Zev Feldman Talks Record Stores and Keeping Archival Jazz Recordings

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Zev Feldman grew up in Montgomery County. If you search for more details, however, they will come in the form of a list of record stores in the area.

“I was literally shopping at Joe’s Record Paradise, its original location in [Aspen Hill shopping center] Plaza del Mercado, when I was 4 or 5 years old”, he says, his eyes shining with enthusiasm. “Kemp Mill Music in Gaithersburg Square, another place I used to shop. Fisheries at Rockville, near White Flint. that of Olsson. Waxie Maxie is at Lakeforest Mall. Tower and Nobody Beats the Wiz in Rockville. Record stores have always been the center of my universe.

These local record stores give you an analog break from a digital world

Joe’s — the last survivor of that group, now located in the basement of the SunTrust building in downtown Silver Spring — remains a special place for Feldman, 48, who divides his time between Los Angeles and Rockville, where his parents are still living. Now a Grammy-nominated record executive, producer and curator of archival jazz recordings, Feldman will spend Record Store Day (April 23) this year at the store.

He will be armed with five limited-edition historic vinyl packages. These include two 1970s concerts by pianist Bill Evans in Buenos Aires; a long-lost 1972 recording of bassist Charles Mingus at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London; the French radio broadcasts of trumpeter Chet Baker in 1983-1984; and, more ambitiously, a five-disc set of saxophonist Albert Ayler’s July 1970 Paris concerts — some of the free jazz titan’s last recordings before his death the following November.

Each package is packed with goodies besides the music: never-before-seen photographs, interviews with surviving players, insightful essays from experts and other artists.

“I consider this investigative journalism: really bringing out the story and the narrative,” says Feldman. “I want to elevate the art of record making.”

At the same time, his work is another means of satisfying his passion for record stores and collectors.

Feldman’s career began while attending Montgomery College and serving as music director at campus radio station WMCR. When he called the PolyGram Records distribution center in Greenbelt asking for records to release, the staff offered him an internship. He turned it into jobs in the mailroom, then in sales and distribution. At the age of 25, Feldman was Rhino Records’ jazz and classical music sales manager for the entire northeastern United States.

He still haunted record stores, including his favorites in the Washington area. But now it was he who served them.

After 15 years in the business, Feldman found himself in Los Angeles, doing distribution for the small jazz label Resonance Records. Impressed by her knowledge and passion, label owner George Klabin made her an offer. “He says, ‘If you can go out and find some recordings, and I like the music and it’s never been out before – I’m not talking about a re-release, Zev, but something new – I’ll let you produce it for me.’ And it was like throwing gasoline on the fire.

He did a new cycle of networking: with archives, representatives of musician estates, club owners. Few of the conversations he has these days that don’t include the question “So, do you have any recordings?”

This led to a different kind of collection: from an unreleased studio session by Bill Evans, to a private debut tape by guitarist Wes Montgomery in an Indianapolis club, to stacks of pre-war radio transcriptions by Nat King Cole.

Now co-president of Resonance (which releases new Evans and Mingus sets), Feldman is also associated with Barcelona-based Elemental Music (which releases Baker and Ayler sets). Later this year, he will launch his own label, an as-yet-unnamed venture that will specialize in archival music across multiple genres.

He ostensibly obtains permission and organizes the royalties for the artists’ estates. In cases where the music has already been pirated and the families got nothing, he sees this as righting a historical wrong. However, this increases the cost of production.

“So much money is spent, on musicians, editing, manufacturing, everything that goes into it,” he says. “It’s like building a pizza – and they’re all, like, super supreme pizzas. But Record Store Day makes it possible because it guarantees a sales threshold that allows the project to recover.

It also allows Feldman to rejuvenate his love affair with record stores like Joe’s, where his passion for music began. Its proximity to so many musical treasures did not prevent it from accumulating purchases in the bins. More than that, however, Feldman just likes to be there.

“Joe’s was like a barber shop – and still is,” he says. “People sit down to talk about music, put on records and discuss it. I’m just hanging out. I feed on the knowledge that record stores have given me.

“I want to create future fans and record store enthusiasts who will continue to discover and celebrate this music.”

Record Store Day is April 23. Joe’s Record Paradise, 8700 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. joesrecordparadise.com.

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