The Victor Feldman Biography (Short Version)
Victor Feldman is considered the finest all-around jazz musician ever to come from Great Britain. He was born on April 7, 1934, and was performing on stage playing the drums with Glenn Miller’s band at the age of six. Glenn Miller called Feldman “The greatest young percussionist ever created.” He was featured in several motion pictures and on the B.B.C. Since his arrival in the United States he recorded over twenty albums of his own, scored music to films, and authored music books and a video music lesson. Over a hundred of his compositions have been recorded, including the instantly recognizable jazz classics "Seven Steps To Heaven” and “Joshua,” made famous by Miles Davis and recorded and performed by thousands of artists worldwide.
Victor has performed, toured and recorded with Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Seals and Crofts and The L.A. Express, to name a few. In the 1980’s he created his own band, The Generation Band, that featured Tom Scott, Robben Ford and Trevor Feldman. He has played on countless television and movie soundtracks, as well as with the biggest names in popular music including Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Boz Scaggs, Kenny Loggins, Elton John, Cher, Tom Waits, Joe Walsh, Frank Zappa, Stanley Clarke, Freddy Hubbard, Sonny Rollins, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, James Taylor, Christopher Cross, Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones, Stan Getz, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond, and even Elvis Presley. He was the winner of The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences “Most Valuable Player” award for 1980 and 1981.
Victor created a video music lesson entitled An Introduction to Chord Progressions, which features Victor explaining exactly how his chord charts work and shows Victor playing every note, including a test given and a play-along segment.
Victor is known worldwide as a musician’s musician for his beautiful taste in chord voicings, inspired improvising and composing, and solid time feeling. Always soft spoken and unassuming, Feldman will be remembered as one of the most versatile of all musicians. Although he could change styles at the drop of a hat, his subtle creativity and integrity reveals itself in every performance. Traits like these won him the respect and adoration of his peers. He was the ultimate Jazz Journeyman as well as an established leader, and his talents as a multi-instrumentalist were in constant demand by other leaders and studio producers alike. His innumerable contributions to Jazz and popular music surround us today thanks to an extraordinarily prolific recording career.
On May 12, 1987, the music world lost one of its all-time jazz legends and renowned musicians at the age of 53. As further testament to the magnitude of one of the finest musicians that has ever lived, Feldman was inducted into the “Musician’s Hall of Fame” in 2007.
Victor Feldman - The In Depth Story / Biography
Victor Feldman is considered the finest Jazz musician Great Britain ever produced. He resides amongst the world’s greatest, most inspiring, most creative music makers ever. The London born musician was a multi-instrumentalist: he played piano, vibes, drums, and all the percussion instruments.
Victor was born on April 7, 1934, and was raised and schooled in Edgeware, London. With three out of four brothers playing there was a musical atmosphere about the Feldman house and soon Victor was joining in on a toy drum set his father had bought for him. Victor said of the first moment he played the drums, “I merely took the sticks and began playing. It has always been that way. I suddenly relax inside and rhythms come out of my fingers."
Victor played on the concert stage in England at the age of six. As a child he appeared with Glenn Miller and was featured in several motion pictures and on the B.B.C. American swing critics described him as a “Boy Wonder,” and at the time he was considered a “Drum Wizard,” and the most natural thing that ever happened in British Dance music. He was proclaimed “The Kid Krupa of the Sticks.” His fame spread all around the world of swing, especially in the U.S.A., where the members of the Glenn Miller band marveled at Victor’s extraordinary prowess. Miller was astounded when he heard Victor, proclaiming him to be “the most amazing child percussionist of all time.” Victor is said to be the only British musician to ever play with Glenn Miller and his orchestra.
At the age of 7, Victor joined his first band with brothers Bob and Monty and formed The Feldman Trio, which featured young Victor on drums. They played many wartime venues including Red Cross Benefits to Aid For Russia Fund Drives from 1941-1948.
The Feldman house was constantly alive with music. Victor was said to be the only 11 year old boy who could sit in the living room of a suburban home and bash the daylights out of a full set of drums all evening without the neighbors complaining. This lad had done it ever since he was old enough to clutch a drumstick.
Victor said, “As I grew older my craze for music was not satisfied merely by the rhythm of the drums. I wanted something more melodic, and I took up the piano and later the vibraphone.” While in his teens he enrolled in the London College of Music but he was unsatisfied with what he was offered there, as there was a real prejudice toward Jazz. Swing and the newly emerging sounds of Be-Bop were taking over England. Feldman was hooked. During this time he was deferred from Military duty in India in 1953 and joined up with Ronnie Scott’s band. Before leaving Great Britain to emigrate to America, Victor made 20 record albums, topped the music polls for many years and represented London at the Paris Jazz Festival for two consecutive years.
Victor recalled, “It was Ronnie who encouraged me to emigrate. I was playing at an air force base when Woody Herman came to England. I was about 19, and the only other American Band I had heard live was Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band- I had played with him when I was younger. That night I heard Woody. Nat Pierce, who was his pianist, heard me play piano and a drum feature number. I went to New York in October 1955, and while I was playing a few odd gigs, Nat was very kind to me, taking me around to some of the spots. I went to Woody’s rehearsal and Woody asked me if I wanted to join the band. I started out playing drums and conga drums. Working with the Herman Band, I began to understand the rhythmic importance of where to put the accents. The nuances of time became meaningful to me after I came to America, and this was one band that really concentrated on the time feel."
Feldman spent 18 months with the Herman Herd, interrupted by a return to London to record an album and work briefly with Ronnie Scott. When Herman cut down to a small combo, Feldman switched from vibes to drums, but by then the time had come, he felt, to give up roadwork. He left Herman with reluctance: “Woody was always very encouraging to me. Here I am an immigrant with no home, on the road, and he really made me feel at ease. It’s no wonder they call him the Road Father.”
Settling in Los Angeles, Feldman soon joined Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars. During his two years with the combo he studied arranging with Marty Paich, won the Down Beat’s Critics Poll as “New Star on Vibes,” and was helped in his recording career by the late Les Koenig of Contemporary Records, who gave him his own trio album session, “The Arrival of Victor Feldman,” with Stan Levy on drums and Scott LaFaro on bass.
“People who heard me at the Lighthouse started recommending me around. Somehow I got type cast as a percussionist in the studios, and Henri Mancinni used me on his TV show, Peter Gunn. I started using the money I earned from these jobs to buy a whole family of percussion instruments so I didn’t have to rent them all the time."
It took Cannonball Adderley to lift Feldman out of the studios and put him back in the jazz spotlight. “Cannonball heard a record I made with Shelly Manne and he called me to play on an all-star album with him- Wes Montgomery, Ray Brown and Louis Hayes. Then he asked me if I wanted to join his regular group. I was really knocked out.”
There was an ironic twist to the strategy by which Adderley secured this job for Feldman. Possibly dubious about the acceptance by his sidemen of a white colleague, he played them the Feldman album that had impressed him on a blindfold test basis. When the musicians were dually impressed, he informed them, “That’s our new pianist.”
Feldman was given the chair formerly held by Wynton Kelly. At this time he created “The Chant,” and from 1960-1961, Feldman was an important part of the Adderley quintet. He contributed several more of his own compositions for the quintet to record including “New Delhi,” “Exodus,” and “Azule Serape.” Feldman became a member of one of the most successful working groups of the time.
“My English mannerisms used to crack the musicians up,” Feldman recalled. “We had a good time and I remember Cannonball as one of the greatest human beings and players I’ve ever come in contact with. He changed the course of my life. He had this marvelous gift of talking to people and getting through to them. He broke through all that racial stuff."
Around the time he had joined Adderley, Feldman was married, in 1960, to Marilyn McGrath.
“Her father had died before I met her. He was a fine pianist who had worked with the Dorsey Brothers and Red Nichols. Marilyn traveled with me part of the time but when she got pregnant I left Cannonball and went back to Los Angeles."
For the next two years he stayed close to home, aside from a tour of Russia playing vibes with Benny Goodman in 1962. “He’s a marvelous clarinetist, but that was an uneasy situation. You never knew where you stood with Benny.” Feldman’s next significant jazz adventure came about through Miles Davis.
“In 1963, I was working in a Hollywood club with Colin Bailey, the English drummer, and Monty Budwig on bass. Miles came in, said he liked me - asked me to record with him and write a tune."
This was a dream come true for Feldman. At the age of 16 Victor had sung and transcribed many of his solos but he never thought he would end up working with Miles and better yet writing two of the compositions for the album titled, Seven Steps to Heaven, in which he wrote the title track “Seven Steps to Heaven” and “Joshua.” He played piano on half of the album, mostly ballads, while the up-tempo pieces were played by Herbie Hancock.
“I used to go to Miles’ hotel and we’d sit at the piano and figure out chord changes together. We worked something out on ‘Basin Street Blues,’ which we played on the date. I wrote an original, ‘Joshua,’ named for my eldest son.”
“He asked me to write another tune for next date. I said, ‘It’s tomorrow, how can I?’ But that night after recording all day and working at the club at night, I went out to the car, sat in the back seat, and just wrote this tune. That was ‘Seven Steps To Heaven.’” This became the title tune of one of Davis’ best –known albums ever.
“Miles brought out my creativity. Before working with him, I’d heard a lot of stories about him, but I never believe the things people tell me about anybody like that …everyone has a quality within themselves that’s beautiful. Who are we to set up standards about how a person should act? I enjoyed playing with Miles and I enjoyed meeting him. He certainly seems to be very straight forward; he says what he wants to say…that’s the way he plays – in a very honest way. Whenever you play with him you get a feeling of starting fresh and wiping the cobwebs away. He creates an atmosphere around him that helps you to steer away from clichés. In fact he gets on my nerves sometimes, in a way, because he gets hold of a piece and then he wants to change it around so completely that I think he takes it too far. Then, on the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing to do that – to really tread new ground.”
Miles then took Feldman to San Francisco to work at the Black Hawk. “He asked me to go on the road with him, and this was a frustrating dilemma for me. He didn’t have too much work at that time, and I’d run the risk of blowing all my studio work. It was a turning point- I had to do my own thing or else keep playing with other leaders.” Feldman had no regrets: “What I always loved about Miles was that he never stopped experimenting.”
There followed a hiatus of almost 15 years during which Feldman’s jazz activity took second place to a busy studio life that earned him financial security and a comfortable home in the San Fernando Valley. He composed the music for several documentary films and a ballet. Victor didn’t play many live gigs throughout the 1960s and early 70’s but when he did, it was usually with fellow multi-instrumentalist Tom Scott. They recorded their own version of Feldman’s “Seven Steps to Heaven,” with bassist Chuck Domonico and drummer John Guerin, as the Victor Feldman quartet, called Victor Feldman and The Good Vibes. His unique quartet played to standing room only at all the well-known Hollywood jazz rooms.
He then went on to join the group known as L.A. Express. “The idea was to get some guys who really wanted to play, make a record and go out on the road for a few weeks, spacing the tours over a period of a year, so that we could still do our studio work. I enjoyed that experience - I learned to play synthesizers, work with more than one keyboard, and did quite a bit of writing.”
Feldman was unique. He differed from all other fusion musicians in that he could carry over a more genuine jazz sensibility, with his incredibly soulful chord voicings and a soulful feeling that could transcend the computerized synthesizer. He adapted his colorful chord voicings to the electric keyboard and was famous for his sound. Singer Lou Rawls, who had worked with Feldman, said “Victor is definitely a pianist’s pianist."
Very well recognized, he was in great demand to play on as many other artists’ albums as possible. As a studio musician he added new dimensions to countless popular recordings. One of the most extraordinary pop groups of the 70’s and 80’s was Steely Dan. The group featured Victor on all of their albums. Feldman left his indelible imprint on so many of their hits, whether it was his soulful Fender Rhodes piano solo on the song “Black Cow,” his cool vibraphone playing on “Razor Boy,” a tasteful Grand Piano performance on “I Got The News” or a one of a kind introduction on “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” to name a few.
Donald Fagan of Steely Dan said,
“The evidence of his great talent and elegant style is apparent on every recording we did together. His inventiveness could make a hum drum date into a classic. Walter and I were fans of Victors work with Miles Davis and others long before we came to California in 1972. I remember Walter getting him to autograph an album for him at one of our early sessions. During breaks I used to bug him to show me his brilliant chord voicings and other points of technique and, unlike some of the other players, he would cheerfully oblige. He was really generous in sharing his knowledge.”
In addition to playing with Steely Dan Victor toured, recorded, and played with so many of the biggest names in popular music, including The Doobie Brothers, Joni Mitchell, Seals and Crofts, Boz Scaggs, Kenny Loggins, Elton John, Joe Walsh, Cher, Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Stanley Clarke, Freddy Hubbard, Sonny Rollins, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, Bobby Darin, James Taylor, Christopher Cross, Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones, Stan Getz, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond, and even Elvis Presley.
Chick Corea, in a letter he wrote to Victor, said,
“I just wanted to let you know if I haven’t already told you, how much in admiration I’ve held you through the years of my musical growth. You’ve been a very positive influence on my own learning in music, and I really thank you for it.”
Philip Elwood, of The San Francisco Examiner, remarked of Feldman,
"His keyboard technique is above reproach and is matched by his brilliance on vibes and drums; his knowledge of rhythms and meters, and the possibilities inherent in combining melodic lines with percussion expressions, greatly expounds the sounds of any group within which he works."
Although he had tremendous success with electronic instruments, he never abandoned the pure sound of the acoustic piano, and in 1977 recorded Lime House Blues with the trio he fronted. They recorded the album, "The Artful Dodger.” The trio included Colin Bailey on drums, Chuck Domanico on bass, Monty Budwig on bass on “Haunted Ballroom,” “Limehouse Blues," and “St. Thomas”, and Jack Sheldon trumpet and vocal.
In 1978 Victor recorded his first direct-to-disc album entitled In My Pocket, featuring Harvey Mason and Hubert Laws. He was the winner of The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences “Most Valuable Player” award for 1980 and 1981.
In 1982 he recorded the follow up direct-to-disc recording entitled “Secret of the Andes”, which featured Lee Ritenour, Hubert Laws, Harvey Mason, and Abraham Laboriel, along with others. What of the music itself? Call it jazzy rock/fusion with large doses of Latin, African and South American spice, Secret of the Andes is an exotic world of melody, rhythm and percussion. Victor went on to record many more of his own albums, including several with his Generation Band.
The Generation Band featured Tom Scott, Robben Ford, Trevor Feldman, and Nathan East.
Excerpt from the article, “For Music,” written by Paul Gerardi WLOQ Radio:
“An impressive array of talent makes up The Generation Band: Victor Feldman is percussionist, composer, keyboardist, and father to drummer (Trevor and guest bassist Jake Feldman of the band, sharing bass duties with Nathan East. There are reedman Tom Scott and Ernie Watts, guitarist Robben Ford and pianist/saxophonist Larry Williams. These musicians think highly of Victor …'I make no secret of the fact that I admire Victor Feldman as a composer, player and a friend. He’s just one of the greatest there is'… said Tom Scott…Victor’s sincerity, good humor and unassuming manner, in the studio, inspire the band’s musicians to excel…In the sessions questions are asked, ideas are exchanged and decisions are made by all…for the sake of music. The atmosphere is relaxed with a genuine concern to accomplish and please…The Generation Band is vibrant, sensitive, forceful, laid back, intelligent, sincere and infectious. The musical idea begins with Victor’s manuscript. It then evolves through the musicians… "Music is great…as time goes on you discover new and different approaches” notes Victor… "New chord progressions are found by mutual participation”… "Generation band is a musical think tank…”
In 1983 he again utilized an acoustic trio for an album which adapted the music of Frederick Chopin for the Jazz idiom, entitled “To Chopin with Love,” with Victor playing piano, John Patitucci on bass, and Trevor Feldman on drums.
Victor said of the Chopin project, “It took quite a lot of experimenting to enable me to come up with the results I have – to come up with a musical result I feel retains respect for Chopin’s music and at the same time enables improvisation on it. It took experimenting and a great deal of work. My first arrangement of a Chopin piece started before leaving England in 1955. I was playing The A-Flat Major Waltz to improve my technique in my teens. At this time I was learning harmony from Charlie Parker, Al Haig and Dizzy Gillespie and found that Chopin’s Waltz was really a chord progression like something Bird or Dizzy were basing their great be-bop lines on. Years later in Los Angeles when Lester Koenig of Contemporary Records asked me to make a trio album, I recorded the A-Flat Major Waltz with Stan Levy and the late Scotty LaFaro. I have included a new version of it on this album and it’s dedicated to Scotty.”
World famous composer, conductor and pianist John Williams, (conductor of The Boston Pops Orchestra, composer of film scores including Jaws, Superman, Star Wars, and Harry Potter to name a few, and the winner of multiple Academy and Grammy Awards) commented about Victor…
“I met Victor Feldman just after he arrived in this country from England. We were brought together by Henry Mancini, in whose orchestra we both played at the time. Victor made an instant hit with all of his fellow musicians because he was so multi-faceted, highly musical and always an inspiration to play with. He exuded a love of music that was projected and passed on to anyone who came in contact with him. His love of the classics has always been evident in his music, and in his album he treats us to reminiscences of childhood Chopin studies. As always his work continues to delight us.”
On May 12, 1987, the music world lost one of its all time Jazz legends and awe inspiring musicians at the age of 53. As further testament to his magnitude, Victor Feldman is celebrated as one of the absolute finest musicians that has ever lived and was inducted into the “Musician’s Hall of Fame” in 2007. His innumerable contributions to Jazz and popular music surround us today thanks to an extraordinarily prolific recording career.