Independent record produced Zev Feldman is the Executive Vice President and General Manager of Resonance Records, a California 5019(c)(3) non-profit corporation created to discover the next jazz stars and preserve the legacy of jazz greats. Called "the Indiana Jones of jazz" by Stereophile Mazagine, Feldman has tirelessly worked with Resonance President and founder George Klabin to uncover previously-unissued recordings from artists such as Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans, Eric Dolphy, and many more. Feldman recently spoke with ArkivJazz's Tom Evered about the label's recent releases and plans for the future.
ArkivJazz: Thank you for your time, it’s good to speak with you. Resonance Records has such an interesting history. When did when did it start?
Zev Feldman: Well, the label started in 2008 and I started at the label in May of 2009, so I've just passed my 10-year mark at the label. George Klabin started Resonance in 2008 with a mission of supporting artists that he believed in, that he was having difficulty finding ways of getting signed to a label. He's told me stories about making recordings with artists, and in the end he realized that he needed to start his own label. I joined him on that mission about a year into it and it's been a very interesting ride. I would say within the first year and a half of us working together he had pretty much given me a mission to see if we could find historical recordings of great significance. Not just reissues, but recordings that have never been issued before. For me, that was literally fire on gasoline getting an opportunity to work on a whole lifetime's wish with the sound restoration, archival content acquisition and production of these packages. On our label, we really have such a diversity in terms of not just historical archival recordings, but we also have living artists such as Aubrey Logan, Polly Gibbons, and Eddie Daniels, and we are committed just as much to living artists as well. We've been really fortunate, but this is all because of George Klabin, his vision, and his generosity. As George has told me time and time again, we’re curators who are building a virtual museum of this great American art form of jazz. This is a museum that's going to live on past our lifetimes, and he's really given us the resources to go after these ventures. It’s been so exciting, and every day is a thrill. You just never know what's around the corner.
AJ: It's so good because the historical recordings are not reissues. Most of which, if not all of them, are issued for the first time.
ZF: Exactly! I really like to use the word “archival discovery,” but you know, there have only been a couple of instances of actually doing a straight reissue. We just reissued Eric Dolphy’s recordings from 1963 that he made originally for Alan Douglas.
AJ: So you’re talking about Musical Prophet?
ZF: Exactly. In that instance, those ‘63 sessions from Alan Douglas had previously been issued, but actually had not been presented in the best light. In terms of fidelity and packaging, we felt that we had a great opportunity and a mission to help celebrate Eric Dolphy’s legacy and shine a spotlight on a very important period in his music. It shows the direction his music was headed before his unfortunate, premature passing.
AJ: Well, I think the Dolphy is a perfect point because he didn't leave a lot of recordings. I mean, there is his Prestige work, then he did the Solid State recordings, then at the peak of his career he died. I think you claim that Musical Prophet is the first unreleased Dolphy in 30 years because there just aren’t many recordings from his career.
ZF: It is. The last previously unissued studio release was Other Aspects in 1987, which was produced by our good friend Michael Cuscuna and the great James Newton. There was a really interesting backstory about this project and we have to go back a few years. I had been at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 2014 and I was introduced to Jason Moran, the Blue Note pianist and recording artist. I was explaining to him that we were on the hunt, looking for previously unreleased recordings. He said to me right there, “You know, I know someone that has previously unissued Eric Dolphy.” I just stopped in my tracks. I think my heart may have skipped a beat, because George and I had spoken specifically about how wonderful it would be if we found some recordings that had never been issued before. The whole story unraveled when we were introduced to James. We heard the story about how he had collected these artifacts from a suitcase of Dolphy’s belongings including manuscripts, sheet music, and a collection of reel-to-reel tapes. These had come from Dolphy’s dear friends Hale and Juanita Smith back in the 1970s, and James was the one that had a chance to survey these recordings. This was the same batch of content that Other Aspects came from, but there was a lot of other really wonderful music that had never been issued. You know, when they recorded the Iron Man and Conversations sessions, there was a lot of music that was left out…somewhere in the ballpark of an excess of seven hours. There was a lot of very interesting music, and basically these were different ideas and expressions that were coming out of Dolphy as musical statements that should be shared with the world. We don't always feel this way…we're very selective at this label. We want to make sure that we're protecting the artist’s legacy and if there had ever been any issue of whether this was subpar, we would have never gone down the road. The reality is that this was some really wonderful music that needed to be shared and it was a chance for us to do this in a deluxe presentation. George [Klabin] allowed me to design what became a 100-page book. We wanted to interview everyone in Eric Dolphy’s orbit in terms of figures who are alive today, that played with him, or knew him, and other individuals that were inspired by his work. It was just an amazing study on Eric Dolphy and I think that we really were able to help put the spotlight back on him again. It was really a delight to work with The Eric Dolphy Trust and Alan Douglas's family to see that this job was done right and transferred directly from Eric Dolphy’s original tape reels.
AJ: Yeah, that kind of gives you goosebumps to find something like that.
ZF: Man, it was one of those experiences for me. I don't think I'll ever forget that…just once in a lifetime amazing.
AJ: Right. Well, some other excavation work and restorative work you've done is on some Bill Evans live sessions which are a long time coming...ones I didn’t even know existed.
ZF: Well, it's funny. I didn't know they existed until August of 2016 when I got an email one day from this gentleman in Strasbourg, France telling me that he was a part of Bill Evans’s European inner circle. He was also friends with that mythical figure who many of us don't know, Francis Paudras, who is a very important person. This gentleman had these unissued recordings that were made at Ronnie Scott's in London. When I found out about these recordings that were made in December of 1969, I got very excited. I’m a very big Bill Evans fan and, it doesn't mean that Bill Evans is not just wonderful to listen to throughout his entire career, but you’ve got to admit there is something just wonderful about Bill Evans in the 1960s. These recordings were made basically a year into the partnership that would go for close to seven years and became Bill’s longest playing trio. You can hear that spark in the connection between these musicians and there's no wonder when you listen why Bill kept this group together as long as he did. It's just a delight to hear. I think that, in many ways, [the Bill Evans recordings] are just another example of what happens in the course that we get on. I think back to when had a job working at another record company in the mid-2000s and one of my colleagues who worked in the A&R Department used to jokingly refer to these individuals as these “trenchcoat tape collectors” and they come in all circles. Sometimes people have rare things and at the Resonance label we are literally able, thanks to George’s generosity, to work to see if all the clearances occur and it's like turning water into wine. It's amazing, especially when you have these recordings such as we have here on Evans in England and I hope that folks will check them out. I think it's Bill at his very, very best and it just gives me this spark and this sense of optimism that we just keep continuing to find not good but great music all these years later.
AJ: Well, how did you find the Top of the Gate recording? The building is still there, but it's Le Poisson Rouge now. The Village was a very important spot for a long time and Bill Evans, [Eddie] Gomez and Marty Morrell was one of the best trios ever.
ZF: Well, this is really interesting. This is right about the beginning of where the “jazz detective” road begins for me, at least with working on projects. When I started with George Klabin working at the Resonance label in 2009, George and I started to get to know each other and it was really remarkable learning about George’s rich past being a recording engineer and self-taught. George worked for Don Schlitten at Prestige Records, he was the engineer on Albert Ayler’s Live in Greenwich Village, he was a radio programmer at WKCR and New York and he was one of the first guys there before Phil Schaap. When you talk to Phil and a lot of the alum, they speak very fondly of George, but during George’s tenure in the late 60s he had a Crown 2-track Recorder and an Ampex Mixing Board and he would often rent out Wollman Auditorium at Columbia to record. So, he has all these very interesting recordings that he's made over the years from a lot of very famous artists such as Keith Jarrett, Jimmy Giuffre, Bob James and a very long list of individuals. In 1968, George was contacted by Helen Keane, Bill Evans’s manager. She invited George down with his Crown 2-track machine and Ampex Mixing Board to record what was to become a new trio with Bill Evans. They recorded in October of 1968. George recorded two sets of music with up close miking, and it was mixed live. It's a remarkable recording. All this comes back to me because George had these tapes and he had been ripped off once before when his famous Thad Jones/Mel Lewis opening night recordings were bootlegged. So, he was very reserved, but he shared this music with me. I heard it and was astounded. I love Bill Evans music, and am pretty familiar with his recordings, but this was music I'd never heard before and the performances were wonderful. So I said to George, “George this is amazing. We should release this!” George said to me if I could help get these clearances made, I could work on the project with him. So that was really the beginning for me, alongside the Wes Montgomery Echoes of Indiana Avenue project. Having worked at Universal Music Group for a number of years, I knew the folks up at Verve. I went to them with George's blessing and a copy this recording and I said listen, I need your help. He told me that if I can clear the rights that I can work on this. It was just a really wonderful beginning of what's now become four collaborations with the Bill Evans estate. We put out Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate in 2012. We also issued Some Other Time: The Unissued Studio Recording from the Black Forest, then we had Another Time, which was recorded in Hilversum the same year…both of which were totally revelatory. Now we have Evans in England and we're talking about even more projects, and it's just very exciting when you get a chance to work with these families. And Bill Evans? Wes Montgomery? It doesn't get any better than that.
AJ: Well, you're dealing with some of the very finest in the history of the music and to be able to come up and unearth these things so many years later is just extraordinary.
ZF: It is. I have to say I just really loved working on this. I've been fortunate to be in the music business for 25 years now, but I'll say the last 10 years have been definitely the most exciting and George has made that all possible.
AJ: Then another release that intrigued me because I was such a fan of the artist, which is Hot Coffey in the D with Dennis Coffey, who is one of the guitar players of all time.
ZF: You have great taste my friend [laughs]. Yes, so my good friend Kevin Goins contacted me and he said, “I've been in touch with Dennis Coffey and he has these recordings from 1967.” Now, I have to say that Dennis Coffey, to me, is a hero in the music. He's a guy that doesn't get the recognition, but he's played on so many hit records and has such an amazing history. It hit the soft spot for me and we started talking and shared the music with George. He's like an underdog, you know, the guy that's just never gotten his due, and I think that sometimes when you're in these positions you really want to help these great artists. We wanted to build an extraordinary package that celebrated him in this period of music. Now, even with the packaging, I have to tell you there was a lot of learning that happened on that project. George allowed me to lead the art direction, and I had a concept in mind. I really was thinking about Cheap Thrills from Janis Joplin and I love the fact that when you listened to that record, you could just stare at the album cover for a half-hour. So, we connected with the illustrator and artist Bill Morrison, who was one of the original animators on The Simpsons. He is the creator and director of Futurama and comes from the advertising world. He's a remarkable artist and was so patient. He put us in his schedule and I said, “I have this idea. I want to do something so engaging and fun that it will stop people.” I was explaining this connection about Cheap Thrills and wanted something that was “Detroit-centric.” If you take a look at it, there’s all sorts of Detroit themes….it’s psychedelic soul and Dennis Coffey is just amazing. Music is always number one, but I think we need to also build experiences if we're able to, which can transport people and really make people enjoy it even more. I mean, if George is going to give us this opportunity of doing this, I really want to go out to make things as great as they can be. When I worked at Polygram in the 1990s Jim Caparro (CEO) used this term “unequal fair share,” and we're a little jazz label, but I think we need to go after ours. We need to think big. We have the potential. We have the music. It's about connecting with an audience. It's just very gratifying and rewarding but there's a team of people that makes it work and without them we couldn't do it. Especially George, Zak Shelby-Szyszko, our engineer Fran Gala, Cynthia Garcia that works with us. I'm trying to make this happen and get this great music out there.
AJ: Obviously, it's a label run with passion, but you have been able to find some really wonderful recordings by legendary artists that have never been heard before. Not to forget that you also have a few living artists that you are recording.
ZF: Absolutely! We just put out the Resonance debut from Aubrey Logan, who is a wonderful vocalist/songwriter/trombonist. A lot of folks may recall her from Scott Bradley’s Postmodern Jukebox, where did this cover of MC Hammer's “You Can't Touch This” that had views into the millions. She is an amazing living, breathing artist on our label and we love her. The same is said with vocalist Polly Gibbons and clarinetist Eddie Daniels, who all have new projects. Also, we're working right now with the estate of Nat King Cole. Right now, we're in the midst of Nat King Cole's 100th birthday celebration and later this fall we are going to put out a boxed set focusing on his early recordings from 1936 to 1943. This set captures all of this very important music that Nat recorded before he went to Capitol. I am on a mission. I want to put Nat King Cole on the Mount Rushmore of jazz piano right next to Art Tatum and Earl Hines! These recordings really speak to that genius who was more than just that wonderful iconic voice. Yes, we love that side of him, but he was also one of the great stride piano players of his time. It's literally going to be seven CDs and 10 LPs, put on your seatbelt folks.
AJ: Wow, that's amazing. I didn’t know much stuff existed from then. He was very young in the 1930’s.
ZF: He was, and he accomplished so much! It's amazing. He was a pop star and such an icon, but then again, he was a pianist. I am very excited about this…it’s something that George Klabin and I were very passionate about when we realized there was an opportunity to present these recordings. There's a lot of stuff that's out there that the family hasn't been paid for, and we're going to put this music out officially, with the family's involvement and blessing. I think that's really great. You know, I realized something. There's an artist that we haven't really discussed and that's Wes Montgomery. Should we discuss him at all?
AJ: You can't bring up his name and not talk about him. Yeah. He’s on my list, I just haven’t gotten to him yet.
ZF: Well, I have to say, we work with a lot of wonderful artists and legacies here at this label and they're all very important to us, but it's a very special working relationship that Resonance has with the estate of Wes Montgomery. We have done six releases together including a compilation that just came out called Wes's Best: The Best of Wes Montgomery on Resonance. One of the things I'm really proud about the Resonance Label is that we have been able to excavate all of this previously unissued material from Wes Montgomery's career in the mid-to-late 1950s that a lot of folks did not know that much about before. We've put out multiple CDs which document this period. The newest album release Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeKamp Recordings, is a great example of this. These recordings were made by a gentleman named Carroll DeKamp who was an arranger for the likes of Les Elgart and Stan Kenton. He was a pianist and moved to Indianapolis in the mid-to-late 1950s. He had the foresight to recognize the great talent of Wes Montgomery and realized that he needed to record him. Now, several years ago, when the “jazz detective” was given his badge, one of the first families that I had the task of working with was that of the great Wes Montgomery. Wes is someone that my parents used to play his music in the house. He's someone whose music I associate with because it's been a part of my life since before I was a teenager. One of the first relationships that we had to build was with Robert Montgomery, who heads the Wes Montgomery Estate. I'm really happy to say that now Robert is one of my dearest friends and we continue to work together to preserve his father's legacy. These new recordings are really exciting because these tapes almost didn't exist. Probably sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, Carroll DeKamp took these tapes and sent them to the legendary jazz educator Jamey Aebersold to be transferred. Jamey put them on DAT, and a short time later, he returned the reel-to-reel tapes to Mr. DeKamp. Tragically, not long after that Mr. DeKamp's home burned to the ground and everything was lost. Shortly after Back on Indiana Avenue’s release, I received a phone call from a gentleman named Brook Reindollar who informed me of the provenance of the recordings and that his mentor and friend Carroll was the one that recorded them. In the package, we interviewed Jamey Aebersold, and we have a wonderful interview with Royce Campbell who is the nephew of Carroll DeKamp who shares his memories of listening to these tapes as a youngster. And if that doesn't get you, we were even successful in having interviews with the great George Benson and John Scofield. That being said, we have a thick booklet. I consider what we do to be investigative journalism to an extent. I hope that doesn't seem overzealous, but we're uncovering stories here. It's been great, but Wes Montgomery is definitely along with Bill Evans…they are in the bedrock and the cloth of our company.
AJ: Well, you're doing great work with this stuff because it’s easy to say that stuff is lying in storage or something, but somebody's got to pull these recordings out see what kind of shape they're in and keep them vibrant because they won't last forever.
ZF: Yeah, I agree. We have to document the stuff while we can and that's why this work that we're doing is so important. I'm just really grateful to George Klabin for making all this possible.
AJ: Well, you guys have got such an amazing program. We’d like to hear about your label samplers coming up.
ZF: We felt it was important to do an initiative where we are able to get this music out to the masses. Samplers are something that have been around for so many countless decades in the LP era. I think back to Pacific Jazz, Warner Brothers, A&M and all these different samples that I have in my collection and I was looking at them thinking about different ways that we could introduce people to the recordings in the catalog. As you know, I'm a firm believer in the importance of artwork and packaging... it's the outside of the theater that brings you in. So, I've been spending some time over the last number of years in Japan getting to know a remarkable artist and illustrator visual artist by the name of Takao Fujioka. He designed the album cover for the Resonance 2016 release Moments in Time from the Stan Getz Quartet, he designed the flyer for the Newport Jazz Festival a couple years ago, and he's had an art gallery open in New York. This guy is worldwide, but his art speaks to me and there was a discussion that we started over a year ago when I was in Osaka about having him work with us. I felt that there was a way for us to combine all these elements to elevate our samplers to make them not just one for my parents’ record collection, but something that's going to be really engaging. Fujioka delivered these four projects for us that are absolutely wonderful. We have just issued a release called Sing a Song of Jazz , which is the “best-of” jazz vocals on Resonance Records with artists such as Aubrey Logan, Polly Gibbons, Shirley Horn, and Sarah Vaughan. We've also released Jazz Piano Panorama, which highlights the wonderful piano recordings on our label and Takao made these wonderful covers for them, which are like eye candy. Now we have several releases under our belt with the families of Bill Evans and Wes Montgomery, and we have two other releases coming out as I mentioned earlier, Wes’s Best: The Best of Wes Montgomery on Resonance, and Smile With Your Heart: The Best of Bill Evans on Resonance. These are samplers, but they're more than that. They were very thoughtful, curated and designed experiences for you to take on CD with you, if you like CD. If you want to stream it, it's also available for streaming. I just felt like Fujioka’s artwork and the music of Resonance Records and our artists were a wonderful marriage. I'm very proud of the releases we’ve done. We've accomplished a lot, but we also have a lot in the works. Just wait till you see what we're working on next. Sometimes it takes years putting these projects together, but we take our time and get it right. That motivation is completely different from any other record company I've ever worked at, so it's been a delight. I'm really grateful to you for having me today and I hope everyone reading this will get a chance to discover our label. I always love to make Facebook friends as well, so people can reach out to me on social media at Zev Feldman on Facebook. As always, thanks for all your support.
AJ: My pleasure. It's just that now I want to go home and listen to all these. Keep us in the loop with what you're working on and we'll do this again down the road, but thanks for your time.