On the Hunt for Classic Jazz: A Conversation with Zev Feldman

“There’s some very special moments when you’re hearing something privileged, and that’s one of the best parts of this job, hearing things for the first time.  An exclusive, if you will! We realized right then and there, ‘there is definitely music here that should be worth releasing!'” Speaking with Resonance Records co-president and “jazz detective” Zev Feldman over the phone, the joy and passion he brings to his calling — a worldwide hunt for unreleased archival recordings by titans of the genre — is almost palpable.

The focus of this conversation? One of Feldman’s latest efforts — Bill Evans Live at Ronnie Scott’s, out on LP on November 27 and CD December 4 (and recently reviewed in this space). As he sat in legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette’s home studio back in 2018, hearing the multitrack recordings of Evans, bassist Eddie Gomez and DeJohnette at the iconic London club during July 1968, his reaction was, first and foremost, that of a lifelong lover of the music.

“There’s so much beauty, lessons that I’ve learned from Bill.  He really helped me learn about the beauty and sometimes subtlety and just the way the chords and different things can come out. For a piano trio, with three guys, they have so much to say, and so much to express in the way that they communicate . . . Just these guys having a conversation up there – it’s amazing.  Different chemistry, different dudes; this is something that’s definitely got some hard hitting, some nice rough edges around here in a good way.”

Inspired by the Ronnie Scott’s tapes, Feldman set out to build a package that could not only stand with Resonance’s other Evans releases (including Some Other Time and Another Time by the same, rarely-recorded trio), but would fulfill “a responsibility, in taking the opportunity to make things as great as they can be.” Beyond the details of unearthing this recording, the album booklet is packed to the gills. Reflections from Gomez and DeJohnette (the latter in conversation with pianist Chick Corea) on their time together in Evans’ trio. A view of Evans’ London residency from the audience by British jazz writer Brian Priestley, who was there and raved about it . A unique illustration by brilliant commercial artist David Stone Martin, another of Feldman’s passions. And then there’s — Chevy Chase?

“I’m not sure the mainstream public is aware of this, or even most of Bill’s fans are aware of this, but Bill and Chevy were very good friends.  Chevy used to drive him home sometimes after gigs; they kept in touch over the years; Bill even had two kittens which he gave to Chevy, which he had their whole entire lives.  And Chevy is also a musician in his own right; some people may not be aware, but he’s also been a drummer and a pianist.” In other words, Chase brings to this release what Feldman and all the other contributors do: a long-standing delight in Evans’ music, filtered through his own unique perspective.

All this exemplifies the commitment that Feldman brings to every Resonance archival release, ticking off his recommendations from a rich catalog with unabashed glee: “[Organist] Larry Young, In Paris: The ORTF Recordings, all this unissued material that had been recorded when he was living in France, before coming back to the United States and recording for Blue Note.  All My Yesterdays, the opening night of [cornetist] Thad Jones and [drummer] Mel Lewis [Big Band] at the Village Vanguard. [Guitarist] Wes Montgomery, In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recording, an unbelievable document of this one and only tour that Wes did of Europe in 1965. [Bassist] Jaco Pastorius’ Truth, Liberty and Soul, which is a 24-track mixed album from the original tapes.  That was an extraordinary journey. Personal to me, [vocalist/pianist] Shirley Horn, Live at the Four Queens, a woman who I knew and was friendly with; I had the chance to work on that with her family, which was great. And I have to say, [vocalist/pianist] Nat King Cole!  Hittin’ the Ramp: The Early Years [just nominated for Best Historical Recording in the 2021 Grammy Awards] is just another unbelievable artistic triumph, thanks to my boss [Resonance founder George Klabin] and his generosity.  We’ve just been able to get some great stuff going.  It’s just like a dream here.” (Here, the writer can’t refrain from chipping in with his own recommendation: Resonance’s stunning set from avant-garde sax giant Eric Dolphy, Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions. Oh, and their forthcoming release by the ever-astonishing Sonny Rollins, Rollins in Holland as well.)

Feldman is at pains, though, to emphasize that Resonance goes beyond lost classics of jazz, as an arm of Klabin’s Rising Jazz Stars Foundation: “We also work with living artists too!  Putting out new recordings such as [clarinetist] Eddie Daniels; we have a brand new release from him.  We also have vocalist Polly Gibbons and violinist Christian Howes, and pianist Tamir Hendelman; there have been quite a few.  George’s generosity definitely led the way for so much support at Resonance. We’re a very small operation, literally seven on the staff.  I’m lucky I can be the face of the operation, along with George.  But you know, there’s a team of us that makes these happen.  We’re just having a great time doing all this work, and just want it to continue!”

As Feldman’s work has gained momentum and recognition, other companies beyond Resonance have benefited from his enthusiasm and skills, from fellow indies Real to Reel and Real Gone Music to big-time marquee labels like Verve/Impulse (where he co-produced the recent Thelonious Monk discovery Palo Alto). Most exciting of all, in 2019 Feldman took up a consulting role at the quintessential jazz masthead, Universal’s Blue Note Records, which he calls “a dream for me.” Projects there have included a previously unreleased session from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Just Coolin’, streaming compilations of guitarist Grant Green and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, and in the works — “one of the biggest productions I’ve ever been involved with — it’s a multi-multi-multi LP box set; it’s coming in the spring. It’s gotta be clearly one of the most ambitious productions that I’ve ever been involved with yet, and we’re doing it at Blue Note, and it’s coming out soon!”

Despite his self-description as “a record collector for decades and decades,” you can tell that it’s the people behind the music that impel Zev Feldman in his ongoing mission — and that extends to more than simply the artists. “Working in this business now going on thirty years — I can’t believe that! I’m so blessed to have so many friends and memories and experiences with individuals in my lifetime. A lot of them are just folks I hear from, mentors to me when I was younger. The relationships with the artists are wonderful! And I’ve been fortunate to build relationships with [the estates of Wes Montgomery and Bill Evans], accomplish all this stuff, and make people happy with them.”

“I’m just very fortunate, so every day, another day, gotta keep doing it! For me I feel like at least I get to leap out of bed in the morning with the desire to chase stuff down. I’m having fun!”

As his fun continues to enrich the lives of jazz fans, long may Zev Feldman’s chase continue.

— Rick Krueger

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