A few days before the November 23rd U.S. release of the 3-LP edition of Musical Prophet (the CD set drops on January 25), Feldman took some time to talk to Qwest TV about his latest accomplishment.
Eric Dolphy, Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions is the latest in a string of consequential historical jazz recordings issued by Resonance Records, which has raised the excavation, restoration, remastering, and packaging of previously unheard or obscure gems from the past into an art form. Its founder, George Klabin, was an experienced studio engineer who sold his two New York recording studios in 1981, and spent the next 25 years earning enough money to make it viable for him to set up a non-profit corporation, Rising Stars Foundation, whose assets included a state of the art recording studio. In 2008, he founded Resonance, which launched with recordings by artists like Dado Moroni, Christian Howes, Tamir Hendelman and Eddie Daniels. In 2009, Klabin hired as label director Zev Feldman, a young record business veteran who’d worked in marketing for PolyGram, Rhino, and the Concord Music Group. Not long thereafter, Klabin gave Feldman virtual carte blanche to chase down new discoveries, and to reel them in for inclusion in the Resonance catalog. In the process of fulfilling his duties, Feldman, 45, now the label’s co-president, has developed a persona of, as Klabin puts it, “Jazz Detective,” using social media to document his investigative and business journeys to Japan and Europe and to imbue them with a certain glamour that enhances his brand.
Tell me the gestation story of Musical Prophet, which has an initial printing of 5,000 3-CD sets and 3,000 3-LP sets.
The journey started in September 2014 at the Monterrey Jazz Festival. Resonance had just released Charles Lloyd’s Manhattan Stories. While I was there, I told Jason Moran that my boss, George Klabin, had become very proactive in trying to procure and secure special material we could consider releasing on our label. Jason said, “I know about some Eric Dolphy tapes.” We kept in touch, and Jason introduced me to James Newton. A few months later James came to our office with a suitcase of tape reels that had belonged to Eric Dolphy – about 7½ hours of total music. Over a few days, we transferred these reels, which turned out to be the only known existing source of the original sessions of Iron Man and Conversations. The albums have been in print only sporadically, issued with lackluster packaging, and I feel they’ve been overlooked as a result. Now I think people will hear them in a new way. It’s always been in stereo before; this is the first time it’s coming out in mono. Also, there’s an extensive booklet with interviews with folks who played with or knew Eric Dolphy and folks who were influenced by him, as well as previously unpublished photographs.
For how long has Resonance been putting out unissued historical material or mixtures of unissued and issued material?
Even before I had started, we had assembled the package of Scott LaFaro recordings, called Pieces of Jade. Between that and two Gene Harris recordings that George issued (Live In London and Another Night In London), George recognized the level of interest in this area of archival, historical jazz.
One person I reached out to was Michael Cuscuna, and one day he called about these Wes Montgomery recordings he’d acquired, but hadn’t been able to do anything with. George heard the tapes and said, “Yes, let’s do that.” George proceeded to send me to Indianapolis three times so I could meet with the family, put together the pieces, and identify the musicians on these recordings. Anyway, we were able to do Echoes Of Indiana Avenue, and the Jazz Detective persona was born. We put out that record and a Bill Evans album called Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate. Combined, they sold 60,000 copies in 2012, and all of a sudden we were on the scene in the historical recordings world.
How did the Bill Evans recording come to you?
George had done it for Helen Keane, who knew him, and asked him to come to the club and record this new group of Evans.
We’re going to be issuing some very special recordings of Bill Evans with his trio in 1969 at Ronnie Scott’s in London, featuring Marty Morell and Eddie Gomez. It’s one year into their trio, which was Bill’s longest-lasting group, and you can totally hear the romance and friendship and the spark that exists in this music.
What’s a project you were surprised at being able to accomplish?
Bill Evans, Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest, was an extraordinary journey. We found that never-before-issued studio recording from 1968. At the time it was only his second recording with Jack DeJohnette on drums — in his percussive period, as Mark Myers puts it. There was the chase, the pursuit, going after it, negotiating with the rights-holders. First it was the guy with the tape, then it was Bill Evans’ family, then it’s the record label, and the sidemen. You learn about the process after doing a whole bunch of these.
Tell me about your negotiating style.
I try to be very transparent. I never guarantee or make any promises. I try to build trust. A big part of this job is building relationships, building bridges, getting to know people, and showing them your previous work, sharing your experiences, and maybe, if you have it, your vision. “Hey, here’s what’s possible.” And we want to know what the other party is looking for. We never want to be insulting. We always feel if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. George told me it’s never good to want anything too much. Other projects are going to come along that will be great. I’ve learned to be more Zen. We really have to be, because at the end of the day, we can’t hemorrhage when we do one of these projects.
Resonance is a not-for-profit entity. Our whole motivation is about curating of the arts. When we put out a project, it’s because we believe in it. A lot of these artists, frankly, don’t have biographies that are going to come out in this lifetime, so we use the project as an opportunity to do research and put something together proper. For Larry Young, for example (In Paris: The ORTF Recordings), we worked with his son. And how often are you going to get a chance to talk about Eric Dolphy?
Why do you think there is so much interest in this older music? What market forces allow Resonance to print 5,000 premium-priced 3-CD boxes of music recorded in 1963?
Despite our great success with the first Wes Montgomery and Bill Evans issues, we really turned the corner a couple of years later, when we put out the Coltrane Offering record that won the Grammy. It takes time. Nobody’s got a gun to my head saying, “What are you putting out next quarter?” I came from that world, and I could easily go back into that world, too, where you’re churning out a release schedule. But at this label, there’s a lot more freedom, I think, to be creative. Much of it is very organic.