Under Appreciated Artist of the Week
Victor Feldman: Perfect Percussionist extrordinaire (Part 2)
How Victor Feldman made the 70s Sound Great
Think of Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones…the Doobie Brothers…musical acts that defined the 70s. All of these groups and many more featured the handiwork of one Victor Feldman. An unassuming jazz musician of enormous talent and style.
In our last blog we highlighted the path Victor took throughout the 1950s as he established himself as a drummer, vibraphonist and piano player. By 1970 he was working with Tom Scott, who himself was to become one of the most influential lights in the 1970s musical sky….
As with many musicians Victor’s chronology is somewhat hard to piece together at times. He seems to have began his band band with Tom Scott some time around 1970 but the only record issued by them, Your Smile, came out in 1973 on Choice Records. The sound on this record is cool LA jazz, the sort of music used on TV shows and movies of that period.
A year before that LP’s release Feldman began his long association with Steely Dan by joining them for the recording of their debut album in May and June of 1972. Steely Dan’s debut single ‘Do It Again’ comes alive from the outset with percussion by Feldman and guitar from Jeff Baxter. A year later Victor was back with the ‘Dan again on two definitve Steely Dan-esque tracks ‘Razor Boy’ and ‘Show Biz Kids’- on both of which he played the vibes. In late 1973 he added his distintinctive touch to Steely Dan’s big hit single ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’ by playing an odd instrument called a flopanda.
Without a doubt Feldman was looked upon as a key ingredient in the ongoing development of the famous Steely Dan sound but he was also one of the focal points in the evolution of Joni Mitchell and is all over her groundbreaking 1975 release The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Mitchell was in her prime in the mid-70s and by looking at the album credits for Summer Lawns it is evident that her sessions were the place to be in the summer of 1974. Robben Ford, Baxter, Feldman, Larry Carlton and even David Crosby, Graham Nash and James Taylor appeared on this classic Mitchell set.
Feldman’s work with Steely Dan continued throughout the rest of the decade and on their epic 1977 issue Aja Victor Feldman is featured on every track as either a percussionist of keyboardist. A remarkable achievement considering Becker and Fagen’s penchant for continually using different personnel on their recordings. One of the highlights of Aja for Feldman fans is his elegant piano (and vibes) on ‘I Got The News‘.
A year later Feldman in fact prepared his own arrangement of ‘News’ for the critically acclaimed ‘Chick, Donald, Walter and Woodrow’ album which was issued on Century Records in 1978. This Woody Herman album consisted of music composed by Chick Corea and Steely Dan and allowed Feldman to shine, particularly on a sizzling version of ‘Green Earrings’.…yeah the 70’s were cool.
Also in 1978 Feldman showed up on 2 brilliant records for Warner Brothers. One was Eumir Deodato’s jazz-rock-disco fusion LP ‘Love Island‘, which still sounds fresh today and the other was the debut LP from Rickie Lee Jones which put her
on the pop-rock map to stay. In an era that glorified session players and their performances Victor Feldman managed to carve out his own niche and be in the right place at the right time.
Yet despite all of these credits Feldman remained unknown to the general record buying public and and big-time record company executives. His solo releases, while enjoyable, could have been quite astonishing had they been blessed with an adequate budget behind them. Feldman had developed a unique genre that combined the pop sensibilities of Steely Dan with the hipness and eloquence of Weather Report…we complain today about smooth jazz….yet we could have avoided Kenny G altogether had more record execs been hanging out at jazz clubs instead of Studio 54….and signed Victor Feldman and his kind to a long term recording conctract.
Feldman however was never fazed by much of what was going on in the record biz and to this day his name is spoken of in revered tones by jazz lovers of a certain stripe…. So remember you HAVE heard Victor Feldman’s music…you just didn’t realize it….go back jack…and do it again…..and again…;-D