Mondays With Morgan: Zev Feldman a.k.a. The Jazz Detective (six LP releases for Record Store Day 2023)

Mondays With Morgan is a new column in London Jazz News written by Morgan Enos, a music journalist based in Hackensack, New Jersey. Therein, he dives deep into the jazz that moves him – his main focus being the scene in nearby New York City.

This week, he interviewed Zev Feldman, a record executive, producer and curator of archival jazz recordings who goes by the name of “the Jazz Detective.” Feldman is the co-president of Resonance Records and the president/founder of Deep Digs Music Group, and works closely with Blue Note Records, Elemental Music, and other major jazz labels. 

For this last Record Store Day on 22 April 2023, Feldman had no fewer than six releases on offer, by Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Eric Dolphy, Sonny Stitt, Shirley Scott and Walter Bishop Jr. (full details below)

Zev Feldman. Photo credit: Zak Shelby-Szyszko

A few weeks back, Zev Feldman stopped by Crooked Beat, an independent record store in Alexandria, Virginia, near his home in Washington, D.C. The owner, Bill Daly, dropped a startling number on him.

“You produced that new Bill Evans record coming out?” Daly asked Feldman, referring to Treasures, a compendium of solo, trio and orchestral recordings from the mid-to-late 1960s. Feldman answered yes. 

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“We ordered 30 of them,” Daly responded, by Feldman’s telling. “We’re going to have 300 people down the block for Record Store Day. Your Bill Evans records: everybody wants them.”

These days, Feldman, known as the “Jazz Detective,” is seeing his audience trend younger and younger. As such, that demand might not be coming from dyed-in-the-wool Evans collectors, but the merely curious. Because aside from the musical and historical import on the grooves, Treasures simply looks and feels great — and that goes a long way.

“I want these to leap out of the bins and capture somebody’s attention,” Feldman, a wonderfully loquacious and passionate hang, tells London JazzNews. “I think attractive artwork and presentation is an enormous responsibility. Not all record labels can do that with the budget, but we really try to raise the bar and push things over the top.”

Some jazz archival labels seem to exist to make a buck: they mine the grey market for almost random curiosities, and toss them like chum in the water. Feldman is the opposite: for people who value the deeper thing of 20th-century jazz, he’s hellbent on generating magic.

For this last Record Store Day on 22 April 2023, Feldman had a whopping six releases on offer. One is Evans’ aforementioned Treasures: Solo, Trio and Orchestra Recordings from Denmark (1965-1969). Another is Chet Baker’s Blue Room: The 1979 VARA Studio Sessions in Holland. There’s also a reissue of Eric Dolphy’s Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Sessions.

Rounding them out are three releases directly tied to the Left Bank Jazz Society, a legendary Baltimore organization that hosted and promoted jazz in the region. They are: Sonny Stitt’s Boppin’ in Baltimore: Live at the Left Bank; Shirley Scott’s Queen Talk: Live at the Left Bank; and Walter Bishop Jr.’s Bish at the Bank: Live in Baltimore.

Check your local record store to see if they have vinyl copies left; if you’re out of luck, all six will be available on CD and digitally on April 28. Read on for an in-depth interview with Feldman breaking down his modus operandi, all six of these releases and the state of the archival-jazz landscape.

Zev Feldman. Photo credit Zak Shelby-Szyszko

LondonJazz News: What’s a day in the life of the Jazz Detective like? Describe your methodology in broad strokes.

Zev Feldman: A lot of what I do, I guess you would classify as business development, which seems a little harsh for what we’re talking about. But I’m on the hunt — I’m looking for tapes; I have various archives I work for, and there are recordings at the forefront of things that I’m currently vetting and listening to. 

I’m in the midst of doing various negotiations for other projects to get them out. It could be dealing a musician; it could be dealing with a record label. There are all sorts of processes that go on.

I work until late at night a lot of times, and it’s really about trying to find recordings, vet them and listen to them. I’ve been very fortunate that a variety of different labels are interested in having me produce for them, which has been a blessing. I work with Resonance Records, Blue Note, and Elemental Music, among many others.

My typical day starts off at the gym, where I lift weights and do cardio. The rest of the day is making phone calls, listening to music, constantly following up on communications about leads. I spend a lot of time negotiating projects and taking them to my various labels, and trying to find a way to be able to acquire the intellectual property rights all the way around.

Right now, I’m working on a multitude of projects that are slated to come out in the next 18 months. There are just a million things happening at once, but my ADD turned into a superpower, allowing me to work on a lot of small details at once.

This Record Store Day is really incredible, because I released six projects. It’s been a very busy year, to say the least. I’m working with different teams and companies, making it happen. That’s even outside of the stuff I’m doing at Blue Note.

I’m just so grateful and happy. The days just breeze by while I’m listening, working and making decisions artistically. I also really enjoy putting together these booklets that accompany the records and gathering the right individuals that have something to say.

My production manager, Zak Shelby-Szyszko, and I work together on a variety of tasks related to these productions. It’s amazing. I’m so grateful for my life now.

LJN: Regarding this year’s run of Record Store Day releases, let’s start with the Bill Evans one. Where does he fit into your personal cosmology?

ZF: Bill Evans is a big inspiration to me; I’ve been listening to him since my teens and collecting his recordings on a variety of labels. But it really came to focus in a different perspective, for me, back around 2009, 2010, when I started working at Resonance Records. 

George Klabin, my boss there, had these recordings he made of Bill Evans at the Village Gate in ‘68, which came out in 2012, called Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate. It paved the way for the 2016 Some Other Time release. 

I spent time building the relationship with the estate of Bill Evans — specifically Bill’s son, Evan Evans, who I work with on all my Bill-related projects. My new Bill Evans release, Treasures, released on Elemental Music, is my 10th project with the family. There’s going to be an 11th coming at the end of this year, in November.

For all my releases, we use the same playbook. We find a recording that’s worthy of release; we pay the musicians; we pay the sidemen; we negotiate with the rights holder. 

Sonically, we try to bring the best recording that we can offer to the public, working with our engineers — and also, on the LP mastering side, whether that’s Bernie Grundman or Kevin Gray, and we’ve used both. 

But there’s something that’s been really inspiring about Bill. His growth and legacy, and how, because of Record Store Day, he’s been able to reach out to a whole younger generation of individuals who maybe wouldn’t necessarily have discovered him otherwise.

LJN: Can you dig into the historical import of the Evans release a little bit, and why the music grabs your heart?

ZF: This one is really special. These recordings are from 1965 and 1969, when he was recording for Verve Records.

This is a very important period in his music. He’s constantly evolving. This new release, Treasures: we have solo and trio recordings, as well as an orchestral setting. I think you find him being able to flex a lot of creative muscles and do a variety of different things in this period.

I think it was a really major period of great creativity for Bill, being able to have the right people working with him. Especially manager Helen Keane, who came into his life and was a driving force. There’s an unbelievable amount of music and creativity, which is captured in this window of time.

Most importantly, this music has never been released. Even the discographers — the main collectors, the people who think they’ve heard it all — haven’t heard it.

This project came about because of Ole Matthiessen, the legendary Danish radio producer who made these recordings and had copies of them. My dear colleagues, Jordi Soley and Carlos Agustin [Calembert] at Elemental Music, approached me about this project and said, “This is really important. We should be doing this.”

I got really excited, because we’ve done some Bill Evans records in the past that had previously been bootleg releases. The Argentina recordings [Morning Glory: The 1973 Concert at the Teatro Gran Rex, Buenos Aires and Inner Glimpse] last year were very important. Also, we did 2021’s Behind the Dikes: [The 1969 Netherland Recordings] on Elemental, which some of the collectors have.

But I had an opportunity to go back to these tapes and right the wrongs of the past. There are a lot of recordings from Bill that are in the marketplace, and the family’s not being paid a penny on them. I think that’s a travesty, and the guys at Elemental have allowed me to work under a code and edict we’re maintaining in terms of being respectful to the intellectual property rights holders.

I think there should be a lot of pandemonium among the fans, because they don’t have this. It’s never been out before.

LJN: Same question, but regarding Sonny Stitt’s Boppin’ In Baltimore: Live at the Left Bank.

ZF: As the years have gone on, and I’ve become more of a fan and appreciator of jazz — man, I’ve got to tell you: Sonny Stitt is one of the baddest cats of all time.

He was a gunslinger. He came out of the bebop era, with different traditions. This man was a badass. I think it’s not just him: pianist Barry Harris and Sonny Stitt were two men who waved the flag for bebop jazz. They kept it going into the 1970s.

I think Stitt was so virtuosic in his ability to play his instrument. He was a master musician on the alto, tenor and Varitone. I think, as time has gone on, we’ve realized how amazing this man was. There are legendary stories of people trying to sit in with him at clubs who got cut off at the knees, because he was tough. There was no fooling around.

I think there’s something about the spirit and aura and legend of Sonny Stitt. When I found these tapes in the Left Bank archives, I was so excited to find a way to pay homage to this man who I really admire. 

And not just me: Saxophonist Cory Weeds, my co-producer who worked with me on the Shirley Scott and Walter Bishop releases, we came together; we share a passion. And Cory’s a horn player, man, so he’ll tell you from playing the instrument.

I also love the fact that, for me, being from Maryland, the Left Bank Jazz Society was this incredible organization. Very diverse — Black, white, men, women — people who had day jobs during the week. Vernon Welsh, the engineer, was selling cars at a dealership. 

He and associate producer John Fowler and this whole group of people got together every Sunday to put on these concerts, and they brought the best talent from the East Coast — New York, Philadelphia, what have you. Stitt lived here in the Washington, D.C. area as well, and Katea Stitt, his daughter, is the program director at WPFW in Washington.

I don’t know, man; Sonny Stitt just moves me. It really comes down to that. He’s a badass, and he inspires me. His music makes me happy. He played a lot of reeds, man, and watch out: you might get cut if you messed around with him.

LJN: Moving on to Shirley Scott’s Queen Talk: Live at the Left Bank, from historical and emotional angles.

ZF: Cory and I said, “Listen, we’ve got to put three out at one time.” We came up with a way to accomplish it and divvy it up. I put out Sonny Stitt on my Jazz Detective imprint. The Shirley Scott and Walter Bishop, Jr. releases are on Cory’s label that I co-produced with him, Reel to Real Records.

This is from August 20, 1972. Let me tell you: being a record collector, Prestige Records is something that’s really exciting to me. I’m a vinyl hound; I’m a jazz organ fanatic, whether it’s Larry Young, Brother Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott. Shirley is someone I have quite a few albums of.

The Shirley Scott album was a chance to build a great package that celebrates the artist — the chance to do something for our heroes. So, Cory and I got together; we got music journalist and writer A. Scott Galloway to write the liner notes. We did an interview with B-3 legend Joey DeFrancesco before he passed away. He thought this was an amazing album; he really loved it.

Also, we interviewed Tim Warfield, the great saxophonist who played with Shirley. We had to talk to pianist Monty Alexander about drummer Bobby Durham, because we don’t talk about Bobby Durham enough. They came out on April 22 limited edition two-LP sets.

By the way, Joe Harley — who does Blue Note’s Tone Poet series — cut the lacquers. There are photographs no one’s seen before; we even found a photoshooth with a great series of pictures taken by the wonderful photographer Raymond Ross. 

The packaging just comes together. It’s glorious. Maybe I’m getting high on my own stash, but you hold this thing and there’s something special. An energy that radiates with all the love and attention to detail that went into the packaging and presentation.

I just want to knock people out, and it’s a great way to remember how important these folks are.

LJN: Let’s talk about Walter Bishop Jr.’s Bish at the Bank: Live in Baltimore.

ZF: Here’s a guy who comes from the bebop school, again. We talk about Barry Harris; we’re talking about Sonny Stitt. Walter Bishop Jr. was a guy who doesn’t get enough recognition. He was also a musician’s musician.

We had jazz journalists Ted Panken and Bret Primack write some essays for the package; they knew the man and had seen him live. Bret Primack actually was very good friends with Bish. 

We had some tapes from ‘66 and ‘67, and it was enough to put together this really wonderful two-LP, two-CD set — to tell the story of these ancestors, these elders, these really important people that left a footprint.

I’m in these online groups; I’m a member of Ken Micallef’s Jazz Vinyl Lovers and Blue Note Vinyl Jazz, and we all post the records we’re listening to. These are the men; these are the greats; in our club, they reign king.

They also have a really great band. We should talk about Harold Vick, the saxophonist featured in this quartet with Walter Bishop, Jr. A man who, again, as time has gone on: maybe people know him for [1963’s] Steppin’ Out! on Blue Note Records, but he made a lot of records, man. He recorded with a lot of different folks and was one of the greats. He was a gun for hire in New York during the ‘60s and ‘70s.

On bass is Lou McIntosh — kind of lesser known. But on drums: Dick Berk. And if you talk to [drummer] Alvin Queen and other folks of that older generation, they will tell you some of the stories of these guys. Dick Berk was a very well-known drummer in New York.

These are just the cats. These are time-capsule documents of music that swings really hard. I hope people who aren’t familiar will pick it up and discover something new.

LJN: I’m a huge fan of Chet Baker, but I didn’t always view his later work as especially worthy. I know you’re a champion of all his eras. For someone like me who’s occasionally felt iffy about Baker’s later period, how would you elucidate why it’s important and has value — through the lens of Blue Room?

ZF: I want to say this: Chet Baker clearly had different phases of his career, and as I have gotten older… I discovered the 1988 movie Let’s Get Lost, from Bruce Weber. It helped me appreciate Chet in his later years.

Looking at the ‘80s until the end — that third act he had was remarkable. You can talk to Baker’s bassist Jean-Louis Rassinfosse and pianist Phil Markowitz; when they heard these recordings, they were like, “Whoa. These are really great ones.” 

First of all, these are studio sessions on Blue Room, which come from VARA Studios in the Netherlands from ‘79. That’s where Eric Dolphy recorded 1965’s Last Date. That’s where Bill Evans recorded with the trio of [bassist] Eddie Gómez and [drummer] Jack DeJohnette. Countless [artists] — even Albert Ayler.

The thing is, though, he did these two studio sessions that [radio station] KRO had in their vault. Frank Jochemsen, my co-producer, is the man who found these recordings. 

When I knew I was starting up Jazz Detective, I said, “I’ve got this new venture; do you have any Chet Baker?” He said, “Zev, there are Chet Baker studio recordings. I’ve got to do some research; let me get back to you.”

He sent them; I listened, and thought it was really great. There’s something about Chet, though, where he made it seem like it’s easy. It’s not easy. His intonation, his ability to pull from a large bag of repertoire of different songs, and his delivery. 

This man had great performances to the very end of his life. He was an amazing musician and artist — so stylistic in his own way. He really was the epitome of cool. I’m fascinated by him, and I know that Jordi Soley, my executive producer on this project, is too. It was just something that fit in really well. I find these hauntingly beautiful. 

We all love Chet… but don’t knock the later years!

LJN: Let’s get into the reissue of Eric Dolphy’s Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Sessions.

ZF: The Dolphy release is Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1961 New York Sessions. This is a reissue; we first put this album out in 2018 — a three-CD, three-LP set. 

These were the recordings that Eric Dolphy had in his suitcase of tapes. I got connected via pianist Jason Moran to musician and composer James Newton several years ago. It was probably 2014 to 2016 when we met. Again, the journey began.

We have the original albums: [1963’s] Conversations and Iron Man. We had a plethora of unissued material, and we had James Newton go through and vet it. I felt he could read the tea leaves for us in a really important role. He wrote liner notes, too; he’s one of the greatest Dolphy scholars of all time.

We put out this project several years ago, and we interviewed a whole bunch of different people — even saxophonist Sonny Simmons and drummer Joe Chambers. People that knew Dolphy. It’s a wonderful release.

LJN: What’s the difference between the original and this expanded version?

ZF: When we put out the first one for Record Store Day in 2018, we used Bernie Grundman to do the mastering of the lacquer and had RTI press it. 

This time, we’ve given it to Kevin Gray of Tone Poet acclaim, who did the LP mastering, and we [hired] a company called Le Vinylist — they’re a really high-quality vinyl pressing plant in Quebec. It says 180, but they really might be closer to 200-gram pressings on each of the discs.

I got a lot of hate mail, it feels like, since that came out. [Bellows] “Why’d ya only make 3,000 for the world?! We didn’t get enough here in Greece, or California, or whatever!” They came and went fast!

So, we got two new photographs from Chuck Stewart for the front and back. We tried to modify it. We used a different pressing plant; we used a different engineer, and the folks at Record Store Day allowed us, with their permission, to press it again in a second limited-edition setting.

Some people I know are going to have to hear ‘em both. They both sound pretty good. I’m excited; I love Eric Dolphy. He’s one of the icons of the music for us — beyond words, beyond description.

LJN: Overall, I want to get your read on the landscape of unreleased jazz from the 20th century. RIght now, what’s the demand like?

ZF: I just want to say that Record Store Day has given birth, in so many ways, by providing the infrastructure in a way for us to put these projects out via a special event. It’s not about the long tail on vinyl: it’s about, Can we make enough that we can look at it on numbers, and the project becomes sustainable, and we ship sold out and sleep at night?

That’s what’s been happening for the most part. I feel encouraged, though, because it’s just opening my eyes to the fans that are coming out — that look for it on Record Store Day, that expect it to be there.

We’re trying to be very measured, because if you have too much inventory, and you don’t make the right amount… I know some people will say, “Aw, man! Why does this have to be limited edition?” We have to do it that way, because otherwise, it’s not sustainable. It can become dangerous, in fact. It’s a liability.

I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing. I hope the fans keep coming out, and I hope we can keep releasing these wonderful projects on Record Store Day — these biannual events, in April and November — to continue the work and mission we’re doing.

LJN: There seems like there’ll always be the demographic of vinyl junkies who lurk on Discogs and the Steve Hoffman Music Forums. How do you expand your market past the jazz equivalent of what Beatles remixer Giles Martin calls “the socks and sandals brigade”?

ZF: Record Store Day shows we’re hitting younger people now. People who don’t even know who Bill Evans is; they pick it up because it looks cool, and it turns out they like it. It’s not like brussels sprouts. You’re turning people on. We’ve got to keep turning people on to this stuff. Everybody should be checking out Bill Evans or Chet Baker or Sonny Stitt or any of these artists.

There’s some cross-pollination going on there. It’s not like when Bill Graham was doing the Fillmore, bringing in the Buddy Rich Big Band to open for Alvin Lee and Ten Years After, but there’s something good that’s happening here.

This music sounds classic. Not everything ages so well. But this is timeless music, from timeless artists.

LINKS: Biography of Zev Feldman

Official RSD Links:

Eric Dolphy – Musical Prophet

Chet Baker – Blue Room (1979)

Shirley Scott: Queen Talk: Live at The Left Bank

Walter Bishop Jr: Bish at the Bank: Live in Baltimore

Bill Evans:Treasures: Solo, Trio & Orchestra In Denmark 1965-1969

Sonny Stitt: Boppin’ in Baltimore (1973)

Categories: Features/Interviews

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