Zev Feldman: digging out the lost gems

    The producer responsible for a host of releases of previously unissued jazz in recent years thinks much of the best music is in the past

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    Zev Feldman. Photo by Jean-Louis Atlan

    If you have heard of Zev Feldman, it is likely you have recently purchased a previously unissued jazz album. He is known as the Jazz Detective for his work in finding lost or unknown sessions and bringing them out on disc – both studio and live sets.

    “I got started first of all with a lot of ambition and dreams of working in catalogue and A&R with older recordings,” he told me. “That’s where a lot of my passion lies, in older music. I’m really into nostalgia. I think much of the greatest music ever recorded was made in the past.” He was inspired, he tells me, by people like Michael Cuscuna at Blue Note and Mosaic and Michael Lang and Richard Seidel at Verve. “Before I was the Jazz Detective, I was the sales and marketing guy for Polygram Records and Universal Music Group.”

    This experience gave Zev Feldman a good barometer reading of knowing which albums would sell. He recalls fondly how amazing a time it was, working with labels like Verve, ECM, Decca, London and Phillips and feels that this was a great education in music. He regrets that many of those jobs no longer exist. The infrastructure built around bricks-and-mortar retail has shrunk and there has been a whole shift to online sales.

    Feldman credits George Klabin as the catalyst for him becoming known as the Jazz Detective. “He took a chance on me. We had already been developing our own simpatico and groove working together and building an international distribution network, and one day he said to me he was surprised I had never produced an album before, given how knowledgeable I was about recordings. Then he made me a proposition, that if found recordings which had never been released before, then I could produce it for the label.”

    That label was Resonance, and the offer changed everything for Feldman. He told me he put a lot of energy into finding lost tapes and the first two to be produced by him were Wes Montgomery’s Echoes Of Indiana Avenue and Bill Evans’ Live At Art D Lugoff’s Top Of The Gate. Feldman said that those two releases set him on his way and gave him the confidence to keep going. It took many years of falling down, getting up and making mistakes to get to the point he is at today, but he thinks having a boss like Klabin made it easier. He regards himself as lucky to have Klabin’s backing and appreciates being able to work with other record labels too.

    Feldman would not be drawn on which previously unissued album he is most proud of, saying that he loved all his projects and couldn’t pick just one. He did though admit to feeling passionate about Larry Young’s In Paris-The ORTF Recordings on Resonance.

    “I’m an enormous fan of Larry Young and I found these recordings that had never been out before. It was exhilarating. Then the press responded favourably, and it was voted No 1 in NPR’s Rara Avis /Reissue category in their 2016 jazz critics poll.”

    I wondered how easy – or difficult – it was to get permission and co-operation to release certain projects. “Sometimes easy, sometimes difficult. It depends on various factors. Usually, I‘m perceived as a good guy when I come calling to pay people to release a recording that’s either never been released before or has been bootlegged without the artist or their families receiving any money.”

    I mentioned that he had discovered several good sessions by pianist Bill Evans and trumpeter Chet Baker. Both recorded live prolifically. Did he think there might be more out there from these musicians? “I do. I think we’re making discoveries on these and others every day. It’s a very interesting time we’re living in. When these kinds of recordings come to life, connoisseurs compare them to studio recordings that they know inside out. But these live recordings offer fans an opportunity to hear them in different contexts. It’s been incredible being at the forefront of this movement, and I get phone calls all the time with tips to follow on where to find more.”

    Did he think it possible there was more to discover from Parker, Coltrane, Monk, Louis Armstrong and other greats? “Yes, I definitely think it’s possible. As I said earlier, literally every day we’re making new discoveries from all kinds of jazz greats. These artists played often and were frequently recorded, so it’s just a matter of connections, persistence, passion and good fortune.”

    When I asked Feldman which album he discovered and released he would regard as the single most important musically, he told me he couldn’t single any one of his releases as being most important. But the question did lead to him naming some that he regarded as very personal to him. 

    “They’re all important. I will say that Ahmad Jamal was a very personal journey for me. I was a big fan of his, and it was a very meaningful experience working with him on the three Emerald City Nights releases as the inaugural releases for my Jazz Detective label. The Albert Ayler Revelations box set on Elemental and the new Sister Rosetta Tharpe set on my new Deep Digs imprint are very special to me as well. These projects took many, many years to come to fruition.”

    Feldman said that he had to go round from record company to record company to find an investor willing to put them out. He also mentioned the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra release All My Yesterdays: The Debut Recordings At The Village Vanguard and Jaco Pastorius’s Truth, Liberty And Soul – Live In NYC on Resonance. He regards these recordings as important both musically and historically. “in terms of the stories we were able to tell about them. Because these projects took so long to finish, I find them very rewarding. Sometimes the road seems endless, but when you finally reach the end it’s amazing.”

    Did he ever worry that a release he put out might not be what a deceased musician would like to be in the public domain?

    “First of all,” he responded, “if the music isn’t great and doesn’t present the artist in the best light, forget about it. I always put what’s in the best interest of the artist’s legacy above all else. A lot of other labels don’t operate this way, and they put things out simply because they fall in the public domain years, but I guard the legacy of the artists very carefully. I listen to the music closely and have others with intimate knowledge of the music listen and, analyse the recordings as well. Then we determine if it adds to the artist’s legacy or is an important recording worth releasing. I always exercise the greatest discretion.”

    I asked Zev if he researched to try and find out why certain sessions have been shelved.

    “Yes, I do research certain sessions. Over time certain recordings can age better than others or become more important as the level of interest in an artist changes over time. The bottom line though is that if it doesn’t present the artist in a positive way, it’s not worth doing, period.”

    Feldman was reported as collaborating with Don Was at Blue Note, a company that left many sessions, some of them excellent, on the shelf because Alfred Lion and Francis Wolf were reputedly just too busy to cover everything on their own. In view of that situation, did Zev think there was even more unreleased material to come? “Yes, I do work as a consulting archival producer for Was at Blue Note. We released the previously unissued Just Coolin’ from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and the complete Lee Morgan Live At The Lighthouse but mostly we’re dealing with outside sources for recordings. Stay tuned for more news on that.”

    I enquired about the three-LP set of early Eric Dolphy albums he put out and a 10-LP collection of Nat King Cole focusing on his piano playing. “Both did very well”, he said, “and showed there is still a strong audience for these artists and live recordings.”

    Zev Feldman is co-president of Resonance Records, a co-founder of Elemental Music and Reel To Real Recordings and the founder and proprietor of Jazz Detective and Deep Digs Music Group as well as a consulting archival producer for Verve Label Group and others, so there will be plenty more new albums to come, it seems.

    His current work has produced 10 new releases, all coming out on Record Store Day (20 April) this year. These will include an Art Tatum set, Jewels In The Treasure Box, 1953 Chicago Blue Note Jazz Club Recordings, on Resonance Records. There is a Sonny Rollins album, Freedom Weaver – The 1959 European Tour (Resonance), Sun Ra At The Showcase – Live In Chicago (Jazz Detective) and two Cannonball Adderley Quintet LPs recorded live in France, Burnin’ In Bordeaux and Poppin’ In Paris 1972 (Elemental).

    Two particularly good sessions which I have heard already are Yusef Lateef, Atlantis Lullaby The Concert in Avignon (Elemental) and Mal Waldron/Steve Lacy – The Mighty Warriors: Live In Antwerp (Elemental).

    The Waldron/Lacy features a tough quartet with Reggie Workman (b) and Andrew Cyrille (d) playing live in Antwerp on 30 September 1995. Lacy’s dry, pure-toned soprano is heard in what can only be described as melodic avant-garde jazz on tracks by Monk and Cecil Taylor. Waldron puts his own smooth spin on all the music. The Lateef set has him without his usual array of exotic Asian instruments, playing a sturdy set of post-bop on tenor sax, soprano and flute, including an exquisite 17½ minute slow blues, Yusef’s Mood. Kenny Barron (p), Bob Cunningham (b) and Albert Heath (d) support. Both are double vinyl albums.

    Feldman says there are always more projects in various stages of development but he’s not saying anything about them at this stage.