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Jimmy Herring: The Lifeboat Sessions and More

By Published: October 21, 2008
AAJ: I thought the credits were wrong because it just says Kofi is playing piano. I figured there was a phantom keyboardist.

JH: No, Kinsey did that for us on "Only When it's Light," but not on that tune. Maybe I should've added something to the credits.

AAJ: No, that's what these interviews are for—some nuanced insider info.

JH: It's just a guitar. But thank you for noticing all the little things I didn't think people were going to catch onto.

Jimmy HerringAAJ: Anyone who listens to it is going to catch this beautiful stuff.

JH: Yeah that device is briefly on a few of the other tunes but it's mostly Kofi on piano, and Matt Slocum, from Oteil's band on organ, with some piano and clavinet.

AAJ: Matt gets a nice organ solo on the first cut ["Scapegoat Blues"].

JH: He's a smokin' player, man. He's a killer player.

AAJ: Oteil's made a few east coast tours and I've seen him in that band.

JH: You're lucky because I don't know if he'll be able to continue to tour with that band, the economy being like it is. He's busy doing other stuff and it costs too much money.

AAJ: Getting back to "Lost" for a second and elsewhere on the CD, I just wanted to make sure to discuss Kofi Burbridge's work. He is an absolutely smoking flautist.

JH: He's just a giant. And this is what I was hoping to accomplish here too—people just don't know how great he is.

AAJ: Who is to blame there?

JH: What it comes down to is that like anyone else, he's got to work and he's got a great gig with Derek Trucks. He's been in Derek's band for like twelve years already. He plays that gig great but that's only one side of him, see. Kofi's true voice is straight-ahead jazz—I mean, that's what he does the best. He wrote "Splash" which is a brilliant tune, and "Only When it's Light." Both of those tunes—he wrote both of them in the tenth grade. Obviously I hadn't met him yet, but when I first met him, in 1986, he brought "Only When it's Light" into the rehearsal. I said, "What a brilliant tune!" and asked him when he wrote it. He said, "You know, man, it's been laying around for awhile." I said, "The changes are fantastic and this melody is hypnotic," and continued persisting until I finally got him to divulge when he actually wrote it.

He was a prodigy. He left home at age 12 to go to the school of the arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was one of those freakishly talented kids—by the time he was fourteen he was a flute prodigy—by the time he was in high school he was playing piano more. His flute work on the "Jungle Book" thing, "Lost" and "Splash" is just ridiculous.

AAJ: He's every bit the flautist that Osby is a saxophonist, and that's saying a lot—it jumps out of the record. It sounds like he could pull a flute session with anyone on Blue Note any time he wanted to. That goes for piano too, for that matter.

JH: It's like Herbie [Hancock] meets [Thelonious] Monk, man. He really is a totally bad cat. He could play with anybody. On "Lost" he only made two passes at the flute solo and the version on the recording was the first one. Osby of course, was the same way. He did more than one take, but the first takes are what we ended up using. They're just freaks.

AAJ: So I wanted to talk about "Lifeboat Serenade," because the record's called Lifeboat and there is a photograph of a woman in a small boat on the cover. I need to know who that is.

JH: That's my mom, man.

AAJ: It doesn't say that on the record, does it?

JH: No, it doesn't.

AAJ: That would have been my guess, although I collaborated with a friend and he was searching the internet for old stills from the Hitchock movie with Tallulah Bankhead, and your mom, frankly, is much better looking.

JH: I never really thought of that, but yeah. That picture is my mom, when she was 23 when she was on her honeymoon with my dad. My dad took the picture from the back of the boat. It's a family-oriented thing music wise and inspiration wise.

AAJ: So this song sounds like it's basically you music-wise, right.

JH: Right, absolutely.

AAJ: This is just a beautiful, southern thing—heart wrenching stuff—unbelievable. Where does Jimmy end and Derek begin on this thing? This sounds like Derek here [playing example over the phone], but when you come in it's almost indistinguishable, it's almost like you have a slide thing happening with the fingers.

JH: Oh, man! You are now my best friend! [laughs] He and I have gone back and forth for a lot of years. I've known him since he was eleven, and when he was eleven he could plays stuff that could stop time. And now, he's got the same thing, only he's a lot better. We would go through different periods of time where we would influence each other in one way or another. At first, he seemed to be influenced by me more than I was by him, but then I started to switch—I'd get really influenced by him. I can't play slide, and I don't want to play slide because he plays it so well. It's like why would I bother to even pick one up? People have actually asked me while he was in the same room why I don't play slide. I always say, "See that blonde-haired kid over there? That's why."

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