Victor Feldman - Part 5: The Final Years, 1978-87


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'Victor was all about music, and although he had a lot of native ability he was constantly applying himself, always learning something new. He made himself into a phenomenal pianist.' —Bob Cooper
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Looking back to 1978, it's hard to believe that in less than 10 years, Victor would no longer be with us.

Woody Herman was never out of Victor's musical life. His career in the States had begun when he joined Woody's band and he often expressed his gratitude to the Old Man for making it all happen for him. Victor once shared with me:

"Right from the first, he made me feel at home on the band. I had many chances to solo on vibes, and I even had a long drum feature which the brass players loved because it gave them a chance to rest their chops. In those days, being an alumni of the Kenton or Herman band was helpful in being accepted on the West Coast scene because so many of the first call guys had come off those bands. It was like our time together at university.

"Although I hardly knew him, I never recall anyone saying a bad word about Stan Kenton and the same holds true for the guys who played with Woody. We would do anything for him. I think the reason that they were able to hold a band together for a long time was that they were real "Men," fatherly guys who took their obligations and responsibilities seriously.

"So when Woody called, if I could make it, I always tried to return the favor. It all began with him: coming to the Coast, the Lighthouse gig, meeting [my wife] Marilyn, having my own bands, making my own records; none of this would have happened the same way without him. Ronnie Scott is another person I feel this way about. He changed my life, too, by urging me to go to the States."

The first "call" came in 1959 when Woody was invited to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival. As Gene Lees explains in Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman (New York: Oxford, 1995, p. 228):

"For that 1959 festival, Woody put together a group of his veterans. By now his alumni association had grown so large that in New York and on the west coast, he could easily pull together a new band made of old members who already knew the book, or most of it. The band he assembled included: Zoot Sims, Bill Perkins, and Richie Kamuca, tenors; Don Lanphere, alto and tenor; Med Flory, baritone; Al Porcino, Bill Chase, Conte Candoli, and Ray Linn, trumpets; Urbie Green and Si Zentner among the trombones, Charlie Byrd, guitar; Victor Feldman, vibes; and the powerful Mel Lewis, drums The band played in a hot afternoon sun as civilian aircraft droned overhead; the U.S. Navy and Air Force had graciously routed their flights away from the festival. You can hear the annoying aircraft on the album derived from the concert."

Fortunately, Atlantic Records recorded the band at the festival and issued an LP—Woody Herman's Big New Herd at the Monterey Jazz Festival, which has since been re-issued on CD by Koch Jazz.

Victor takes a funky vibes solo that opens "Like Some Blues Man" (which might be aptly named, "Like Some Very Slow Blues Man"), and his introductory eight bars on piano sets a jaunty pace for the following tune—"Skoobeedoobee," both of which are Ted Richards originals. (Incidentally, my sons assure me that the latter tune had absolutely no relationship to the yet-to-come TV cartoon series featuring the floppy-eared hound with a similar, sounding name.)

For the record, Mel Lewis had never played with Woody's band before this MJF appearance. Had he, there would have been talk in jazz lore about the Mel Lewis Herd in addition to the references to past aggregations driven by drummers Davey Tough and Don Lamond as well as those to be commandeered by Jake Hanna and Ronnie Zito in the 1960s and the Jeff Hamilton Herd of the 1970s. Any jazz drummer worth his salt would want to take a crack at driving this band.

For confirmation of this assertion, all one need do is listen to the manner in which Mel puts the band through its paces on "(Monterey) Apple Tree." Victor's cookin' on vibes gets so hot that you can hear Woody in the background giving him two additional choruses.

According to Ralph Gleason's liner notes, Woody commented: "I wish I could take this band on the road." Gleason went on to say that "Everyone agreed that it one of the greatest bands Woody had ever stood before." Given the mutual respect and affection that Woody and Victor had for each other, it was no surprise that, when in 1978 Woody decided to do an album featuring an extended piece by Chick Corea and the songs of Steely Dan's Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, he would turn to Victor to arrange and play on one of the tunes. The album is Chick, Donald, Walter & Woodrow (BBC/Century, 1978). On it, Victor arranged "I've Got the News," which features Tom Scott on tenor saxophone.

Also in 1978, Nat Adderley, another old friend, came calling with a request that Victor appear on his date for Galaxy Records, Orrin Keepnews new label, an album entitled A Little New York Midtown Music (Galaxy/Fantasy, 1978). Joining Nat and Victor on this excursion into neo hard bop are Johnny Griffin on tenor sax and a rhythm section of Ron Carter on bass and Roy McCurdy on drums.

Around the time of this recording, Victor had adopted "whip it up!" as a new favorite expression which he would snigger ("snuffle" might be a more apt description). I have no idea as to its source, but he would just blurt it out as one word—"whipitup"—and laugh at the sound of the phrase for no apparent reason at all.

Nat wrote four of the seven tunes on the album, and he asked Victor to bring up an original to the recording sessions which took place on September 17-18, 1978 at the Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA.

It should come as no surprise that the name Victor gave to the new chart written for this date was—wait for it—"Whipitup!" Like "Seven Steps to Heaven," "Agitation" and "The Artful Dodger"—tunes by Victor with melodies framed over cleverly structured rhythmic phrases—"Whipitup" is a wickedly fast drummer's delight that employs an insistent rhythmic vamp over which is played a simple melody with intriguing changes. Needless to say, given such a compositional "magic carpet, Johnny Griffin who, at one time was labeled "the world's fastest tenor player," just flies on it.

1978 was another very busy year in the recording studios for Victor. In addition to the projects with Woody Herman and Nat Adderley, he made albums with flutist Hubert Laws, tenor saxophonist John Klemmer and flute and reed player Joe Farrell (about which, more later). But the happiest occurrence for him that year was the call he received from Yupiteru Records, a subsidiary of a Japanese electronics firm by the same name whose owner was a huge Jazz fan. He invited Victor to cut six tracks for a jazz LP, the material and musicians to be of his own choosing.

Released as Together Again (Yupiteru, 1978), the LP reunited Victor, who plays piano exclusively, with Monty Budwig on bass and Shelly Manne on drums. Victor's playing on the date is electric and electrifying, no doubt in part due to the presence of Monty and Shelly. Moreover, the LP gives us a chance to hear a musician whose command of the piano now reflects a deep understanding of the instrument's full range of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic possibilities. His three-chorus improvisation on Bud Powell's "Budo" (Hallucinations) is composed of jazz inventions (particularly on the bridge) so perfectly original that Victor sounds almost as though he has devised a style that's sui generis.

Victor contributed two originals to the date—"Money's Blues" (he could write terrific blues lines) and "Down in Cancun" (played as a bossa samba)—on which he spins out an intriguing series of choruses reflecting a jazz pianist in his prime. He gets the piano rocking and rumbling on the blues track, which he closes out with some superb 12-bar exchanges with Shelly.

The strong sense of joy and good fun that emanates from Victor, Monty and Shelly making music on this recording extends through all of its tunes: the beautifully rendered ballad "Remind Me," "What Kind of Fool Am I" (which is offered as a jazz waltz), and a funky, medium-tempo version of the Motown pop hit "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You."

Perhaps one of the reasons for the impressive growth in Victor's acoustic piano playing is that during the late 1970s and into the 1980s he was working fairly regularly at Pasquale's, a jazz club located in the Malibu Colony near his home. The club's appellation came from the Italian-given name of bassist 'Pat' Senatore, who owned and operated it along with his wife Barbara. Pat maintained a resident trio at the club that, in addition to Victor on piano, also featured from, time-to-time, Alan Broadbent, Frank Collett and Roger Kellaway along with drummers Peter Erskine, Roy McCurdy and Frankie Severino.

It was one thing for Victor to stop off at Donte's Jazz club in North Hollywood if he was doing studio work in Hollywood or at Warner Brothers in Burbank or at Universal Studios in Universal City (literally walking distance from Donte's on Lankershim Blvd). However, anyone who knows anything about Los Angeles traffic knows that a commute from coastal Malibu through the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains prior to traversing the Simi and San Fernando Valleys is, at best, horrendous. "Pasquale's," located just up the Pacific Coast Highway (CA Highway 1) from Victor's home, was a welcome alternative for him, and he was there often.

It was also to become the site of his next, significant jazz recording, this one as part of a trio backing Joe Farrell on Farrell's Inferno (Jazz a la Cart), an LP that has never been issued to disc. On it, Joe plays flute, soprano and tenor saxophones. Joining Victor to form the rhythm section are bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer John Guerin.

Born Joe Firantello, Joe was a veteran of stratospheric trumpeter Maynard Ferguson's big band [1960- 61], a founding member of the Thad Lewis and Mel Lewis Orchestra (1966-69, and was a featured member of drummer Elvin Jones quartet from 1967-1970. As noted in the The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (ed. Barry Kernfeld, p.355), " ...his modal style, which incorporated inflections of Latin Jazz, blended well with the approach of [Chick Corea's] Return to Forever, a group he joined in 1971."

Farrell's work with Return to Forever ultimately brought him to the West Coast, where he became a session player after leaving Chick's group. Victor met Joe in the studios and worked regularly with him both in the quartet and in a 18-piece (largely rehearsal) band that Joe fronted.

Made up of performances recorded at Pasquale's in the early 1980s, the seven tracks on Farrell's Inferno are an excellent indication of Farrell's "adventurous modal approach and his interest in purse sound. ...He was perhaps a better flautist than saxophonist, but his soprano work always had what one-time colleague-vocalist Flora Purim described as a 'singing' quality that eliminates the horn's often rather shrill character" (Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed., p.497).
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