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Jimmy Haslip: The Honest Endeavor of Making Music

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AAJ: Coming back to the Yellowjackets, with 21 albums and several hundred compositions under the Yellowjackets' collective belt, how much of a process is to decide what songs you're going to include in a set or on a tour?



JH: That's always kind of difficult. We now have over 400 tunes. We have a strong repertoire right now. We have a 60-song repertoire that is active right now and we are constantly changing a song here or there but it's a pretty solid repertoire we've been building these last couple of years. It includes material which represents a lot of the recordings we've done but we can't represent them all. We still play a couple of pieces from the first two recordings. We can't play everybody's favorite, but we have a nice, wide variety.

AAJ: Your own songwriting talents have come to light again with the release of Nightfall . How long was this in the making?

JH: The writing process was over the course of a year or so. I had about seven or eight pieces. In fact, one of the pieces ended up on Life Cycle, a piece called "Lozaro." I got together with Joe Vannelli four years ago and played him some of the material and he really liked it, and we decided to work together on this their record. Unfortunately, I was extremely busy with other projects, including the Yellowjackets and he was extremely busy producing REO Speedwagon and Burt Cummings, and other things besides, so our schedules were full up with a lot of different projects. It took us close to four years to put all the music together, working on it whenever we had the opportunity. Sometimes it would be five or six months before we would see each other. That's how it went down. I had serious doubts about it when it was all finished because so much time had passed; I really wasn't sure how cohesive the project was. Joe is a very talented producer, and he has a great way of looking at things and he was an extreme help in getting this record together. He assures me we were doing the right thing and that we had made a very nice recording.

AAJ: Can you tell us about the musicians you brought in to work on Nightfall?

JH: We had serious budget limitations so initially this was a duo recording and we put all the music together just the two of us. Once we got to a point where everything felt sturdy, we listened and made notes as to what elements might be missing. Then we cast all the songs and brought people in like Bob Mintzer, and some hand percussionists and added percussion to what we had already programmed. We also used a lot of loops as well. We put together a horn section of three pieces which consisted of Bob Mintzer on tenor, Steve Tavaglione on alto and Wayne Bergeron
Wayne Bergeron
Wayne Bergeron

trumpet
on trumpet, a wonderful local musician. I also had [saxophonist] Katisse Buckingham to play flute on "Pablo Alto," and a vibraphonist by the name of Roger Burn play a few things. We thought it would be best to wait until we had finished arranging everything and putting all the tracks together, before we brought these other folks in.

AAJ: Nightfall, like your previous solo CD Red Heat, has quite a Latin vibe ; if you hadn't gone down the Yellowjackets road might you have joined or formed a Latin band at all?

JH: Yeah, well, I've given that some though. I have done that locally in Los Angeles. I put together a sextet and we did some gigs around town. That was piano, bass, saxophone and three percussionists. I really enjoyed doing that and it's something that could happen in the near future. We'll see where it goes.

AAJ: A great track on Nightfall is "Casa de Oro," which has a real Fania All Stars vibe to it—at least until the bass kicks in. Were the Fania All Stars an influence?

JH: Yeah, I'm half-Puerto Rican, so I grew up with a lot of Latin music as a very young kid. In our household my mother and father would listen to everything like Tito Puente
Tito Puente
Tito Puente
1923 - 2000
band/orchestra
, Mongo Santamaria
Mongo Santamaria
Mongo Santamaria
1922 - 2003
percussion
, Ray Barretto
Ray Barretto
Ray Barretto
1929 - 2006
congas
, Celia Cruz
Celia Cruz
Celia Cruz
1925 - 2003
vocalist
. All that music was floating all over the household, and of course, the Fania All Stars. I actually had the privilege of working with Ruben Blades in the last couple of years.

AAJ:I thought he'd withdrawn from gradually from music these last few years, since entering into politics; is he still recording and gigging?

JH: Yes, he is. In fact I did a record with his wife, Ruba Mesa and he came out on the road with that and we did some gigs. It was almost like Brazilian music, but it also had some influence of salsa and of course Ruben fits right into the picture there.

AAJ: This Latin side, which is obviously a part of you, doesn't really come through in the music of the Yellowjackets; would you like to bring some Latin elements into the band's sound?

JH: I am very happy working on stuff like this on my own. The Yellowjackets has a sound and there is some Latin influence in the music on occasion but it's not a prominent influence. I decided if I was going to do my own recordings, which started with a record called Arc(GRP, 1993) back in the early '90s with Vince Mendoza, I felt that I needed to establish a completely different identity and to diversify from what I was doing with the Yellowjackets. The Latin influence was a no brainer, it's naturally a part of who I am, and so I decided to concentrate on the Latin influence for my solo recordings.

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