Jimmy Haslip: The Honest Endeavor of Making Music
AAJ: Thirty years is longer than most marriages; what keeps you guys coming back for more?
The Yellowjackets, from left: Russell Ferrante, Bob Mintzer, Jimmy Haslip, Will Kennedy
JH: [laughs] At this point in time it's become more than just a band, it's become a family. We're all very supportive of each other. We're also very aware of the gift that we have with this band. Being able to sustain a career over 30 years is a gift. The friendships in the band are very strong. I have to mention that not only is Timeline our 21st release in celebration of 30 years together but it's also a celebration of the return of our drummer, William Kennedy, who's back after a gap of ten years. It's a joyous occasion. We have a real chemistry with Will and we're very, very excited about it.
AAJ: How did Marcus Baylor and William Kennedy come to pass each other in the revolving door? Baylor is a wonderful polyrhythmic drummer and he played just great for a decade with the Yellowjackets.
JH: Absolutely. It was a very easy transition. The reason Will decided to leave the band in 1998 was because he had some very interesting and wonderful opportunities, which were going to come together in a very nice way for him. When Marcus became available to join the band Will was very gracious about handing over the chair. Marcus was thrilled to come into the band. He spent ten years with us and worked on six recordings with us. That's a very substantial body of work. But after ten years we started feeling that we needed to make a change and I think Marcus felt that way as well. It was a mutual decision. I believe Marcus had some things in line that he wanted to pursue on his own, which prompted all this. We decide to see if Will Kennedy would be available and willing to come back into the band. When approached he was more than happy to come back, which was a fantastic day for us all. I know he reached out to Marcus and they had some really nice conversations during this time.
Some people might think that there was some kind of tumultuous thing going on but I'd like to dispel that. These changes have happened very naturally and without any controversy.
AAJ: Replacing a drummer in a band might be analogous to major surgery but, listening to Timeline, it sounds like Will Kennedy has never been away; how was the transition from a musical perspective?
JH: [laughs] We all say it's like riding a bicycle; even during the ten year period when Will wasn't in the Yellowjackets, we were still doing things together outside of the group, various projects and recording sessions. We were still very good friends. There was a transitional period when he came back into the fold early last year but it was a fairly natural and quick transition. It was like...dancing with my wife.
AAJ: Timeline sounds like a classic Yellowjackets album; the compositions are strong, the playing is great, it's beautifully melodic, and there's evolution in the music, which has marked pretty much all of the Yellowjackets recordings; do you have a sense of where this album stands in the Yellowjackets' discography?
JH: I know we're all very proud of this record. In a way, we were forced to put this project together very quickly and put it on the table because we all have very busy personal schedules. Bob Mintzer and Russell Ferrante are both professors at the University of Southern California and they have a pretty extensive schedule there. And on top of all the outside work we're all doing, sessions, and producing records and so on. Timeline was done in one week and we're very proud of that. The music is very challenging and we felt the body of music was worthy of recording.
I have to say we're getting wonderful write-ups and wonderful feedback from our fan base, so it's all working out beautifully for us. We're proud of the fact that we've been together 30 years, so there's a lot going on with this record. So, aside from the music and the quality of the music it is also a celebration on many levels. We're very happy with the results. We've been out on the road touring and supporting it, and getting really great responses in our live performances as well.
JH: Yes. We gave that some thought. At one point there was an idea to bring in a cast to mark this special recording and of course the first guy we thought of was Robben. As you mentioned, without Robben we might never have had a Yellowjackets. He's responsible for initially putting the band together. We thought of him first. I am working with Robben; we're in a band called Renegade Creation and we did one record last year, and we've been touring on and off over the last year-and-a-half with that band, with Michael Landau and Gary Novak. Robben and I have been playing together ever since he left the Yellowjackets. We've known each other for a very long time and we're very good friends. He's actually subbed for Bob Mintzer over the years, so it was an easy thing to ask him if he'd be available to come and join us on this record, and he was more than happy to do so. I felt "Magnolia" was a perfect setting for him. We had a wonderful day with Robben when he came in to play this piece for us.