Zev Feldman’s lifelong love affair with record stores

Zev Feldman is a Grammy-nominated record executive, producer and curator of archival jazz recordings. (Zak Shelby-Szyszko)

Zev Feldman grew up in Montgomery County. If you’re looking for more specifics, though, they’ll take the form of a list of area record stores.

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

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

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

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Each package is bursting with goodies besides the music: unseen photographs, interviews with the surviving players, insightful essays from experts and fellow artists.

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

At the same time, his work is yet another means of indulging his passion for record stores and collecting.

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Feldman’s career began while he was attending Montgomery College and serving as music director at campus radio station WMCR. When he called PolyGram Records’ distribution center in Greenbelt to request records for airplay, the staff offered him an internship. He parlayed it into jobs in the mailroom, then in sales and distribution. By the time he was 25, Feldman was Rhino Records’ jazz and classical music sales manager for the entire northeastern U.S.

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

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

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

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It led to a different kind of collecting: from an unreleased Bill Evans studio session, to an early, private tape of guitarist Wes Montgomery at an Indianapolis club, to stacks of prewar radio transcriptions by Nat King Cole.

Now a co-president of Resonance (which is releasing the new Evans and Mingus sets), Feldman is also associated with Barcelona-based Elemental Music (which is releasing the 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.

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He pointedly gets permission from and arranges royalties for the artists’ estates. In cases where the music has previously been bootlegged and the families got nothing, he sees it as righting a historical wrong. However, it does increase the production cost.

“So much money is outlaid, for the musicians, the publishing, the manufacturing, everything that goes into it,” he says. “It’s like building a pizza — and these are all, like, super supreme pizzas. But Record Store Day makes it possible, because it guarantees a threshold of sales that allows the project to recoup.”

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It also lets Feldman rejuvenate his love affair with record stores like Joe’s, where his passion for music began. His proximity to so many musical treasures hasn’t stopped him from piling up purchases from the bins. More than that, though, Feldman just likes to be there.

“Joe’s was like a barber shop — and still is,” he says. “People sit around talking about music, put on records and discuss it. I just come and hang out. I feed on the knowledge that record stores have brought me.

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

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