I also had lessons a couple of years later when I started to get a name—a so-called “discovery.” (Note: Feldman was known as a child prodigy.) The teacher said he couldn’t teach me anything technically. That’s when I was 7, so he didn’t want to teach me anymore. Another thing: he was trying to teach me how to read, but I was very slow at that.
So environment in my case was my brothers. They opened one of the first live jazz clubs in London. I went down there every weekend, or whenever I could talk my mother and father into letting me—which was quite often.
As far as the radio—the music—in England is concerned, it’s still what I heard a comedian refer to as “nymphs and shepherds style of music.” It’s, you know, very nice and everything …
That’s the environment I had. But I wish I could remember things like Nat—like going to school hearing music.
Nat: Well, that’s just a random illustration. The point I’m really trying to make is that basically the major thing the Negro child had that could be construed as an advantage if you’re going to play jazz is, first you’ve got a race-pride thing. The original Dixieland musicians like Louis Armstrong and even before that, King Oliver and those other people, naturally this was something Negroes could take pride in because this was something the whole race could look up to and say, “These guys are doing something; they’re big people to look up to.” So that if anybody bought a record or made a move toward going to hear something, it would be to hear these people. Then it becomes like a strictly racial thing—whether you like it or not. The point is that you’re going to hear it, whether you like it or not.
Then by the time you grow up, all this rhythm … I can’t describe the rhythm that comes out of the Tabernacle Baptist church; if I tried to describe it, I’d come out second best. But with all those tambourines going and the people shouting—it’s a rhythmic thing I’m getting to. What it boils down to is that if you grow up where everything you have something to do with has some sort of rhythm, then, of necessity, if you have any ability inherent you’ve got to pick up some of this rhythm thing. You don’t necessarily have to be a great jazz musician.
Vic: Then you do agree there is something inherent in it?
Nat: I agree that there is something in individuals that makes them able to play so that …
Vic: Pick up and use what they, what the environment gives them.
Nat: Right. Right. So what I’m trying to say, Vic … say, in your case: maybe you’re a guy with a tremendous amount of inherent ability, so much so that you can override the fact that you had less influence rhythmically when you were a child than Sam, because maybe you got more inherent ability to absorb what you do hear than Sam has. But on the other hand, Sam was playing guitar in the church with the tambourines going—the same thing I was sitting outside listening to, Sam is inside banging a guitar with. So all this rhythm being thrust at you all the time you’ve got to absorb something if you have any kind of—of course, some people just can’t absorb anything at all; some people have no ability toward music whatsoever. But if you have any sort of ability, it should come out. I think it would be easier to play jazz if you had to go through this thing. … Well, naw. I’ll put it this way: I think you would have a more natural pulsating beat to your playing and that you would swing better if you had to go through this thing than if you, as a child, if you only had dance-band music of … who was the king of jazz? Paul Whiteman. Or if you had heard Al Jolson sing all the time. I say this not as a racial aspersion so much as the way I look at it.
DeM: Nat, when I first talked to you about our getting together, you suggested as one of the topics for discussion Crow Jim. What you have said about environment is not what I’d call Crow Jim. But there’s an element in jazz which says that only the white guys want everything correct, the way the whites say is the right way to do things. I’ve seen letters in which the writers take pride in misspelled words and bad grammar simply because they feel that this is showing white guys that to be soulful, or whatever you want to call it, you don’t have to do things “correctly.” This attitude I would call Crow Jim.
Nat: Don, you see, companion to the feeling of Crow Jim is bitterness. It’s much easier to dislike someone of you’re bitter toward him anyway. The thing that involves this whole movement—the soul music thing—could be construed as a racial thing. It can very well be construed that way, and a lot of people construe it to mean that if you got soul, or to have soul, you’ve got to be a Negro.
This is because, first of all, no one can define this term. I don’t know who originated it, but the first person I ever heard use the term was Milt Jackson. And I don’t think he was using the term at the time in any manner that could be construed as derogatory toward something else. But it’s come to mean that if you went to a Negro church when you were a boy, and you recognize Gospel music and this sort of thing, then you’ve got “soul.” Which is a drag, really, because I don’t think it was meant to be that way.
Now, what’s happening with this Crow Jim thing, the way a lot of Negro musicians are looking at it—and I’m using this only as a line for thought—if the term soul music has a leaning toward meaning Negro music, then the term cool or west coast music had a leaning toward being white. And the whole thing behind this thing is that there were a whole lot of guys—a whole lot of good Negro musicians who weren’t working very regularly when the vogue was the cool West Coast sound, because everybody who was cool and West Coast was white.