JJ 01/62: Victor Feldman – In My Opinion

Sixty years ago the Edgware-born percussionist and pianist thought that Lionel Hampton ran a musical circus, that Duke Ellington was the greatest musician that ever lived and that Chris Barber fans eventually graduate to better music. First published in Jazz Journal January 1962

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Victor Feldman at the vibes. Photo by Bill Wagg

This is one of a series of taped interviews with musicians, who are asked to give a snap opinion on a set of records played to them. Although no previous information is given as to what they are going to hear, they are, during the actual playing, handed the appropriate record sleeve. Thus in no way is their judgment influenced by being unaware of what they are hearing. As far as possible the records played to them are currently available items procurable from any record shop. From being hailed as a drum prodigy at the age of seven, Victor has progressed up the musical scale to now being generally recognised as Britain’s top jazzman in the States. As pianist and vibraphonist he played with Ted Heath in this country, as well as leading his own trio. He emigrated to America in 1955, and toured with one of the Woody Herman Herds, until he settled down on the West Coast two years later. He has recently been working as pianist with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. – Sinclair Traill

“Stars Fell On Alabama”. Art Tatum. Columbia 33C 9033
I know most people think that as far as pianists are concerned Art Tatum is the beginning and the end. It isn’t quite so with me. As a soloist, yes, but not when accompanying someone. He was too much of an individualist to accompany well – it takes away from his freedom. But as far as his solo work is concerned, he must be the greatest that ever lived. Did you ever hear of Fulton McGrath? He was with Jimmy Dorsey, and made quite a few records some years ago. He was my father-in-law and he had some tapes of Tatum playing at a club which were really terrific. I only once heard Tatum myself in the flesh. He was at Basin Street and he knocked me out.

“Hot Mallets”. Lionel Hampton. HMV CLP 1023
Well, that was not a record I would buy. Not because it was an old record, for there are heaps of old records I love, but because things recording-wise have progressed so much. Had I been buying records when that was made I would probably have fallen for it, but not now. Through no fault of Lionel’s the vibes are out of tune throughout. It was the way the notes were made in those days. Best part of the record was that tenor by Chu Berry – he really swings doesn’t he? As for the rest, well, it may come as a surprise, but nothing that Lionel Hampton does really knocks me out. Milt Jackson moves me, really moves me, but not Lionel. Mind you I have heard him play some things with four mallets which are very pretty, and some of the things he did with Benny Goodman are clever, but I never idolised him as I did Milt. Of course his bands have been nothing more than musical circuses, or that’s the way they strike me. As a musician I don’t get too much out of what he does.

“Nice Work If You Can Get It”. Earl Hines. Philips BBL 7222
Funnily enough I have never heard much of Earl Hines’ work. It wasn’t very modern, but that doesn’t matter – it was certainly swinging. He was the innovator of that style of playing, and must be admired as such. It was a happy sound he produced, as if he was enjoying himself. Sometime I must take time off to go along and hear him. He lives not very far from where I am.

“Big Bad Wolf”. Duke Ellington (Bal Masque). Philips SBBL 543
Well, I wish you had time to play me the whole of that album. Duke Ellington to me is the greatest musician that ever lived – his orchestrations, his band, everything he does is supreme. There are things about Duke and his music that one finds almost impossible to put into words. Strange thing about this band is that if any of these orchestrations were written for and played by any other band, well, they would sound completely different. Ellington has always been one of my prime favourites. He has done so much for jazz; more perhaps than any other person.

I have never heard that tune done before. One wouldn’t think it would suit the jazz idiom, but Duke’s humorous approach makes it into something special. The big sound that band gets – those chords when they are all playing together – is something that no other band have ever got. It’s Ellington’s scoring, of course, that makes it like that. Not to make comparisons, but not even Basie can sound like that – he hasn’t got that swing. Harmonically Duke is way out in front.

The only other band that has moved me nearly as much was that wonderful band of Dizzy’s in the forties. The spirit that band had and the modern-sounding arrangements! But Duke has been writing and arranging things for years that have been way in advance of their time. That Happy Go Lucky Local, from “Piano In The Background”, just put me on the floor. It’s like a herd of elephants marching across the jungle, in its power and propulsion.

“Moanin'”. Art Blakey & Jazz Messengers. Blue Note 4003
That’s a fine tune by young Bobby Timmons. They say there is a kind of nationalism amongst the young musicians in New York these days, but I don’t believe it. That’s the way Bobby Timmons likes to write, that’s the way he really feels. I don’t think he is trying to prove anything particularly. I can’t take too much funk, if it hasn’t any musical content, but I think this a particularly good piece of writing – and it is certainly a popular piece. Good and somewhat unusual for something that is good to be popular.

Art Blakey is wonderful these days; much better than he used to be. Uses more dynamics, which along with that tremendous drive makes him a really great drummer. He has always been one to encourage the younger musicians and has had a lot to do with the success of the trumpet player on this record, Lee Morgan – a great young player. Nearly forgot to mention Benny Golson there – I love his warm style. Talking about funk, one can get in a rut when there are too many blue notes. One loses out musically and harmonically if you play funky things all the time. But that is the style that suits this group – they are a humorous bunch and go well together.

“Twelfth Street Rag”. Barney Kessel. Vogue LAC 12058
Well, I guess that was supposed to be funny. Personally I find it too frivolous and light-hearted. Perhaps I haven’t that kind of a sense of humour, but it didn’t amuse me. I suppose I had better be careful what I am saying, or I’ll be hearing from Lester Koenig. Perhaps the rest of the album is better than that – hope so anyway. Georgie Auld was fine, but that was all.

“A Peck A Sec.” Freddie Hubbard. Blue Note 4056
That’s the first time I’ve heard Freddie Hubbard, and it is obvious that he is more than a young and promising trumpet player; he sounds great. Hank Mobley is always very good, but funnily enough I think he comes over better on record than he does in person. Hubbard seems to stem directly from Kenny Dorham, with something of Miles, but there is something personal in there also. He was playing with John Coltrane recently in New York, and Cannonball told me that he played some wonderful stuff when he heard him. Good modern spirit on that record, nice feeling and good musically.

“What’s I’m Gotcha”. Chris Barber. Columbia 33SX 1189
This extraordinary trad scene? Well, it was very popular when I was here five years ago. I paid a visit to 100 Oxford Street and sat in on drums with Alex Welsh – it was great fun. I think the reason why this trad music is so popular is because it is a happy music and easy to dance to. People were jigging around and enjoying themselves down there. Nothing profound and clever musically, but people who start to like Dixieland or that Barber kind of Dixieland or whatever you call it, some of them go forward and get to liking better music in time. So I am sure it does no one any harm.