The new release of Chet Baker’s Blue Room: The 1979 Vara Studio Sessions in Holland, collects previously-unreleased Dutch sessions, recorded with two slightly different rhythm sections. Master archivist Zev Feldman, who brought the recordings to light, was kind enough to take some interview questions.
Seattle Star: What are your earliest memories of listening to Chet Baker?
Zev Feldman: My earliest recollections of listening to Chet Baker are the Riverside recordings, featuring his vocals and trumpet playing. In the early 2000s, I was inspired by the Bruce Weber film, Let’s Get Lost, which really introduced me to Chet, like a lot of other younger people. I was always aware of him, but that film got me closer. Also, during my time working at PolyGram early in my music career, we issued some recordings of Chet and Stan Getz.
For the record, I don’t consider myself an academic scholar of Chet by any means, but am just a passionate admirer of his music and think he’s one of the greats.
Seattle Star: What were your earliest impressions of Baker’s music? How did those questions grow and change over time?
Zev Feldman: As the years have gone on, I’ve recognized more and more how special he really was as a musician and performer. I don’t think anything really changed over time though, about my thoughts on his playing. He’s an artist that made timeless music. I’ve tended to be drawn to his later material just as much as earlier output. He’s had an incredibly impressive career, and we’re still feeling inspiration from him to this day.
Seattle Star: What would you say are the major phases of Baker’s career? How do these phases compare and contrast with one another?
Zev Feldman: It’s really difficult to answer this question. He’s certainly had different periods in his career, and his later recordings were especially mature and inspiring for me and showed that he retained all of his musical gifts and his sound. But all of his periods are equally interesting to me.
Seattle Star: Which archival sets from Baker had you worked on before? How do they compare and contrast with these sessions?
I produced Live in Paris: The Radio France Recordings (1983-1984) for Elemental Music. Those are great performances too, and again, I just love his later period output.
Seattle Star: Where do the archival sets in Blue Room come from? How were the sessions arranged, who produced and engineered them, and who broadcast them?
Zev Feldman: This information is all in the booklet, but they were recorded at the legendary VARA Studio 2 in Hilversum, the Netherlands in 1979 and produced by Edwin Rutten and Lex Lammen, engineered by Jim Rip, and broadcast by KRO-NCRV.
Seattle Star: How long had the sessions lay tucked away, and where? How did you become aware of them? Had they ever been bootlegged?
Zev Feldman: The recordings never became bootlegged and were found by my associate Frank Jochemsen at the Nederlands Jazz Archief. I inquired with him to see if he know of any unissued Chet recordings and he found these.
Seattle Star: What were your thoughts on listening to these sessions for the first time?
Zev Feldman: I thought they were hauntingly beautiful. I’m always astounded when we find great music like this that was tucked away on top of a shelf in a storage facility or some other place. I’m grateful we were able to bring these recordings to light.
Seattle Star: How would you say the two different rhythm sections compare and contrast with each other? Do you have a preference for one? If so, why?
Zev Feldman: It’s hard for me to answer this, but I think they’re both wonderful recordings. Personally, it was really cool for me to hear the recordings with [pianist] Phil Markowitz as I’ve been familiar with his playing for a long time, but they’re both very special recordings.
Seattle Star: Baker’s singing became as well-known, if not better known, than his trumpet playing. How would you say, do the two influence each other?
Zev Feldman: I think one of the great things about Chet, is that right off the bat he hits you with these two great talents. I can’t tell you how they influence each other, but I just marvel at them.
Seattle Star: Co-producer Edwin Rutten mentions that Baker showed up at the last session, in less than a good mood. Do you get the impression the session could otherwise have gone longer and included more selections?
Zev Feldman: I have no idea if the session could have gone longer. I was only privy to the same info that made it into the booklet. Obviously the music sounds great, but I couldn’t tell you any more about his mood or anything at the time.
Seattle Star: Which are your personal favorites selections across this new set, and why?
Zev Feldman: I love the Wayne Shorter piece, “Beautiful Black Eyes,” which is just a beautiful composition. I also really love the recording of “Candy” with the Dutch rhythm section. Those are two of my favorites.
Seattle Star: What’s in the near future for you, so far as presenting archival sets?
Zev Feldman: Lots of great music is coming and you’ll have to stay tuned. I can’t discuss a lot of it yet, as the info is embargoed, but I’m currently working on projects from Bill Evans, Cal Tjader, Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio, Art Tatum, and many others. It’s truly a blessing and beyond words to express how exciting it is to do the work I do. I’m very fortunate.