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jazz standard

Fifty years today, a bunch of musicians gathered at the Columbia Studios in Los Angeles to work on a new Miles Davis album.

Among them was a British pianist called Victor Feldman – not yet 30 years old, but with a lifetime of jazz experience, first as a child prodigy drummer and then as a talented vibes player and percussionist.

By the time Miles came calling, Feldman had already lent his singular talents to other legendary jazz figures like Woody Herman, Benny Goodman and Cannonball Adderley.

But the sessions with Miles on 16th and 17th April 1963 proved to be significant in a number of ways.

Feldman contributed two tunes that are now regarded as jazz standards – ‘Seven Steps To Heaven’ and ‘Joshua.’

While ‘Joshua’ is credited to Feldman, ‘Seven Steps’ is credited to ‘V.Feldman – M.Davis’ on the sleeve of the 2005 Columbia reissue of the ‘Seven Steps To Heaven’ album.

But Victor (who died in 1987) was very clear about the ownership of the tune.

Quoted on the VictorFeldman.com website, put together by his eldest son Joshua, he’s quoted thus.

“I used to go to Miles’ hotel and we’d sit at the piano and figure out chord changes together. We worked something out on ‘Basin Street Blues,’ which we played on the date. I wrote an original, ‘Joshua,’ named for my eldest son.

“He (Miles) asked me to write another tune for the next date. I said, ‘It’s tomorrow, how can I?’ But that night after recording all day and working at the club at night, I went out to the car, sat in the back seat, and just wrote this tune. That was ‘Seven Steps To Heaven.’”

That places the recording of ‘Joshua’ on 16th April 1963 and ‘Seven Steps To Heaven’ the following day.

So with both tunes having received thousand of recordings and performances over the past 50 years, this seems to me to be an anniversary that should be celebrated.

So impressed was Davis with Feldman’s playing and contribution to these sessions that he offered Victor the vacant piano stool in his quintet.

Amazingly, Victor said ‘no,’ but his reasons for doing so were totally sound.

He’d recently married and had a young son to provide for – plus life on the road over the years hadn’t done much for his health and sense of well-being.

So he returned to playing jazz clubs in Los Angeles and developing his career as a first-call studio session player.

His later credits on albums by such diverse artists as Steely Dan, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits bear testimony to the far-sightedness of that decision.

Ironically, the original recordings of both ‘Joshua’ and ‘Seven Steps To Heaven’ featuring Feldman didn’t make the cut.

The following month, Davis relocated to Columbia’s 30th Street studio in New York and recorded both tunes with a new line-up of musicians.

Feldman’s place on piano was taken by Herbie Hancock with a 17 year-old Tony Williams joining the new Davis quintet on drums.

With Ron Carter on bass and Wayne Shorter joining the following year on saxophone, the personnel was in place to help Davis reinvent jazz yet again.

How that reinvention might have been different if Feldman had accepted Davis’s invitation we can only speculate.

But the fact is that ‘Seven Steps To Heaven’ remains a tune that jazz musicians revere.

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Stan Getz – Seven Steps To Heaven

Lynne Arriale Trio – Seven Steps To Heaven

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Chet Baker – Seven Steps To Heaven

GRP All Star Big Band – Seven Steps To Heaven

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Victor Feldman’s Generation Band – Seven Steps To Heaven

 

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