May 18, 2024

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Interview with Josh Feldstein of The Verve Jazz Ensemble: It’s up to listeners to decide what they enjoy: Video, new CD cover

Interview with Jazz drummer Josh Feldstein of The Verve Jazz Ensemble. An interview by email in writing. – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Josh Feldstein: – I was born and raised in New York City. My passion for jazz began when I was 11 years old, living with my family in Queens, New York. I was taking drum lessons at the time from a teacher who turned me on to the amazing drumming of Gene Krupa. One day, my teacher told me “Josh, you sound like Gene Krupa.” I had no idea who he was talking about, but once I heard him, I dug Gene’s drumming intensely and couldn’t stop listening. I became hooked on jazz and drumming…that was it!

I spent the next 10 years listening to jazz 10 hours a day…records, radio, live jazz at all the great NY jazz clubs. Played in school bands, all that stuff. All my good friends were musicians. At night, when I had the money, I’d catch the greats in New York: Buddy Rich and his big band, Max Roach, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, the Count Basie big band. Any given month would bring into New York the best of the best, from Stan Getz to pianist Monty Alexander, to Elvin Jones, and on and on.

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Once I entered college, and into my 20s, I put music on the backburner because I didn’t think I could make money as a jazz musician. I had a number of musician friends who were really good trying to make it, and it was hard. While I kept practicing and would of course play occasionally, it was part-time. But the bug to play never, ever went away! It wasn’t till I was older that I got serious about my jazz career, forming the Verve Jazz Ensemble eventually in 2006.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

JF: – Developing one’s sound happens due to a number of things, but is quite organic, I would say, over time. It’s a function of one’s natural technical capabilities and idiosyncrasies; artistic interests / musical styles; musical role models; dedication to practicing – and knowing how to practice; and the influence of one’s teachers, especially if a musician is fortunate to have a truly great instructor or two.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

JF: – I am grateful to my drumming idol Joe Morello for a massive amount of inspiration and technical insight. Joe was an amazing drummer and teacher and I have worked diligently through Joe’s teaching materials, and had an opportunity to take a 1-1 master class with him. I am also grateful to my drum instructor of 10 years, the great John Riley. John is a master jazz drummer who has taught me not only about drumming, but also about the art of playing jazz as a drummer. His guidance and encouragement have been so helpful; he is an impeccable instructor who focuses on the essence of how to get things done as a professional. He has helped me develop my chops, evolve my own voice, and better define my path as a musician.

One exercise I practice religiously John taught me 10 years ago; I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours working on this. It’s a jazz drummer’s exercise: Take page 5 of Stick Control, the classic 1935 book by George Lawrence Stone. Stay with me here! Do NOT play what is written. Rather:

1) Play time on the ride with 2 and 4 on the hi hat;

2) play what is written for the left hand on the snare; but play what is written for the right hand with the bass drum instead. Work through the 24 exercises on the entire page; when you get proficient, you can string them together without stopping. Start slow! Build up to quarter note = 200 bpm or so. This exercise will transform your jazz drumming!

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

JF: – In every way. Ears. Chops. Use of space. Sophistication. Finesse. Confidence. Breadth of vocabulary. Relaxation.

JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

JF: – I don’t worry about the spiritual side of things. That takes care of itself as long as I go into things with an open heart and trusting my instincts, and of course being prepared musically.

The physical side is a lifestyle thing. I try to stay in good shape. I jog, swim, lift – but nothing crazy. Building up for a show or a recording date means being able to sustain my playing at a very high level of output and concentration for a couple of hours at a time. Take a break, then do it again. Everyone has their own routine. If I’m practicing and performing regularly, then I need a two week tune up. If I’m doing less, I may give myself 6 weeks to ramp up. You can’t cram as a drummer, especially as you get older, because it’s easy to hurt yourself…wrist, forearm strain, tendonitis, etc. Then you’re in trouble. So steady and balanced is the key, at least for me.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album in 2023, “All In.” How it was formed and what you are working on today.

JF: – I try to leave it to listeners to decide what they enjoy. The level of musicianship and integration between us as a band is what I love most about the VJE, I’d say. When I listen to a recording, I have to separate my subjective experience as a recording artist from the end product of the music, and that is sometimes easy and sometimes more challenging. For example, “All In” was recorded the day after my very close Uncle died. I’d been helping him for months toward the end of his life. He died literally like 12 hours before the recording date. I still had to go into the studio for days and give it my best effort. So “All In” was an unusual personal circumstance to record an album for me!

The VJE has a number of new projects planned for the recording studio, and our group’s trajectory will continue to grow and expand. There may be a surprise or two coming up the road, so stay tuned!

We also have an exciting live performance coming up on August 25th in Worchester, MA. The band will be headling the “Jazz at Sunset” concert sponsored by Boston NPR radio station WICN and the Hanover Theatre.

Buy from here – New CD 2023

The Verve Jazz Ensemble -

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?

JF: – These cats are the same band members I’ve been playing with as the VJE for a long time! I’ve played with tenor sax Jon Blanck for going on 20 years, and Tatum Greenblatt (trumpet), Matt Oestreicher (piano) and Elias Bailey (bass) for over a decade as well.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

JF: – One of the most interesting experiences I had was recording our 2018 album “Connect the Dots” which introduced both Alexa Tarantino on alto and flute and Willie Applewhite on trombone to the VJE. Growing from 5 to 7 pieces put the band on a new trajectory in terms of its stylistic reach. Things really opened-up for us as a band; we became freer, taking on forms and voicings we hadn’t tried before. There was a certain vibe, a magic that permeated this particular recording session. We all knew it was a special album. Connect The Dots went on to become a #1 record on JazzWeek.

JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

JF: – We work diligently on our arrangements and charts. This establishes the structure the music sits on, and it’s critical. I guess you could you call this the intellectual part of the music. However, during the performance, the solos, the improvisation, the energy and the spontaneous interplay between the members of the band represents what you might call the soul. So, there you go…our simple definition of the mixture between intellect and soul, VJE style.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

JF: – When we perform live, the energy we feel from the audience directly charges us up, or simmers us down. When we perform for audiences that know and love jazz, the exchange energetically is always mutually exciting. As musicians, that’s the most fun aspect of performing, I think.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

JF: – It’s not important that the tune is 50 years old or whatever. It’s the way the melody is re-framed based on contemporary vibe and tastes. A jazz melody needs to be recast sometimes in order to grab a different generation, leveraging musical triggers that draw them in, such as changes in tempo, rhythm, harmonization, soloing, style, adding in surprises, etc. My daughter’s friends all follow the band and love our music, and these kids are in High School and College.

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

JF: – It would be wonderful to have a purely acoustic instrumental musical world again without software-generated sounds and programmed electronics replacing humans.

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JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

JF: – Even though I’m a drummer, I spend a lot of my time listening to pianists. Red Garland, Bill Evans, Bill Charlap, Oscar Peterson. Recently, I like Beegie Adair’s vibe.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

JF: – We play melodies we love, melodies we feel are beautiful and inspired. The groove, the energy, the vibe, the improv, all that fits together inside the melody in a way. And when it works, it makes people happy. I’m not sure I ever thought of our music as delivering “a message,” but if the Verve Jazz Ensemble’s music makes our listeners feel good, I’d say we’ve delivered our message!

JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

JF: – Why do you love jazz?

JBN: – Jazz is my life!!!

Interview by Emmanuel Bolton

Note: You can express your consent and join our association, which will give you the opportunity to perform at our Jazz and Blues festivals, naturally receiving an appropriate royalty. We cover all expenses. The objectives of the interview are: How to introduce yourself, your activities, thoughts and intellect, and make new discoveries for our US/EU Jazz & Blues Association, which organizes festivals, concerts and meetings in Boston and various European countries, why not for you too!! You can read more about the association here.

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