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Interview Two: I've Lost My Taste for Jam Sessions
Second interview with British jazz vibraphonist, pianist and percussion player Victor Feldman talking to Les Tomkins in 1965.
Source: Jazz Professional
It’s been very exciting for me to come over this time. My wife and I have been able to bring our two children over and let my family see them. When we’ve spoken about my friends and family here in England, my three-year-old son didn’t know who we were talking about. Now it’s kind of nice that he’ll be in on the secret. They both caught colds here, but apart from that they had a good time.
I’ve enjoyed playing at Ronnie’s, and we did an It’s Jazz programme the other day that was very enjoyable.
I have a trio in the States consisting of Monty Budwig on bass and Colin Bailey on drums. Colin is from Swindon, England—and a terrific drummer. What I’ve done is brought over music that we play. But we’ve played it for months and months. I’d never worked with Rick and Ronnie before and I think it’s marvellous the way they picked it up so quickly. Unbelievable, in a way. But naturally, Colin, Monty and I feel that the three of us have got kind of spoilt, because we’ve got such a good thing going. Which is inevitable, after the right combination of people have played together for a long time. We really seem to have empathy for each other’s playing. It’s the same in Los Angeles, when we play separate gigs. We enjoy playing other things, but the peaks for us have been the last couple of years, working together as a trio.
We’ve recorded for Vee-Jay, and I’m very excited about the album we did. Most of the tracks weren’t more than about three or four minutes long. At one time, I never used to like making short jazz records and I still think doing so just for commercial reasons is a drag, actually. But, in another way, I find that to keep on playing a long solo, when you’ve said what you’ve got to say—I don’t think that’s too good, either. And, in this album, I managed to stay away from that. I approached it from that standpoint so that we’d have some cohesion through the whole thing. To be honest about it—some of them were short because they could be made into singles, of course. But I felt it was as much of a challenge to condense what you have to say into capsule form. A few of them I didn’t allow to be cut down, because it would have lost the whole point of the piece.
I find the trio context very satisfying. I’m always looking for new tunes. I don’t find it easy finding tunes that I can mould to the way I want to play, but I’m sure there are a lot around that would be suitable. The trouble is, I’ve never been one of those people—I don’t think I know the lyrics of one tune. I don’t know the authors to many tunes, I’m ashamed to say. Now it’s becoming annoying to me, because I think it would help me to find new material if I knew more about what standard tunes have been written by various people. We have about 60 tunes that we play with the trio, and that’s quite a lot, really. But we need new things to rehearse. In fact, the last rehearsal we had, I had written a piece that was in 6/4 alternating with 5/4—not just for the sake of writing a 5/4 piece. That’s the way I heard it, so it just came out that way.
When we got to the solos, we still played the same time measures. A lot of groups play 5/4 at the beginning, and then go into 4/4. I’m finding it a challenge now to try and play in 5/4 and make sense out of it. It’s hard not to play phrases in 4/4 or 3/4. You find yourself chopping notes off the phrases you’re playing—and that isn’t really the answer. You have to start hearing new phrases and playing a different way.
I’ve heard some music from Venezuela that I have some tapes of at home. Everything’s in 6/4. There’s a harp player, a maracas player, a guitar—or, actually, it’s a quarto—and a guitarone on there, playing the bass notes. And it’s the first time I’ve heard a harp player really swing. I’ve heard people try to play the harp in jazz, but it’s syncopation, rather than swing. This guy’s fantastic. There’s a few of ‘em in Venezuela. I can’t recall his name; it’s on the tip of my tongue.
The maracas player is also a marvellous musician. He makes fill-ins at the right time into the bridges, he can make trills on the maracas—all kinds of amazing things. And the sound these guys get with what they do! It really swings. I’m going to try and incorporate it into something I do on a record, and let it be sort of an influence. Te harmonic structure’s so simple. There’s 7th chords and major chords—but it’s a matter of knowing how to improvise on that. Because when you’ve improvised on the chord structures that I commonly use—this is entirely different. So I’m working on it.
There have been challenges of all kinds for me in the past, it’s true. But I think the hardest thing is to try and do something really original. I mean, I think I have done it in some ways, in the way I play. I do quite a lot of things that I think are my own. It’s always hard to draw the line where you’re being influenced by someone, and what you’re actually doing that’s original.
With me, it’s both. I don’t know which is the greater—whether the people that have influenced me come out in my playing more, or whether my self comes out more. But I would like to do something that’s a higher percentage of myself, and that’s very hard to do. Because—in jazz, anyway—you can’t just do something by yourself. Unless you’re someone like the bass player, Francois Rabbath. He plays all his own things and he has a drummer that fits in great with him. But, in California, if you want more than two people, it’s pretty difficult. Everyone’s so spread out. It’s not like New York, where everyone gets together more and plays, in apartments and things.
I don’t enjoy going to jam sessions any more. Lots of guys say: “Do you want to come round and have a blow?” I don’t do it—I’d rather stay at home and practise, or start thinking about arranging—try and write something down. I’ve lost my taste for jam sessions, because mostly I was playing piano—and I’d be comping for ten horn men. It just got very wild, and there was very rarely any experimentation going on. So I haven’t been doing much of that lately.
Copyright © 1965, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.