Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series

Part 87 - Cleveland Drummer Morey Feld
Story filed July 6, 2004

A self-taught drummer from Cleveland played with some of the most important artists in jazz history, but died a tragic death at the age of 55. His name was Morey Feld.

Feld was born in Cleveland in 1915 and graduated from Glenville High School. His first real job came in 1936 at the age of 21. He played with the Ben Pollack Orchestra at the Mayfair Casino, a nightclub in the Ohio Theatre building, in what is now Playhouse Square.

Pollack, who had been a member of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, was a popular bandleader in the 1920s and early ‘30s. Among his sidemen were Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden and Jimmy McPartland. It was Pollack who popularized the device of a small group within a big band coming down front to play some hot jazz. Pollack’s idea foreshadowed Goodman’s later small jazz groups, as well as Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, and Tommy Dorsey’s Clambake Seven. But, Pollack had trouble getting along with some of his musicians. At the end of 1934, most of his band quit and formed their own band. They hired singer Bob Crosby, who played no instrument, to front the band.

After his band quit, Pollack formed a new band and began billing himself as "The Dean of Sophisticated Swing." He came to Cleveland to play at the Mayfair Casino and hired some promising young musicians. With Clevelander Feld playing drums, other members of that Pollack band in Cleveland included trumpeter Harry James (before he joined Goodman), pianist Freddy Slack; and saxophonists Matty Matlock and Eddie Miller.

Feld left Cleveland in 1938 to join Joe Haymes’ Summa Cum Laude Orchestra and made his first record in 1940 with the combo of pianist Jess Stacy. With World War II ending, Feld was playing drums in New York City. Goodman, who had been riding high as "The King of Swing" for almost a decade, disbanded his orchestra and played a few dates as a soloist. In the fall of 1944, Goodman put together a quintet which included vibraphonist Red Norvo, pianist Teddy Wilson, bassist Sid Weiss, and Feld.

Beginning in December of 1944, the quintet played for five months for a Broadway variety show called Seven Lively Arts. In February of 1945, Goodman added bass player Slam Stewart to his group and recorded as a sextet. The recordings by the Goodman Sextet were among the best small group swing recordings of the period. The group performed at Cleveland’s Palace Theatre the first week of August of 1945. Feld seldom soloed with Goodman, but on the drums he played a key role in these historic sextet sides.

With his sextet records selling well, Goodman decided to organize a new big band. It included a number of younger musicians, including Feld, who was 30 at the time. In addition to playing drums with the new Goodman big band, Feld appeared in a film called Sweet and Lowdown. He also recorded in 1944 with Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan. In the months that followed, there was a big turnover in the Goodman band when some of the veterans returned from the war. In 1946, Feld was replaced by Cozy Cole.

Feld was working New York City when a 23-year-old guitarist from Cleveland showed up, hoping to make a name for himself. The guitarist was Bill de Arango. Feld took him under his wing, introduced him around and let him sit in with various groups. Soon, de Arango joined Ben Webster’s group and began recording with Norvo, Stewart and Feld. With the help of Feld, de Arango became one of the top guitarists in jazz and recorded with bebop pioneers Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and others.

While de Arango was playing bebop, Feld began playing with Eddie Condon’s dixieland groups at a club called Nick’s in New York City’s Greenwich Village. From 1946 to 1955, the Clevelander was the drummer with various traditional jazz bands led by Condon and his friends – Billy Butterfield, Peanuts Hucko, and Bobby Hackett. With Bob Haggart, he recorded with Ella Fitzgerald in 1946. He recorded with Wild Bill Davison in 1947 and June Christy in 1949. He also toured with the Buddy Morrow and Bobby Sherwood big bands and recorded with Stan Getz in 1952. Talented in many jazz styles, Feld also recorded with Charlie Parker in 1953.

In 1955, he formed his own group called "Morey Feld and His Straight Ahead Six." He spent five years playing drums with the ABC studio band in New York. In the expanded second edition of our Cleveland Jazz History book, there is a photo of Feld playing in a studio with a cigarette in his mouth. On the music stand in front of him is a sign saying, "Smoking prohibited in these premises."

In the early 1960s, Feld returned to Goodman and played with another of his newly-formed orchestras. Feld also continued to play from time to time with Condon’s groups. He played a festival in 1962 with Hackett, and performed with the legendary Sidney Bechet. In 1964, he recorded with Hucko, and led his own small group at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

In 1966, Feld opened his own drum school, and continued touring with the Newport All-Stars.

He moved to California in 1968 and later settled in Denver.

In 1968, Feld was the first drummer for the group called "The World’s Greatest Jazz Band." The band included Bob Wilber, Ralph Sutton and several members of the old Bob Crosby band – Haggart, Butterfield and Yank Lawson. It was ironic that Feld was playing with some of the same musicians, whose decision to quit the Ben Pollack Orchestra three decades earlier, had opened the door for his first professional job in music.

Feld’s colorful career ended tragically in 1971 during a fire at his home in Denver. He tried to fight the blaze and save his home, but was killed. He was 55.

Copyright 2004 Joe Mosbrook

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You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. The greatly-expanded second edition of Mosbrook’s Cleveland Jazz History book is available from the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society, 4614 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44193.