“I think they’re all curious at what the new, old dude might have to offer,” Peter Feldman tells me about the listeners who have bought tickets for his upcoming performance. “Better Late than Never” will be his debut as a jazz soloist at a self-proclaimed ‘shockingly advanced age’.
Listeners have reason to be curious about what Thursday’s show will bring, because Feldman is aiming for a different experience.
“I was hearing an awful lot of repertoire that was similar. And I thought, I’d like to see if I could put together a program of both standards and other tunes that not everybody in town is singing. So I’ve been very particular about the repertoire selection,” he said.
This show has been on his mind “for about a year.” Its musical inspiration arises from his love of jazz and other music and from decades of work in the theatre and music business, where he’s put other performers in front of audiences, while setting aside his own on-stage performances.
“38 years ago today, I presented Sarah Vaughan, the first show I presented in my five years of presenting concerts. I got to work with Brubeck and Dizzy and Akioshi and Lew Tabackin and Stephane Grappelli … I got to present some wonderful artists in that period of time,” he said, about his early first work as a concert promoter and presenter at the University of Alberta Students' Union (SUB) Theatre in Edmonton.
For 22 years, he continued that work as the founding Executive Director of CAPACOA, which promotes live performance and touring by Canadian artists. For his work, he received the National Arts Centre Award for Distinguished Contribution to Touring in the Performing Arts.
Music has always been part of Feldman's life. “I did a lot of theatre in high school and in college, including musical theatre. My mother was an opera singer. So there was always live music in the house. I played violin and clarinet. And I learned how to play bass and that was my experience in bands, playing electric bass.
“And then I started getting into jazz when I was in college, partially because of this close harmony group that I was singing in, but also the group of people I hung out with. A crowd of us went to hear every show that the Buddy Rich big band played in Rochester for four years when the band was in its heyday.”
In the past three years, local listeners have heard Feldman sing again as part of the jazz vocal harmony group, Cuppa Joe. It’s a return to music he sang decades ago.
“I really enjoyed that kind of singing. It was a thrill to come back to that with Cuppa Joe.”
But his upcoming show will be different. He’ll be the sole vocalist, but he’s emphatic there will be a close harmony of another kind.
“I’m not looking at this as a singer fronting a trio. I really tried to treat this more as a band, which is why the project is out under the banner “Better Late than Never” as opposed to the Peter Feldman Trio or the Peter Feldman Quartet or whatever,” he said.
“Because I think you will hear during the show I do a lot of interaction with the band, music interaction, trading eight bar licks back and forth with J.P. and with Norm. It’s more challenging. The arrangements are not just lead sheets, there are notated and orchestrated parts for the band in a lot of these songs. So you can’t just throw it together and have something decent happen. It takes preparation.
“About 3 weeks ago I’d been working with just Norm Glaude, who is the music director for this project and I had my first rehearsal with J.P. Allain. He’s just crushing this. He’s just so good and he’s so in the moment and so aware of what’s going on at any time.”
Normand Glaude, the show's bassist and musical director, was enthusiastic about it. “I really enjoy working with talented artists on their first few appearances. It's the discovery - both the artist and the audience - that I find rewarding,” he told OttawaJazzScene.ca in an email.
“In Peter's case, as a singer, he may be new at headlining a show, but certainly not in his understanding of the art form - music, that is. He picked some really interesting and challenging songs – musically, lyrically and artistically. He has heard and seen live many renditions of these songs, and has found a way to make them his own.”
What is the music these three musicians are pumped about polishing and performing?
“Duke Ellington says there’s two kinds of music: the good and the other kind,” Feldman said. “I didn’t have any compunctions about putting some songs in the show that some people might think of as pop because jazz is pop music too and a lot of it is pop music from a different era.
“A lot of these songs, when you think about the musicians I’m working with on this project, they’re going to be just as jazzy as any of the American songbook standards.
Pianist J.P. Allain has his own take on the music.
“If I would have entered this project 10 years ago, I would have probably left it. At that point, all I considered as real jazz were either standard tunes or tunes from the bebop book,” he emailed OttawaJazzScene.ca.
“I'm not sure I can identify what event or what fact made me think of jazz differently. I guess it has a lot to do with what's happening in the rest of the world...how jazz has influenced the music of many countries outside of the U.S. and how in turn jazz has been influenced by that music.
“Through these considerations and observations, I have come to change my definition of what jazz is or what jazz should be. I keep an open mind and I think jazz is in many ways becoming the universal language.”
Feldman explained his repertoire choices for the show, the “tunes that not everybody in town is singing.”
“I just went after songs I really liked. In the case of 'Edith and the Kingpin', that’s a song that I’ve been trying to find a way to perform for about three years now.
“[Joni Mitchell] recorded it with one of her jazzier bands. some wonderful jazz players were in the band. And then I heard the song covered by Elvis Costello playing with Herbie Hancock a couple of years ago. And then of course there was Herbie Hancock’s version on the album called River, the Joni letters, where Tina Turner sang it. And I’ve never heard Tina Turner better than when she sang 'Edith and the Kingpin'. And the band with Herbie Hancock and Dave Holland on bass for that record, the arrangement was so good. And that’s sort of the style we’re going after with our arrangement.
“Norm nailed it with the chart. And J.P. is killing the piano part.”
Feldman mentions some other songs they’re working on. A Jimi Hendrix tune. A Harry Nilsson song. “Maybe a Leonard Cohen tune. The odd novelty song, like 'Frim Fram Sauce', or 'Popsicle Toes'.”
“There’s some neat repertoire in there that I think the guys are enjoying,” he said.
Glaude wrote about a special part he’ll play in this show.
“I will be playing harmonica on a few tunes, and one that I find particularly interesting is 'My One and Only Love'. For this song we were inspired by the Johnny Hartman / John Coltrane version - and we will be using lyrical harmonica sounds for the first chorus.”
Feldman will also sing another well-known standard: Paul Desmond’s “Take Five”.
“And how many people sing 'Take Five'? It is challenging, for sure. But that for me is the fun.”
“These are great tunes... and nobody does ‘em! And I have no idea why! Because they’re so good, that’s why I made sure to load a lot of them into this show.”
For the songs that he wants to sing now, Feldman’s earlier interest in theatre decades ago has an unexpected benefit.
“With the goal in mind of improving my voice as an actor, trying to learn good vocal mechanics and so forth, I studied voice at Eastman [School of Music, Rochester NY] for three years. And I have to say that training has really stood me in good stead. I’m not a kid and my chops are in pretty good shape, which is why I figured if I was going to do this project that I better get on with it and not wait for my vocal ability to start to decline.
“It even helped me with rock singing. I can sound like I should be ripping my throat apart but I know how to do it so that I’m not hurting myself.
“Cuppa Joe’s been really good for that because it’s really worked the low end of my range, especially, singing bass in a four-part harmony setup.“
Feldman is a baritone. I asked if that was a challenge for the songs he wanted to sing.
“In some cases I’ve altered the keys a bit to accommodate that. I don’t think in a lot of cases that altering the key is that big a deal.”
He referred to the Burt Bacharach-Elvis Costello Tune, “God give me Strength”, which the band had been working on.
“Norm and I call it ‘the epic’. Because first of all, it’s long. Second, it’s very rangey. And it’s almost operatic in some of its passages.
“I remember the first time I heard it, which was in the movie, I thought ‘that is a really well-crafted song’. I’ve always liked Burt Bacharach . But this was not what I would consider one of his usual types of use of melody. I just fell in love with the tune. And this was another tune that I had been trying to figure out a way to perform it.”
So they changed the key on that song. “It was, for me, ridiculously high. And we took it down a whole tone and that works just fine. You gotta do what you gotta do, man.”
He said he wouldn't do that for a song like “'Round Midnight”, “which is in a really goofy key signature. It’s six flats. But what that particular key signature does, is lend a certain sonority to the song, which I think if you started to transpose it, you would lose. And I don’t think that’s the case with a lot of the other tunes.”
But it was his experience in a coaching session he did with with Micah Barnes that he most wants to bring to this performance.
“I sang 'God Give me Strength', and he said ‘OK. You’ve got the chops to sing the song. Let’s not worry about that. Now, let’s go through it again, only this time, tell me the story.’
“And I sang it and practically broke down in the middle of the second verse. Made it through to the end. And he looked at me and said ‘two different songs, man. Two completely different songs.’
“If you don’t get every one of those high notes perfectly, it doesn’t mean a damn thing if you’re telling the story well. It really doesn’t. The story is key. And I’m just trying to bring that approach to all the material in this show.”
Glaude concurred. “When he sings he seems to create images in his mind and deliver them as though he was painting a canvas before us.”
On Thursday, those musical images will be painted in Live! on Elgin. It’s a venue that’s not yet known to many jazz listeners, so I asked Feldman why he chose it.
“I was talking to an old pal and he was saying ‘you should be doing this in the dingiest, dirtiest room that you can find',” he responded.
“I’m not saying Live! on Elgin is dingy or dirty, because it’s neither one of those.
“I was there at JUNOfest when Brandi Disterheft was there with her Trio, and Dave Young. It was a killer night, and the place was packed and the vibe was great. [review and photos] And I remembered back to that time, and thought 'Why not this place?’ It was available, so I jumped on it. The sound system is great.
“I like the idea of jazz being done at a chair-and-table place as opposed to concert venues all the time. I still remember as a college kid going to hear Kenny Burrell and Steve Swallow and eating ribs and drinking Jack Daniels and smoking cigarettes until 4 o’clock in the morning, listening to Kenny Burrell play fabulous jazz guitar. And I always liked that feeling listening to that kind of music. And so hopefully we can kind of replicate it, without the cigarettes.”
Feldman said, “Some people have asked me why I am doing this particular project now.
“I’m a singer. I want to sing.”
Better late than never.
Better Late than Never with Peter Feldman, Normand Glaude, J.P. Allain, and percussionist Angel Araos will perform at Live! On Elgin, 220 Elgin Street (above Dunn's Famous Deli map) on Thursday, November 9, at 8 p.m. (doors open at 7:30 p.m.) Tickets ($25) can be bought at Live! on Elgin or for $30 at the door.
Correction Nov. 7, 2017: Peter Feldman's early work as a concert promoter and presenter was at the University of Alberta Students' Union (SUB) Theatre in Edmonton, not in the U.S.
Read related stories by OttawaJazzScene.ca
- Cuppa Joe's four voices provide an afternoon full of song (with Peter Feldman)
- JUNOfest night 1: three very different vocal jazz groups plus baritone sax (at Live! on Elgin)
- JUNOfest night 2: all eyes on the stage for projects from the heart (at Live! on Elgin)