Yellowjackets: What's In a Name?
AAJ: Time Squared (Heads Up International, 2003) was your first studio album in five years; why was there such a long gap between albums?
RF: As previously mentioned, the period between our last Warner Bros. release in 1998 and Time Squared (Heads Up International, 2003) was very difficult. After losing our Warner's contract, we explored our recording options but there wasn't much interest in the band from traditional record companies.
At that point we decided to self-finance our own recording which turned out to be the smartest thing the band had done at that point. We subsequently entered into a licensing agreement with Heads Up for international release of that recording (Mint Jam) and that relationship has continued to the present.
Yellowjackets (L:R): Jimmy Haslip, Bob Mintzer, Marcus Baylor, Russell Ferrante
AAJ: There was an important shift in personnel when Bob Mintzer joined the band; firstly, how did his joining the band come about, and secondly, how important has his input been to the direction the band took after 1990 and continues to take?
RF: We had known Bob and would occasionally run into him on the road when he was working with [vocalist] Michael Franks. Jimmy suggested Bob for the Greenhouse (GRP, 1991) recording as Jimmy was a huge fan of Bob's work with [bassist] Jaco Pastorius' band. What started as a one-off recording has developed into a sixteen year friendship and working relationship.
Bob commands the respect of everyone who has the good fortune to work with him. He's a musician's musician. He's one of those guys that plays every instrument and can write a symphony on an airplane, pulling the notes from his imagination. His incredible musicianship, along with his writing and arranging skills has had a profound impact on the band.
RF: Marcus brings the ability to play free-wheeling jazz as well as more structured, groove-oriented tunes. He's very spontaneous, seemingly never playing the same thing twice, and an exciting performer. He's much younger than the rest of us so he also brings youthful energy and a connection with another generation of musicians.
Additionally, he's a great team player and wise beyond his years. His input in all areas, musical- and business-wise has been extremely valuable.
AAJ: Your musical relationship with Jimmy Haslip goes back thirty years which is a hell of along time; how would you describe your working relationship?
RF: Jimmy is an extraordinary person. He's extremely generous and flexible. These qualities make him a perfect collaborator. We also have complimentary skills and approaches to working together. I tend to be methodical and linear in my approach, giving careful consideration to the rules and conventions. On the other hand, Jimmy throws out all the rules and responds from his gut and intuition. When I'm stuck he can suggest options I may not have considered and when he's in a bind I can offer possibilities he may not be aware of. I honestly can't recall any serious impasse in the thirty years we've worked together. We're able to arrive at consensus and move forward without a lot of angst.
AJ: The other members of the band have full-scale touring/recording projects outside of the Yellowjackets; your own extra-curricula activities are smaller scale and more local. Could you tell us something about your musical activities outside the Yellowjackets?
RF: I teach at two schools in Los Angeles, University of Southern California and Musicians Institute. I regularly play live and write and record with singer, Kevin Lettau. I also work with a variety of people in the capacity of arranger or player for their recording projects, recently having written and recorded with [vocalists] Anita Baker, Al Jarreau, Mindi Abair, Marilyn Scott, Rita Coolidge, Jeff Kashiwa, among others.
AAJ: You've played pretty much all over the world; are there any places you haven't yet played which appeal to you?
RF: We've not yet played in China. We've played in South Africa but not in any other African countries. Those are places I'd love to visit and perform in.
AAJ: Do you have a Yellowjackets album of which you are particularly proud?
RF: As other musicians have said, your recordings are like your children and therefore it's difficult to pick favorites. If prodded however, I would that Four Corners, (MCA, 1987), The Spin, (MCA, 1989) and Greenhouse (GRP, 1991) stand out as particularly creatively satisfying experiences.
AAJ: My own favorite album is Greenhouse. Am I wildly wrong when I say I detect a Gustav Mahler influence on a song like "Greenhouse ?
RF: I haven't listened to a lot of Mahler but it's all in the collective soup so I'm sure that's a fair statement. I was really fond of Barber's "Adagio For Strings and that piece probably influenced the introduction.