In 2008 Candid Records began a short run of CD releases taken from the controversial archive of the late journalist (and former Crescendo magazine editor) Les Tomkins, taped in covert fashion at various London venues including Ronnie Scott's during the 1960s. As well as reissuing material previously released on the Jazz House label, Tomkins planned a series of 'new' albums featuring British jazzmen of the period. Only two of these ever made it to the final production stages - namely Tubby Hayes' Inventivity and Ronnie Scott's And Friends - while a third, compiling sessions led by vibraphonist Victor Feldman and trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar, reached no further than a decision of track order and the writing of a sleeve note. Quite why it never appeared is moot, although anyone familiar with the eventful story of Tomkins and the intricate legal side of his tape collection can probably take an educated guess about the likely stumbling blocks.
For my part, I was asked to provide sleeve notes for all three issues, Tomkins somehow managing to edit my essay on the Hayes release with some nonsensical copy and pasting. One day I may repair it and post it here, but in the meantime here is the full unedited note for the Feldman/Deuchar release - to be titled British Gold - which captured two of the best UK-born jazzmen of their generation in top form and - in Feldman's case - in unusual company. Years later I was able to provide both tenorist Bobby Wellins and bassist Dave Green with copies of the relevant recordings, the latter being especially delighted as he'd actually forgotten that he'd ever played with Feldman.
Sadly, I no longer have a copy of these sessions and can't help but wonder if this promising moment of possible issue was as close as we'll get to reliving a couple of magical nights down those famous steps in Gerrard Street. In lieu of that, here are my notes which, I hope, give something of a flavour (and some background) to these recordings and the two gifted men who led them.
Les Tomkins’ extensive tape archive (now exclusively licensed to Candid Records) has once again thrown up a fascinating and rare piece of jazz history with this new release featuring two of the finest jazz talents to have ever emerged from the UK.
However, there is a certain amount of irony in the title of this CD given that one of the protagonists, despite his firm London connections, remained a very proud Scotsman, and that the other spent most of his working life an oceans distance away from the land of his birth.
Nevertheless, the jangling of jingoistic bells is fully justified when one considers just how much both men gave to the jazz scene in the UK during their respective careers. Victor Feldman, former boy prodigy and adolescent wunderkind, perhaps did more than any British musician after George Shearing in proving that nationality didn’t inhibit true jazz validity whilst Jimmy Deuchar was, for his nigh on fifteen years as a central figure on the capital’s jazz scene, among the select few local performers for whom the description ‘world class’ wasn’t merely lip served flattery.
Feldman gets top billing here and deservedly so. For anyone unfamiliar with his famous early life story, a brief thumbnail sketch might be welcome. Nephew of veteran Bert Ambrose drummer Max Bacon, son of Joseph Feldman (who ran The Feldman Club at 100 Oxford Street, London) and brother of musical partners Robert and Monty, Victor was born in 1934 and, by the age of seven, possessed an advanced enough talent to be playing drums in public. A film appearance in 1942 - with no-less a figure than Arthur Askey - helped seal the reputation of the young master and he soon acquired the nickname ‘Kid Krupa’, after an early hero. He was also already familiarising himself with the piano. Feldman’s precocity was such that in 1944 he was the guest of Glenn Miller’s Army Air Forces orchestra at a concert in London. Miller was the first of a long line of American musicians who considered Feldman to be something special. All of ten years of age, he was clearly a figure with a bright musical future.
That future was opened out by Carlo Krahmer, half-blind drummer at the Feldman club and a co-founder of Esquire Records, one of the first - and finest - British jazz labels. Krahmer’s perspicacity enabled him to envisage a more fulfilling musical career for the young Feldman than simply becoming a child-star novelty act and by the late 1940s he had already introduced Victor to the vibraphone, an instrument he typically mastered in no time. Feldman thus became a triple threat, equally gifted on drums, piano and vibes and by his teenage years there was no-one on the UK jazz scene to touch him. Even his friend Tubby Hayes (a year younger and far more boisterous) hadn’t yet emerged as multi-instrumentalist.
Despite his youth, Feldman had his eyes on the greater musical pickings to be had in the United States - a dream too far for many less talented local jazzmen - and after stays with the bands of Ralph Sharon, Ronnie Scott, Roy Fox (which boasted a violin section and Tubby Hayes!), Harry Parry and Norman Burns, he finally realised his dream, setting sail for New York upon the S.S. Liberte on Friday October 1st 1955. Melody Maker ran a full page article celebrating his final frantic days of recording for the Tempo label ahead of the departure, little realising that Feldman was facing very uncertain prospects upon arrival in the USA.
By the time he arrived in Los Angeles in 1956 following a gig with Buddy de Franco, he had only $150 left. However fortune smiled and within a short time he was a member of Woody Herman’s big band and began to build a career which reflected his tremendous ability, one which he was pleased to find wasn’t hidebound by the lingering image of his precocious childhood debut.
Jimmy (he preferred the spelling Jimmie) Deuchar first emerged onto the London jazz scene during 1950. Born in Dundee in 1930, but educated in Surrey (he was often referred to as “The London Scotsman” due to his total lack of a native accent), like Feldman his musical roots ran deep, with his father playing saxophone and violin and two uncles working as trumpet players. This family inspiration sealed Jimmy’s fate. 'I was going to be a trumpet player and nothing else!', he later recalled.
During his National Service in the RAF, he made regular trips from Uxbridge to the Club Eleven, then London’s best known modern jazz enclave where he impressed everyone, not least of all John Dankworth, who assured Jimmy of a job once he was de-mobbed. Thus Deuchar started at the top, with the new Dankworth Seven and rapidly established himself as the finest local brass talent.
Even within what might be seen as a rather narrow remit, there was to be plenty of diversity in local modern jazz trumpet playing in the decade ahead: Hank Shaw hewed close to Dizzy Gillespie’s example; Les Condon eventually hitched his wagon to Lee Morgan’s star; Ian Hamer became a Freddie Hubbard devotee; Leon Calvert echoed Miles; Bert Courtley had something of the puckish humour of Clark Terry and Kenny Wheeler started his very personal musical odyssey from a style close to that of Art Farmer.
Deuchar however stood out, not simply because of his early allegiance to the rather more measured expression of Fats Navarro, but because he was one of the first truly well-rounded modernists, able to deal with any harmonic challenges and emerge with a solo both logical and lyrical. Therefore one former colleague’s recollection of Jimmy as 'the UK’s Clifford Brown' is not quite as exaggerated and far off the mark as it might initially seem: Deuchar’s range was never wide and instead he concentrated on broadening an already rich tone, and honing a sense of phrasing that could be both daredevilishly edgy and comfortably relaxed.
Up until his emigration to Germany in 1956, where he enjoyed the trappings of a three year contract with the commercial big band of Kurt Edelhagen - a sort of German Ted Heath - Deuchar was a regular fixture on the London scene, working with Ronnie Scott’s legendary nonet, Jack Parnell’s powerhouse big band, and establishing a firm musical partnership with trombonist Ken Wray and saxophonist Derek Humble (unsurprisingly Edelhagen hired these three en masse following Ronnie Scott’s recommendation). He also recorded with the youthful Tubby Hayes and all of Deuchar’s work for the Tempo label during this period is recommended, not least of all the collaborative efforts with Victor Feldman, in both big band and small group settings.
Sadly, the Edelhagen trip was as close as Deuchar got to international musical stardom during his first decade as a musician (although he did briefly sub in Lionel Hampton’s band on its first UK tour in 1956 - the very same tour which prompted John Dankworth’s infamous 'How about some jazz?' outburst).
However, by 1956, Victor Feldman’s stateside career was positively flourishing. Following his tenure with Woody Herman, he had made his home in Los Angeles, recording with local leading lights such as Herb Geller, The Lighthouse All Stars and Stan Levey. He also worked his rite of passage onto the clique-ish Hollywood studio session scene as well as studying composition and arranging with pianist Marty Paich.
In late summer 1960 his most notable career break to date occurred when Cannonball Adderley hired him for the quintet he co-led with brother Nat. The circumstances behind his recruitment have become legendary: following recommendations by Shelly Manne and Miles Davis, Cannonball apparently played a test sample of Feldman’s recorded output to his fellow band members without revealing exactly who the pianist was. Only when his colleagues agreed that Feldman was the right man for the job, did Adderley reveal that the new incumbent was white, Jewish and British!
Within a month of joining the band, Feldman was already contributing to the repertoire and participated in what is arguably Cannonball Adderley’s finest hour on record, The Cannonball Adderley Quintet at the Lighthouse, containing the leader’s priceless announcement of Feldman’s composition 'Azules Serape'.
In November, the band formed part of one of Norman Granz’ Jazz At The Philharmonic packages which visited Europe, sharing the bill with, among others Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, J.J. Johnson, Don Byas and Coleman Hawkins. When the show visited London, Feldman’s old friends and admirers were eager to hear what the Adderley’s made of their new sideman.
Interviewing Cannonball backstage at the Walthamstow Granada on the tour’s last date in the capital, Les Tomkins found him extremely enthusiastic about Feldman’s contributions. 'We think we’ve got one of the best piano players in the world. He’s got the best kind of feeling you can have and his ideas are remarkable. And there’s his wonderful vibes, and I understand Victor plays drums well. I’ve never heard him. If he plays them as well as he plays them as well as he plays vibes and piano then we’re in trouble!'
As with all of Feldman’s return visits home, on this November trip he found time to renew playing acquaintances with his old colleagues. On previous visits (even on his honeymoon two months prior to the JATP tour!) there had been recording sessions, broadcast and concert appearances but this time Feldman only had time for a single club gig at Scott’s, joining the rhythm section of the Ronnie Scott-Jimmy Deuchar quintet for an all-nighter session in the early hours of Sunday November 27th, sandwiched between the opening gig with Cannonball at the Royal Festival Hall on the Saturday night and the next JATP date in Leicester on the Sunday evening.
Les Tomkins was again on hand for what was an early taster of his recording activities at the Scott club, capturing the opening two titles on this new Candid CD. (It appears Tomkins actually recorded an entire set but that only these two tracks survive).
'Get Happ'y instantly confirms Victor’s world class status. Starting the theme at blistering tempo over a rolling minor chord vamp, Feldman’s vibes then leave the starting gate with virtuosic ease. Listen too for the sensational drive generated by drummer Bobby Orr. At a time when British rhythm sections occupied a regular place in the cross-hairs of sniping critics, there was nothing lacking in Orr’s playing, nor in that of his fellow trio members, pianist Colin Purbrook and bassist Kenny Napper, all of whom were among the finest UK-based jazzmen.
Napper had emerged as one of the most erudite and skilful local bassists during the 1950s and enjoyed a lengthy playing career before abandoning performance for composing and arranging, whilst Purbrook was a jazzman of rare eclecticism, able to work in virtually any setting from Wally Fawkes Troglodytes to the hard-bopping modernism of the Scott-Deuchar band. He was also one of the few local improvisers to possess a genuinely virtuoso technique. Hear him match Feldman blow-for-blow here, as well as offer some equally assured accompaniment, in particular his in-the-pocket prompting on 'You Are My Heart’s Delight.'
Both tracks from this 1960 session swing like the proverbial clappers, and one can imagine Feldman being as delighted with Messrs Orr, Napper and Purbrook as he was with the legendary Sam Jones/Louis Hayes rhythm section in the Adderley group. There is certainly more than a hint of local pride in the audience- and Ronnie Scott’s -reaction the Feldman’s closing number.
The unfortunate loss of the remainder of this session makes one wonder if Tomkins' original tape might have included Feldman with the co-leaders of the Scott-Deuchar quintet, both of whom were in a performing purple patch at the time.
The early 1960s were an especially good time for Deuchar, who returned from his stint with Kurt Edelhagen and immediately set about re-establishing himself as the UK’s top modern jazz trumpeter. In 1962, after the band with Scott dissolved, he teamed with Tubby Hayes to co-front the best British modern jazz outfit to date, a quintet which took the hard bop message of Horace Silver, Art Blakey and the Adderley’s and gave it a local spin. Two albums recorded for Fontana Records at Scott’s (Late Spot at Scott’s and Down In the Village) are classics in both frontliners discographies, as indeed are the several hours of recordings by this band recorded at the club by Tomkins (including the opening volume in this Jazz Club series, Tubby Hayes: Inventivity).
However, by 1964, the restless Hayes was looking towards the highways opened up by John Coltrane and in August that year, the five men decided the band had run its course
Following the demise of the quintet, Deuchar and trombonist Keith Christie - whose career stretched back to a revivalist apprenticeship in the late 1940s before moving into more modern contexts - began a collaborative project stemming from combined frustration at the saxophone-dominated local jazz scene. 'When Bob Brookmeyer was here', Christie told Bob Dawbarn of Melody Maker, 'he said he was going to picket outside Ronnie Scott’s with a placard saying ‘Unfair to brass players’.'
Originally mooted over a pint after a recording session with Tubby’s big band, the band came into shape during September, and featured ex-Hayes sideman Terry Shannon on piano, bassist Dave Green (then also a regular member of the Rendell-Carr quintet) and drummer Benny Goodman.
To some ears the all-brass front-line might have narrowed the textural range of the music, and could have easily become an echo of the Clark Terry-Bob Brookmeyer Quintet of the day. Deuchar also added the mellophonium, the awkward looking hybrid of a french horn and a trumpet invented for Stan Kenton’s orchestra earlier in the decade, and its darker richer sonorities provided another voice, often not unlike another trombone.
Interviewed by Dawbarn, Deuchar was keen to stress that the band didn’t want to sound like the popular two trombone line-up of J.J.Johnson and Kai Winding. 'In fact, I’m consciously trying to avoid that sound', he said. Christie added 'Jimmy’s doing all the arrangements - it sets the stamp on a group if one guy does all the writing.'
The band made its debut in October, with a two-night-a-week residency at the Scott club, initially opposite Roland Kirk. 'The only trouble is I’m frightened to leave the trombone out of its case, in case Roland starts playing it', Christie remarked, adding that appearing opposite the American had guaranteed a healthy audience.
At one show during the Kirk run, famed Hollywood entertainer Judy Garland visited the club. A little inebriated, she gamely heckled Scott. 'I think this is a nice place to work, Garland declared, before asking Scott 'What do you pay here?'
'We’d like you to welcome back five of the cheapest musicians in London', Scott continued.
The band also made a broadcast appearance with a slot on BBC’s It’s Jazz programme on December 14th (a promised recording for Philips sadly never came to pass). Brian Gladwell, reviewing the show for Crescendo’s February 1965 issue, noted 'Most of the routines were no more ambitious than in a typical blowing session', and found, ironically, that the band 'sounded tonally like a British counterpart of the Jay and Kai groups'. He concluded, however, that the brassmen were 'good foils' for each other.
By the time Gladwell’s words were printed, the band had already altered with the casual recruitment of tenorist Bobby Wellins, a cohort of the co-leaders from the Tubby Hayes big band, who joined at the end of January.
Wellins, these days acknowledged as one of the most consistent, mature and independent of the UK’s jazzmen, was already uniquely his own man by the beginning of 1965. A few months shy of the triumphant recording of Under Milk Wood with his symbiotic musical partner Stan Tracey, Wellins had created a style all his own. Although he readily admitted the influence of everyone from Stan Getz to Sonny Rollins, Warne Marsh and Al Cohn, he neither sounded like them, nor significantly sounded as if he were chasing the hard-bopping tail of Tubby Hayes.
He had incredible technical skill, a harmonic mind second to none and a sense of relaxation and lyrical poise than made him genuinely different to his contemporaries. With this came a slower rise to visibility than was deserved and despite endorsement and encouragement from players of the calibre of Sonny Rollins for a long while the damning words 'musician’s musician' were often perilously close by. Thankfully, Wellins, a most resolute character, stuck to his guns.
The by-now Deuchar-Christie Sextet were once again in a supporting slot that February when Victor Feldman followed Sonny Rollins into the Scott club. Rollins’ visit had been something akin to the arrival of a prophet, and as such might have overshadowed anyone unfortunate to follow it. However Feldman was able to pull off such a coup without any fuss. Already in town with US vocalist June Christy for a residency at The Cool Elephant, then a new London night-spot specialising in quality cabaret artists, Feldman had simply made the trip around the corner to Scott’s once the Christy engagement had ended for a week long Scott stint.
Once there he delighted the local audience with his considerable vibraphone and piano skills although he confessed in Melody Maker that he felt out of touch with the latter as most of his session work was now on mallet percussion instruments ranging from glockenspiel to timpani. With typical self effacement, he remarked 'when I know I’m going to start playing the piano again, I begin practising harder'. Anyone lucky enough to have heard the already available recordings made by Les Tomkins of Feldman’s 1965 Scott gigs will fail to see any lessening in his tremendous keyboard skills, however on these newly issued tracks recorded on February 11th, he revisits an even older skill, that with which he had first attracted critical attention twenty years earlier - the drums.
'Up to three months ago, I’d not touched them for a year. Actually I don’t still have [a set of] drums', he told Melody Maker but any further proof of Feldman’s incredible natural talent is rendered superfluous when one listens to his energised and faultlessly tight drumming on this brief set featuring him sitting in with the Deuchar-Christie group. For some reason - only possible to speculate over at this distance in time - the band is both pianoless (Shannon’s personal problems may have been the cause) and without its regular drummer, Benny Goodman, a lively performer but a hopelessly dependent drug user. Nevertheless, with the youthful and already pendulum-perfect Dave Green joining Feldman in the rhythm section, neither swing nor harmonic direction is lacking.
Appropriately Green opens the set with Feldman’s most celebrated composition 'Seven Steps To Heaven', written for Miles Davis Columbia album of the same name in 1963. (The fascinating genesis of this theme is recounted by the composer in the lengthy interview with Tomkins which closes this disc.)
Deuchar is up first, playing with a control and fluency which make his work here among his best on tape. Jimmy - as did his colleagues - made no secret of the inconsistency of his approach. In one sleeve note, Ronnie Scott made reference to the thrilling moments when Deuchar’s lip was “in” (brass players parlance for when their embouchure is settled), whilst the year prior to this recording, Deuchar himself confessed to Val Wilmer in an interview in Jazzbeat magazine that he was a lazy player. “Really it’s all down to me. Probably if I did an hours practice a day I would be consistent”, adding that his interest in composition and arranging often took precedence. There is nothing lackadaisical here as the trumpeter courses through chorus after inspired chorus.
'K and J', in the contemporary words of the late Humphrey Lyttelton referred not to 'Johnson and Khrushchev' but to Keith Christie and Deuchar and is a minor blues in 6/4 time with an ascending harmonic wrinkle. Christie in particular is in inspired form, quoting Ellington’s 'I’m Gonna Go Fishin’'. Deuchar plays mellophonium here, making it sound far more flexible and musical then it ever did as part of Stan Kenton’s line-up and Wellins has an outing which locks down beautifully into the waltzing minor groove. A series of exchanges with Feldman’s drums close things out ahead of the bands theme, Deuchar’s acknowledgements and Ronnie Scott’s final announcement, offering some essential sartorial advice.
Deuchar and Feldman’s careers after 1965 did anything but parallel one another. Feldman’s increasing studio session work brought him ever closer to popular music, with contributions to classic albums by the likes of Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell. There were occasional returns to out and out jazz, but this comfortable life in California came to a shuddering halt with the sudden death of his wife Marilyn in the early 1980s. Feldman had been devoted to his spouse and the loss sundered him, so much so that it was as much a broken heart as a titanic asthma attack that killed him in 1987, aged 53.
Ironically at this time, Jimmy Deuchar was making something of a comeback on the London jazz scene. In the late 1960s he returned to Germany, working with the international Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band. There then followed a return to Scotland, commercial work as both a player and arranger for the BBC Scottish Orchestra, anonymous trips as a member of cruise liner bands and a year playing in a hotel band in Hong Kong.
In 1985, he made a surprise return to London to work with the massive all star big band assembled by Rolling Stone Charlie Watts, followed by a more satisfying musical reunion with baritonist Jackie Sharpe, with whose big band Deuchar recorded his final work. By 1991, he was back in Scotland and in failing health. A foot amputation soon followed and his death in 1993, aged only 63, came as a genuine surprise to all those who has wondered what had become of this marvellous but neglected jazzman.
Victor Feldman (vibes); Colin Purbrook (piano); Kenny Napper (bass); Bobby Orr (drums)
Ronnie Scott’s club, 39 Gerrard Street, Soho, London, November 27th 1960
Get Happy (Koehler-Arlen) [6.33]
You Are My Heart’s Delight (Lehar) Ronnie Scott’s announcement [11.15]
Jimmy Deuchar (trumpet, mellophonium); Keith Christie (trombone); Bobby Wellins (tenor sax); Dave Green (bass); Victor Feldman (drums)
Ronnie Scott’s club, 39 Gerrard Street, Soho, London, February 11th 1965
Seven Steps To Heaven (Feldman-Davis) [13.30]
Jimmy Deuchar’s announcement/ K and J (Deuchar) [12.45]
Jimmy’s Theme (Deuchar) /Announcement from Jimmy/ Goodnight from Ronnie Scott [2.46]
February 10th 1965
6. Interview with Victor Feldman [23.27]
Photo: order of the bar: Bill Eyden, Jimmy Deuchar and Terry Shannon making Ronnie Scott earn his keep. 39 Gerrard Street, spring 1961.