4: The Artful Dodger, 1967-1977


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'All kinds of music can be done well. It's just that there's certain types that, tonally, I get bored with very easily.' —Victor Feldman
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

During the decade in question, due to the responsibilities of establishing myself in a career outside of music and because of the obligations of a growing family, I did not see Victor as often.

Fortunately for me, he did appear regularly with his quartet at Donte's, a nightclub in North Hollywood that was a short drive from my home in nearby Burbank, California. Whenever I could get away to hear a set, we usually visited for a time and he would sometimes "catch-me-up" on many of the things happening in his career.

For whatever the reason, around this time Victor became smitten with the phrase: "More work than you can shake a stick at." When I or someone asked him "How Things Were Going," he would reply: "I've got more work than you can shake a stick at." He would then chuckle to himself, or walk away chortling with a self- satisfied smile on his face.

He had even identified the etymological origin of the phrase: "using a stick as a pointer while counting a herd of sheep or cattle" (to denote a lot or too many to count). This expression couldn't have been more appropriate because, from 1967 to 1977, Victor went from performing around town with his trio and being a first-call session player to continuing in the latter capacity while also becoming a scion of jazz-rock fusion in Los Angeles. Achieving such status resulted in his serving as a quasi musical director for pop and rock stars such as Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan (among others) and forming and performing in fusion groups like the L.A. Express and his own Generation Band.

Yet, although these jazz-rock amalgamations made him very secure financially, Victor continued to also perform in purely Jazz settings throughout this period. And it is these jazz frameworks that form the basis for part 4 of this piece on Victor.

Tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins returned the favor of appearing on two tracks of Victor's It's a Wonderful World LP by having Vic play on his album Quietly There (Riverside, 1967).

Morgan Ames, in his liner notes to the LP, had this to say about Victor's performance: "Vic Feldman plays so many instruments so well that it's hard to keep up.... I marvel at the fragility he reaches on ballads, but like his companions, Vic swings hard when it's time, his dynamic range equaling his versatility."

Made up exclusively of Johnny Mandel compositions, in addition to Victor on piano, vibes and organ(!), the group included John Pisano [guitar], Red Mitchell [bass] and Larry Bunker [drums], with "Perk" playing tenor and baritone sax, flute and bass clarinet. The album includes some of Mandel's beautiful ballads like "Emily," "A Time for Love" and "Just a Child" along with wistful versions of bossa novas, including "The Shadow of Your Smile" and "Quietly There." The latter is from the 1966 Warner Brothers film Harper, which starred Paul Newman. Perk and the group also play "Sure As You're Born," the theme from Harper,, as a medium-tempo cooker and two other Mandel originals that have become Jazz classics—"Keester Parade" and "Groover Wailin.'"

When I brought up this recording with Bill Perkins while he was relaxing between sets at one of the many 4-day festivals sponsored by the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, a look of surprise came over his face and he exclaimed:

"I really enjoyed making that album and what a band! I always liked John Pisano's playing from when I first heard him with Chico Hamilton's quintet. And could you find a better rhythm section than Red Mitchell on bass and Larry Bunker on drums? Like Victor, Larry never got the credit he deserved as a jazz player— they were both such great all-around performers. And what can you say about Victor? You never had to worry when something came up on a date. He would go over to the piano and come up with two or three perfect solutions. He had such a great musical mind."

As mentioned in my profile, both Victor and Larry Bunker were my mentors as well as my heroes. And while I admired their versatility as complete percussionists, my admiration for them was particularly focused on their abilities with what Victor always referred to as "sit-down drumming."

Victor played very little drums on the Los Angeles Jazz scene preferring instead vibes and especially piano. He explained that this was due to the melodic and harmonic limitations of "sit-down drumming." As a result, Victor rarely recorded on drums. However, an opportunity to do so presented itself in 1967 with Victor Feldman Plays Everything In Sight. Even here playing "everything else" tends to overshadow his drumming, but if one listens closely, one can hear a master "sit-down drummer" at work on this LP.

In a 1969 with Les Tomkins, Victor offered more background about the album, which has never been released on CD:

"A few years ago I made another multi-dubbed album on Liberty; I once did that over here for Carlo Krahmer's Esquire label...Victor Feldman Plays Everything In Sight. On most of the tracks I played the drums first. I used a metronome in my ear on the first tune I did; then after that I did without the metronome. I had to act it out in my mind, visualizing what the end-product was going to be, and try and make it sound spontaneous, too, if I could. It was quite challenging, and I was happy with some of it.

"The record company talked me into doing tunes that I wasn't overjoyed about; but some of them surprised me, in that, in spite of that obstacle, I managed to make something happen with them. I get very annoyed, though, about that kind of thing. I don't think I'm an egomaniac, but I really like to do my own things the way I want to do them. I don't mind somebody making suggestions, but not to insist on you doing what they say. I understand, too, that they've got to try and sell the record. And if they sell records, then they can make more.

"There are companies who do put money back from their record sales, and try to record same more artistic things. In other words, things that they don't necessarily think are going to sell a whole lot, but they put their creative energy behind it to try and sell it. To me this element seems to be sadly lacking in the record business. That's one thing in the last few years that's been a bit disturbing, that record companies have seemed to be less and less inclined to put their profit to use in this way.

"Now, I don't know every company; so I could be wrong about it. But I am doing sessions every day, and I see what's going on, the kind of thing they're recording, their attitude and everything. It's very pleasant working in the studios most of the time, but there does seem to be this obsession with the dollar, or the pound. I make a good living at it - so I don't wish to sound hypocritical, you know."

And Arnold Shaw offered these (at times, melodramatic) comments about the recording in his liner notes to Victor Feldman Plays Everything In Sight :

"Victor Feldman without a musical instrument is like an elephant without tusks, a lion without a roar, a fish without fins. Master of so many instruments it is difficult to keep track, he undertakes the more difficult feat in this debut LP on World Pacific by playing many of them simultaneously. Marvel at the musicianship of this one-man band, but savor with delight the feast of swinging and ear-tingling sounds it produces.

Although this is not Feldman's first recording, as a one-man-band—he made an LP for Esquire while he was still a British musician—it is his first release in the genre here. In response to questions regarding the mechanics of playing all the instruments himself he explained:

'I start out by recording either the piano or the drum track first. I work from a sketch arrangement, adding other instruments as I go along [for the record, in addition to piano, vibes and drums, Victor also employs on the album: novachord, alto vibes, tympani, electric piano, electric fender bass piano, organ, marimba, xylophone, conga drum, tambourine, chocalho, jawbone, cowbells, triangle and squeak sticks].

'Once the melodic and harmonic designs are clearly established, I bring in the Fender bass piano, which is so important to the rhythm. I introduce my third major instrument toward the end. Afterwards, I put in the decorative touches—like a punctuating triangle on 'Have a Heart.' It takes a minimum of four demanding hours in the studio to complete a tune. The toughest part is getting back into the swing of a number each time around, not merely the problem of timekeeping but the vital matters of beat and pulse.

'And don't overlook the engineering problems involved. Dick Bock, who produced this LP, as well as the engineers[Lanky Linstrot & Dino Lappas], did a masterful job of balancing the various instruments and keeping the sound fresh and vibrant through the various stages of recording."

While Victor is certainly correct about the unevenness of the music on the ten tracks that comprise the album, from a purely Jazz perspective it does contain three outstanding performances: [1] "By Myself"—the only thing better than the rousing piano choruses on this track are the vibes solo choruses that follow them [2] "Sure As Your Born"—yet another version of Johnny Mandel's then popular theme from the 1966 movie Harper, which once again shows both Victor's singularity and originality as a vibraphonist, and [3] Have a Heart, played as a jazz waltz and featuring more of Victor's characteristic rollicking and percussive piano work.

Also in 1967, British tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes made his fourth appearance in the States, as part of the exchange scene with Ronnie's Scott 's club [the "New Place" on 47 Firth Street]. As Tubby tells it in an interview with Les Tomkins:

"I was fortunate enough this time to get two weeks at Shelly Manne's club, the Manne—Hole, in Los Angeles. I was also very fortunate to work with Victor Feldman's trio. That was a most enjoyable experience. As you know, I've known Victor for about 15 years and worked with him in the past over here on several record dates and in the clubs. He has a very tightly—knit trio now, with Monty Budwig on bass and Colin Bailey on drums.

'They've worked quite a bit together. I took over some of my original material, plus a few of the arrangements of standards that I use with the quartet here. We also did some of the things Victor had written, mainly to feature him on vibes and me on flute, which made a contrast to the tenor—and—three— rhythm type of thing.

'I didn't bother to play the vibes, because his playing is so tremendous that anything I did would have been quite superfluous. From the musicianship point of view, it was wonderful to work with the trio. I wouldn't say it was better than working with Cedar Walton's trio, which I did in New York last year, because that was fantastic, you know. This was a different sort of feel in a lot of ways, but equally as good.

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