Victor Fields sings really, really well with a voice that covers a double range from baritone through tenor, and a very skillfully developed delivery. I put VICTOR, Mr. Fields latest release on Regina Records, on the office CD player and all of my office mates really dug it. They even let me play it again, which isn’t usual for many of the jazz albums that I play.
VICTOR is a collection of ten songs with a jazzy, soulful R & B sound. Back in my single days, this would have been one of those records that would have been reserved for special company as Victor’s singing can very well be filed under the romantic section of your CD collection.
Mr. Fields’ voice is consistently described in reviews as silky smooth. Sandy Shore writing on the "Listening Loft" of Smoothjazz.com says, "Victor’s rich, rich voice is uniquely his, yet shares the same high-quality and conviction of well-loved vocalists the likes of George Benson, James Ingram and Luther Vandross."
It is this fluid richness of voice combined with Victor’s constant refinement of style and sensitivity to a song’s possibilities that lead me to believe we are at the beginning of what should be an extraordinary career in the vocal arts.
JAZZREVIEW: As an artist who plays the human voice how did you get to be where you are with your instrument?
VICTOR FIELDS: I have listened a lot and studied a lot of the classic singers, Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye. I listened to what made each singer’s particular voice distinctive, and I listened to their phrasing. To really put it all together I invested in voice lessons. I took voice lessons for about two years and also listen to a lot of singers and a lot of songs. I just tried to become more intuitive and more sensitive to the melody and to the lyric.
JAZZREVIEW: Who did you study with?
VICTOR FIELDS: I studied with David Tigner who is a voice teacher in San Francisco. He had a lot to do with a lot of the voices that were coming out of the Bay Area. He’s a classically trained teacher. His philosophy is that you can use classical techniques to sing popular music. A lot of the singers from Vogue studied with David ,as well as a lot of classical students in the Bay Area, professional singers. I was fortunate. After badgering him for about three months, he took me on for some lessons and that was really a great investment. For many years, I sang as a baritone, but what David heard was a tenor. He helped me to get the mechanics for moving my voice into a head voice--using not just the body and the chest, but the resonators in my head to create the sounds that I wanted to hear.
I am also a writer so I invested a great deal of time in song writing. I think all those basic approaches went into it and now I don’t really think about it that much. I go in and listen to the environment that the producers are creating for me and we really discuss the song, a lot ahead of time. Even before we record a single note, we talk about the song and I am able to intuitively go in. A lot of it is a much higher power coming through me to help accomplish some of these things. Sometimes I listen to playback and I hear things, and I’m even quite surprised the by the phrasing and things of that nature. So
JAZZREVIEW: So you have a sort of sub-conscious, conscious thing working there.
VICTOR FIELDS: Yes. I think it gets to that. With any instrument when you start you are thinking all the time because you are trying to be very technical. You are trying for placement and you are trying to do all these things and then after a while, it becomes more relaxed. You are not really concentrating on anything other than what you are feeling and when you get to that point, immersed in the song, you are not concentrating on technical things. You are very relaxed and it just flows. At that point, I don’t have a real definition of what is going on. I’ve laid the foundation to allow myself to have freedom of expression and that changes with each song, a particular mood and environment.
JAZZREVIEW: In addition to Nat King Cole and Marvin Gay and the great Lou Rawls, who else do you feel has influenced you as a singer?
VICTOR FIELDS: I am influenced a lot by female singers. One thing that John Levy told me and he said he didn’t want me to be insulted, but that the way I approach music, I have the sensitivity of a lot of female singers. John knows because he has managed the great ones.
JAZZREVIEW: Oh yes. Nancy Wilson
VICTOR FIELDS: Yes, and Sarah Vaughn. I‘ve listened to a lot of Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday learning how to lay back and be relaxed; how to not really be on the melody, but to be a little bit behind it. Carmen McCrae, Dinah Washington, I listen to a lot of the real classic singers. There's not a lot of singing being done these days, so there is not a lot to go to in today’s market. But, I enjoy the singers who sang standards, who really used the instrument and had a very distinct sound. The kind where when you turned the radio on, you knew exactly who you were listening to. Those are the people whom I was attracted to--a lot of Billie Holiday, Joe Williams [who] could be very conversational in the singing, Billy Eckstein [on] how to use your lower register, Arthur Prysock, again, diction, along with Nat King Cole. I listened to everybody, a lot of male singers to really understand it. I try to incorporate into my style the phrasing and the diction, and the tone.
JAZZREVIEW: You are singing now as a tenor and you were originally singing as a baritone. So you now have a range that is from baritone to tenor. You can box in either class.
VICTOR FIELDS: Yes. It doesn’t really matter. For instance on the new CD, "Lush Life" I sing more as a baritone.
JAZZREVIEW: That is my favorite song on the CD.
VICTOR FIELDS: Oh. Thank you. That is really a compliment because that has been done by so many singers and it is really a great song. That’s a baritone register. On the other side of the spectrum I would probably look at "Night and Day" which is more of head voice. It is not a falsetto; it’s a head voice, so it’s not floating away. It is a head voice so it is connected. It’s just a high voice. So that is kind of the range. So with the dramatic I would think "It’s Never to Late in Life" that was more of a dramatic tenor, which was a challenge for me, because I’m more of a lyrical tenor so I had to have more of a full bodied voice and I had to attack the high notes. I couldn’t finesse the high notes.
JAZZREVIEW: Do you also do stage singing?
VICTOR FIELDS: I have done some of it, [but] not recently. When I was studying voice, I stopped singing popular music and was actually singing more classical music. I was singing arias; Italian, French and German. I was singing negro spirituals and that was on a stage with a piano player with no amplification, just the hall. So I had to project and I enjoyed that a lot. That’s an opportunity. When you sing with amplification, you have to pull back a little bit, let the microphone and the system do some of the work. But when you are standing on a stage and have to fill up a room with sound, to me that is so much fun. I really got to connect with what I was doing. It is really organic.
JAZZREVIEW: Do you see any opera in your future?
VICTOR FIELDS: Aah...no, I don’t. I like great songs, but I don’t know if I would sing opera and get radio airplay. I still do it for fun if I get the chance. I’ve done things at local churches where I have sung negro spirituals. Gospel and negro spirituals are two different things. A spiritual is closer to the work song. I think the spiritual is really an older form. Actually, it’s folk music. The spiritual isn’t about everyday life and it is not about trying to overcome everyday struggles. It is more of an interpretation of scripture. The slaves were communicating the Bible to people who couldn’t read and they would communicate the scripture through the spiritual. Later, we had the pioneer Roland Hayes who brought the spiritual into the concert hall. Now whenever you go to a concert, along with all the other great composers, you may hear a few negro spirituals songs because now they are accepted in the great halls.
JAZZREVIEW: I was looking at the group on your new CD VICTOR. Do these guys play at your gigs or do they just play with you when you record?
VICTOR FIELDS: It’s amazing they do both. Understand it is common for an artist when recording to have sessions musicians come in and do the record and then when touring to bring their touring musicians together. I’ve been very fortunate to have a group of guys who can do both so everyone who is on VICTOR; Peter Horvath, Nelson Braxton, Brian Collier, Marquinhos Brasil the percussionist. Those guys play with me and they are my band, and when we get ready to do a recording we go into the studio together and it’s really great we’re like a family. The recording process is so much fun, but I think it brings a live kind of a feel to it really, [and] will sound the way it would if you would go to a show.
JAZZREVIEW: The group on the CD is very tight and it shows in the music, but there are musicians who are so darn good they can just walk in, so I was wondering.
VICTOR FIELDS: My very first one, Promise, was like that, with Kashif. He brought in L.A. Musicians, Larry Kimpel and they just laid it down. After, when we were out promoting Promise, this band was put together by Chris Camozzi, my music director, right after we did Promise and we have been together ever since. One of the things that are different when you have a singer is that the band accompanies and when you don’t have a singer, the band just plays. Everybody in that band has great ears and they are very sensitive. I’m dealing with tissue, vocal cords. I don’t have a reed or a string I pluck. This is a human voice and they listen very carefully to the vocal performance and they accompany. To me that really is a testament to how talented these guys are, because they all are great players. The Braxton Brothers have had great smooth jazz hits and they play, but when Nelson comes into the studio, he accompanies and embellishes. He also engineered, which I think goes to show the range of his talent.
JAZZREVIEW: I have had the opportunity just recently to interview John Levy and that was a great deal of fun. He is a very cool guy for a person who is 93-years old. He sounds a good forty-years younger when you are talking to him on the phone.
VICTOR FIELDS: He will be 94 in April. It is interesting working with John. He gives me a lot of space and I think that it has to do with where he is in his career. Basically, John is more like a mentor, very encouraging, but he gives me a lot of space to do what I want to do. He never interferes with my music. He is a sounding board, but he is also the quiet coach in the background with the artist in front.
You probably know that John doesn’t like the limelight. He likes to stay backstage. It has been a validation that has given me a great deal of confidence that he took an interest in my talent. When you consider all the great voices that John Levy has and continues to manage, and that ninety-nine percent of the talent are women, taking me on was very encouraging. It gave me the confidence to stretch out a little bit and try some new things with my voice.
JAZZREVIEW: Let’s talk about the songs. In the liner notes for VICTOR you say that the songs find you. You have really great songs such as "This Could Be Paradise," "Love Will Save the Day," "Colder than Winter" and "It’s Never Too Late in Life." How do you put together an album that’s got great music that really matches your voice and your singing style?
VICTOR FIELDS: First and foremost, I wish I could take one hundred percent of the credit, but I have a really great guy to work with as a producer and that is Chris Camozzi. He takes a lot of time to listen. While we were doing the album prior to VICTOR, 52nd Street he approached me and asked if I would consider him as a producer. We have a section of the show where the band steps down and I just work with the piano. Chris had been listening to all of the overtones and he said he would like to do a project.
So we sat down together and the first thing that we established was what kind of sound we wanted to create and where the voice was. We decided we wanted to put the voice out front. We listened to a lot of songs, every song with just a piano and my voice. We don’t use any other embellishments, no other musicians. So we are able to see if there is any feeling there and to tell you the truth, some songs just don’t work. So I think with VICTOR we studied about forty songs. Naturally all forty songs did not make the CD. We threw lots of songs away. With 52nd Street, we listened to it and there must have been sixty songs. I had them on CD and we would go in, Chris, John R. Burr and myself. John would just play and I would sing. We can pretty much tell if I can bring anything to the song and if I can’t, we don’t record it.
Some songs are like that. It almost happened with "Night and Day." I wanted to record a Cole Porter Song and "Night and Day" was a possibility but it has been interpreted in all different styles, as a cha-cha, as a samba, you name it, singers swing it and I just felt it was cliché. I was feeling that I couldn’t bring anything new to it and why bother. Then a friend of mine sent me a CD. It was Marvin Gaye and he was singing "The Shadow of Your Smile." I sent it to Chris and I said, "This is what ‘Night and Day’ is about." I think sometimes an artist will sing it and forget the meaning of the lyrics because it has been sung so many times. "Night and Day" is a love song. It should be very sensual and it should have a lot of passion in it because the singer can’t sleep, he can’t eat, he is just consumed with love for this person. Well, we were able to find the feel and the format for that song. But we had to put it aside for a while.
There was a song on the previous album "Bluesette" same thing. I have heard it in three-four time as a waltz. We made it ours as a Brazilian samba and brought in Claudia Vilella and sang it as a duet.
There is a mystical aspect, but a lot of it is pretty practical. I have a producer who allows me to flush out ideas. He and I take a lot of time listening to music, dialoguing back and forth, changing keys, and looking at different arrangements until we finally decide yeah or nay. The agreement that we made is that whenever we work together on a CD, every song has got to count; every song is an event unto itself. We don’t have any throw away songs and each song has its own personality. So if we can’t do the song justice we won’t record it but this is a process that takes a lot of time. It takes months to listen to tons of songs.
JAZZREVIEW: Now you are up in the Bay Area. What is your favorite club up there?
VICTOR FIELDS: Well, there is not a lot to choose from. There is only really one club up here and that is Yoshi’s. I like Yoshi’s it is a great club they have got great Japanese food plus they bring a lot of talent in. We played Yoshi’s and it was a great show. We sold out both nights and every body had a great time.
However, my music is a crossover blend of jazz, a little bit of soul and R & B. It’s all mixed in. So we have done something that I believe is more interesting than gigging in clubs, we produce our own shows, usually on college campuses. Our shows are family orientated. You look in the audience and you see entire families, the mom, dad and the kids, grandma, everybody is there. The things that we do for our fan base, a college campus works better. The setting allows us to have the kind of environment we want. There is no alcohol, people are there to hear the music and if people want to have dinner and a cocktail, they can do that either before or after. During the show it is just ninety minutes of music, very family orientated, definitely P-G.
JAZZREVIEW: Will you be doing a tour behind this CD?
VICTOR FIELDS: Yes, we are. Chris and I just met last week and we are putting together both an each coast and a west coast band and we are watching radio, smooth jazz radio very carefully, right now we have Washington D.C. Area and the New Haven/Hartford/Springfield area and there has also been a lot of development, a lot of growth in Florida around the Orlando area. So we are going to do a five-city east coast tour. We won’t travel until the beginning of May.
JAZZREVIEW: Will you be out here in Southern California?
VICTOR FIELDS: Nothing definite. We are looking at a couple of things. We want to be considered for the Long Beach Jazz Festival. We sent them the materials in December. I want to do more in Los Angeles.
JAZZREVIEW: I will certainly be looking forward to that.