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Jimmy Haslip: Amperes Beyond the BASSics, Part 2

Jim Worsley By

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AAJ: In Part One of this interview you expanded on your extensive background in the rock genre years ago prior to the Yellowjackets. Aside from having played with co- founder Robben Ford previously, which was in a rock format, had you played much jazz before or was this uncharted territory?

JH: I had played with Tom Scott and Steve Khan, so the transition wasn't as dramatic as one might think.

AAJ: Oh well than a strong jazz influence already in your blood having played with Scott in particular. Was it with Scott that you started listening to sax and horn players for soloing concepts? Did that and does that still help you in the developmental process?

JH: Yes, I am still and will always be looking to improve my improvisational skills. Improving on solos and that aspect of my playing is a continuous effort. There are certain things that I practice that are designed to help me improve. I do listen to horn and sax players and hopefully some of that comes out in the way that I play and solo on certain songs.

AAJ: Well it makes sense in the regard to the fact that they are pretty much continuously doing that and that they always need to find more ways to express themselves.

JH: Yes, they are playing melodies. I learn the melodies and try to improve from there. All that helps to create a vocabulary. That's on me. That's something I work on as much as I can.

AAJ: Renegade Creation is perhaps a band that you well utilized that with. Even with both Ford and Landau trading licks it sounds like to me as very bassist driven. At the very least you had a lot of opportunities to expand.

JH: Yeah, I think so. Playing with Ford and Landau together was a lot of fun. It created, as you correctly stated, opportunities to experiment and improvise. Interestingly, the band was formed because of Vinnie being too busy to do another Jing Chi record at the time. As an alternative, Robben and I snatched up Landau and Gary Novak and started a new project called Renegade Creation. Years before, Robben used to sometimes bring this very young and very talented eighteen-year old guitarist with him to sit in on our practice sessions. That teenager was Michael Landau, who incidentally came up with the name Renegade Creation. It was another really fun band to be in.

AAJ: The rare time that Vinnie not being available actually turned into something else positive.

JH: Yeah, we just took what we had and made some noise with the first record, Renegade Creation(Blues Bureau, 2010). We toured Europe and the United States. A few years later we decided to do another record called Bullet (Shrapnel, 2012). We went out on tour again and that was about it, with guys being pulled in different directions.

AAJ: We also spoke previously about your opportunity to study with Jaco Pastorius. It must have been a thrill to be connected with Jaco's legacy years later when you became involved in the Jaco Big Band projects recorded in Jaco's memory. That had to be an invigorating and rewarding experience

JH: Yes, for sure. I got involved in the Jaco Pastorius Big Band record, with a producer named Peter Graves. A record came out that was the Jaco Pastorius Word of Mouth Revisited (Heads Up International, 2003). I participated on the record and did some performing with the big bands in New York, in Tokyo, and at NAMM. Also, in 2007, twenty years after Jaco passed away, they had a big tribute concert in Miami that I played with Peter Erskine, Bob Mintzer, Randy Brecker, Bobby Thomas Jr and a bunch of great musicians. The guitarist was Randy Bernsen. He was a childhood friend of Jaco's and played in Weather Report for a while. He asked me if I would be interested in producing a record for him. There was no label involved, strictly an independent deal. He sent me some music and I liked it. The light bulb went off and I decided to connect Randy with as many musicians as possible from the Zawinul Update, the Zawinul Syndicate, and even from Weather Report. I lined up Peter Erskine, and Bobby Thomas right away. Then I was able to get the steel drummer in Word of Mouth, Othello Molineaux, to play on the record.I brought in Scott Kinsey, who was heavily connected to Joe Zawinul during the last couple of years of Zawinul's life, programming, archiving, and learning. Peter Erskine was a big plus on this record. On one song, one of Jaco's sons, Julius, played the drums. So, that was the premise, to make that reconnection. Grace Notes (Blue Canoe, 2015) was a fun record to make.

AAJ: The Scott Kinsey connection with Zawinul comes full circle with Kinsey's new record We Speak Luniwaz (Whirlwind Records, 2019) (which is Zawinul spelled backwards).

JH: Yes, and it's a great record. It features Hadrien Feraud, Katisse Buckingham, Gergo Borlai, Steve Tavaglione, and Bobby Thomas. I was fortunate to be able to play on a couple of tracks. One a song called "The Harvest" and another that I recommended to Scott because it is my favorite Zawinul tune. It's called "Where the Moon Goes." Scott was more or less chosen by Zawinul to carry his baton.

AAJ: Kinsey has his own thing, but the Zawinul influence really enhances it.

JH: That's exactly right. He certainly examines the Zawinul edge on We Speak Luniwaz.

AAJ: Another artist that I wanted to be sure to ask you about is the relatively unknown MSM Schmidt. The number of big-time exceptional artists that play on the MSM Schmidt records you have produced is staggering. Colaiuta, Dean Brown, Jeff Lorber, Luis Conte, Walt Fowler, Chuck Loeb, Eric Marienthal, Mike Miller, Bob Franceschini, Scott Kinsey, Steve Tavaglione, Simon Phillips, Brandon Fields, Oz Noy, Mitch Forman, Jeff Richman, and more for Evolution (Laika Records, 2012). Pretty much the same line-up (minus Brown and Phillips) plus Virgil Donati, Bob Mintzer, Alan Pasqua, and Steve Weingart for Utopia (Laika Records, 2015). I'm guessing a large percentage of people who are reading this interview are saying who is MSM Schmidt?

JH: Well, he's a very interesting guy. A super nice guy that I have had the pleasure of many great dinners and hangs with. He lives in Bremen, Germany. I was introduced to him several years ago when I played on just a couple of tracks on a record for him. I think maybe it was his second record. I was introduced by a drummer by the name of Joel Rosenblatt. He played with Spyro Gyra. He has all sat in with Lorber's band, among other things. Joel reached out to me and said he was working on Schmidt's new record. Schmidt used to be a drummer, now he is a composer. He was an aspiring drummer but then gone blown away by guys like Vinnie and decided, well, maybe not. Supposedly he was a pretty good drummer. He also has a degree in accounting. He got hooked up with a corporate accounting firm that worked with several other large corporations like Mercedes and he was making money hand over fist. Whereas you aren't as likely to make big money as a big band drummer. Unless you are Buddy Rich or somebody. So, he smelled the coffee, so to speak, and he retired from drumming and focused on being an accountant. Eventually he started to think that what he was doing sucked and he wanted to get back into music. His passion is music and that's what he wanted to do. He has a nephew that plays keyboards and he started writing these sort of crazy fusion pieces. He managed to get a few people to play it, including Rosenblatt and myself. He reached out to me for his third record. Mind you he is producing these records himself because he has all this money from the accounting job. If you have the funding, you can get any number of people to play on your record (laughing). But what's great is that he writes some very interesting music. It's not just some bullshit music, it's good.

AAJ: It's not just that the guys are willing to do it because of the money, it's actually quality stuff.

JH: Yeah, and you get these caliber guys on there it is going to take the music up a few notches more. So, his pen name is MSM Schmidt, which isn't much of a stretch from his real name, which is Michael Schmidt.

AAJ: Well, he wouldn't want to be confused with the former third baseman for the Phillies, Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. I imagine that would be a big concern for a guy in Germany(laughing).

JH: Right(laughing), exactly. He pursued this with me, after liking what I had done on the previous record. He already had music for another record. He asked me to help him with seven of the ten pieces. He was interested in having Mitch Forman and he specifically wanted Simon Phillips on the record. He asked me what I thought of that. I told him that I knew Simon, and I gave him a budget. He didn't flinch at all. I called Simon and Mitch and they were on board. We worked at Simon's studio where he already had his drums set up. Simon is also a very good engineer. We recorded the seven tunes as a trio, and I sent them to Schmidt. He was super impressed and asked me to cast them. So, this is where Dean Brown, Mike Miller, Walt Fowler, Eric Marienthal, etc. all got involved. He could see that I was plugged into all these musicians here in Los Angeles, which I have to say is an amazingly vast bunch of musicians that live here. He was impressed with how all that turned out and he asked me to produce another record. Which I did and more of that kept happening. The last record I did with him is called Life. It is special in that it is the last session that Allan Holdsworth ever played on. It was hard because he really wasn't feeling well. I was going down to his apartment outside of San Diego, which is not around the corner from where I live. But I was willing to make that happen. Allan needed some funding and I had a budget. I didn't tell Schmidt that I was getting Holdsworth. I did it as a surprise because he kept saying is there any way we can get Allan Holdsworth. I told him that it was a tough one because Allan doesn't like to play on other people's records. He did his own thing on his records and that was all he really focused on. I went down to his apartment and got Allan to do a couple of solos on a couple of songs. When I told Schmidt that I had Holdsworth on the record, he almost fell on the floor. Allan passed away about three months after that.

AAJ: That's amazing, after what you said, that his last recording would be on someone else's record.

JH: Yeah, he did play some shows after that. I think his last show was only about three weeks before he died. He called me to do that show. I was so bummed that I couldn't do it. There was no way for me to change my schedule to fit his gig. I was completely saddened to have to call him and tell him that I couldn't do those gigs. Then they ended up being his last gigs.

AAJ: That's a shame that you couldn't make it down there. But timing sometimes just doesn't work out.

JH: You know and that's the thing, Jim. The shows were here in L.A. But I was heading out on the road.

AAJ: Wrapping up on Schmidt, I have listened to some of those albums and it's difficult to really state what it is. Not that it needs a label. But in describing the sound, just when you think it is fusion it takes a smooth jazz turn, but then here comes Oz Noy melting your face. I don't want to say that it is all over the place, because maybe that sounds negative and I don't mean it that way.

JH: You are right though. It is a bit all over. I have tried to talk to him about that, but he has his way of expressing himself and I don't want to upset the apple cart too much. One of the many things I am working on right now is another MSM Schmidt project. But it's a collaborative project. It's going to be MSM Schmidt but with the rhythm section from the ARC Trio. So Gergo Borlai and myself and Scott Kinsey. On top of that, I am making it a big band record. I'm adding the John Daversa Big Band.

AAJ: Wow, that's taking it in a larger and more creative direction. I like the sound of that idea.

JH: Yeah, this is a concept record with these three entities. There will be a Scott Kinsey tune on this record, with the others by Schmidt. Kinsey is doing the rhythm arrangements and Daversa is doing the horn arrangements. It should be interesting. Something different, for sure. He has kind of a cult following, so we will see how this one goes over.

AAJ: I was just going to ask about his following and/or how many records he sells.

JH: Not many. Maybe eight to ten thousand records. I'm sure he gets streams and downloads and all that stuff as well though. You know, the younger generation is not that interested in records. They just want to hear a tune and then hear a tune from something else. They might download one tune off of a record.

AAJ: How does that affect your thinking on how you package things? It's not like putting out 45rpm singles like back in the day.

JH: No, it sure isn't. But I am old school. I will conceptualize a project as an album, but at the same time I know that in reality the younger generation is just going to look at tunes. And so be it. I think there is still enough of a fan base and a culture out there that looks at records the way I do and I'm sure the way you look at records.

AAJ: Absolutely, I like to listen to an entire album and then, oft times, put that same album on and listen to it again. Sometimes three times.

JH: I like to do that too (laughing as a kindred spirit).

AAJ: Yeah, if I am hearing some great fusion I haven't heard before, I know well before it is finished that I will be spinning it again right after. If I have taken it all in in one shot it must have been mighty thin to begin with.

JH: (laughing)That's exactly right. I do the same thing.

AAJ: I mentioned earlier that Believe It(Columbia, 1975) might be the best fusion record ever made. Honing in on the early fusion records that put the genre on the map, what would you consider to be the best?

JH: There were a couple of things that really excited me and inspired me. Live Evil (Columbia, 1971), of which I did some more research on later. Conceptually what they did was to find various recordings of that band or even different versions of the Miles Davis Electric Band, and then edited it together to form pieces of music. They were not conventional, but they were awesome. They captured a lot of moments where there was some improvisation that was very inspiring. Another record that inspired me to no end is Mile's Smiles (Columbia, 1967). I could still listen to that day and night. I love that record. And for some crazy reason another record that inspired me in a huge way and I listen to it all the time is one that I'm not allowed to listen to when my wife is around because it is beyond her level of understanding. In her defense, I will admit that it is an acquired taste and it's a challenging record to listen to. But I've listened to it so much and gotten really deep inside it. It's a record called Sun Ship (Impulse! Records, 1971) by John Coltrane.

AAJ: I know that record. Kind of a crazy record.

JH:< It is a crazy record.

AAJ: But crazy in a good way.

JH: Crazy good in my opinion, yes.

AAJ: But yeah if we put that on, I think that my wife would be out shopping with your wife.

JH: (laughing) I think you might be right about that. She either leaves the house or tells me to take it off. (laughing) I guess it's filled with too much testosterone (laughing his ass off)

AAJ: (laughing hard) I think it's a very cool record to wrap your head around.

JH: Its certainly interesting in my viewpoint. I can also put Love Supreme (Impulse Records!, 1965) on the list.

AAJ: Yeah, and that's one the wives can stick around for.

JH: Exactly, yes. You can open up a nice bottle of wine, have some pasta, and enjoy that one. Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) is another one that fits that description.

AAJ: Yeah, a classic and a classic.

JH: Yeah those are quintessential records. I love those records but as far as really being pushed and listening to some challenging stuff and really be inspired those first records I mentioned, Live Evil, Miles Smiles, and really do it for me. I can be in a bad move and put one of those records on and it immediately transcends my whole vibe. I just listen to it joyfully and take in all the music that is being performed.

AAJ: Not surprisingly, you are mostly talking about Miles and Coltrane; I mean there were others, but even if you then get to Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) or the one right after that, Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1971), we are still talking about Miles.

JH: Jack Johnson is a great record. Then you go further and there was On the Corner (Columbia, 1972).

AAJ: Yeah, yeah, another great Miles record. There are so many.

JH: It's an interesting record. But I could name a thousand records that inspired me in many different ways. Such as the first Weather Report (Columbia, 1971) record with Miroslav Vitous, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Alphonse Mouzon, and Airto Moreira.

AAJ: Those guys did some pretty heady stuff.

JH: I had never heard anything like them. I didn't get to see that band live. I would have loved too. I have become a big fan of Miroslav Vitous. There's a record called I Sing the Body Electric (Columbia, 1971,1972) that has a bunch of studio tracks but also has a live recording that is kind of a suite of two songs put together. It's a beautiful piece that was recorded by an earlier Weather Report lineup that included Eric Kamau Gravatt and Dom Um Romaoin Japan. Years later they finally put out the entire live recording. I bought the record because I wanted to hear the full concert. Turned out, that in my opinion, the one suite that they put on the studio record was the best piece on the record. I understood then why it ended up being used. I can see Zawinul saying something like, "it sounds great, let's put it on the record." So many great pieces of music out there.

AAJ: You're right that we could go on all day, but I will bring up one other that we will be taken to task if we don't bring up in regard to defining fusion records. That being John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

JH: That was a crazy record and I absolutely fell in love with that record. I saw that band before that first record came out in a small club on Long Island. There were like fifteen people in the audience.

AAJ: That's cool when that happens. You don't even know what greatness you are about to see and hear and then wham.

JH: It really is. A friend of mine called and said that I think John McLaughlin is playing at My Father's Place, which was a small club in Roslyn, Long Island. So, we went to check it out. It sat probably two hundred fifty people. But like I said there was maybe fifteen that night. The last time I had seen John McLaughlin he had long hair and was playing with Miles Davis. He walks out with short hair and all dressed in white. He starts out with some kind of prayer. Meanwhile, I'm looking at this band thinking "who are these guys?"

AAJ: Yeah like what's up with this?

JH: What the Hell is this? John starts into his prayer and being in New York, people are rude. One of the fifteen people in the audience yells out, "play some fucking music." Which was rude. I was thinking, lighten up here buddy. With that they began to play all the music from The Inner Mountain Flame (Columbia, 1971) and it just blew the doors off the whole place. I walked out of there stunned. I had never heard anything like it. My friend and I were driving away, and we couldn't even talk.

AAJ: Yeah, just left you slack jawed and speechless. That's a wonderful feeling.

JH: It was the most mind-blowing thing we had ever heard at the time. I mean we figured with John McLaughlin there would be something going on, but we were just blown away.

AAJ: Its always cool when something way exceeds your expectations. Like going to see a rock band back in the day and an opening act you have never heard of just blows you away.

JH: I had that experience quite a bit, Probably the best story is when I went to see Blood, Sweat, & Tears, at the Fillmore. They always had three bands. That night the opening act was this unknown bad from England called Led Zeppelin.

AAJ: Holy shit!

JH: Yeah, they played what was to be their entire first album, (Led Zeppelin (Atlantic, 1969). I was completely blown away.

AAJ: I saw them later, but I knew what to expect by Led Zeppelin IV (Atlantic Records, 1971). That's incredible. That first album was explosive.

JH: It is a great record. An outstanding record. I went to the Fillmore frequently. I was constantly being blown away and barraged with amazing new music. That era was a sort of renaissance of music. All the great rock and all the Miles Davis Quintet stuff like Nefertiti (Columbia, 1968), Sorcerer (Columbia, 1967), Filles de Kilimanjaro (Columbia, 1968),...

AAJ: (Columbia, 1969).

JH: In A Silent Way, yeah. Those records are all incredible. Jazz bands in the forties and fifties were really great, but what Miles was doing in the sixties was really innovating.

AAJ: Yeah, I grew up, I imagine like you, listening to my dad's 78rpm big band records of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, etc. and I loved it.

JH: Oh yeah, it was fantastic.

AAJ: But as you point out, what Miles, Coltrane, Hank Mobley and cats like that were doing was next level

JH: Yeah, it was off the hook. And that was mostly in the sixties along with all the great rock.

AAJ: Miles Davis and The Beatles made for a pretty incredible era of growth in music.

JH: They sure did. I'm grateful that I grew up in a place like New York where so much of that was going on. I mean I was really into Hendrix and Jimmy Page and then I heard Pat Martino and flipped.

AAJ: Best of both worlds.

JH: Here I am in 2020 and I still think about all that. All that inspiration and motivation that is still with me today. All that music from the sixties and seventies still translates into what I am doing currently in 2020.

AAJ: And with that, I will let you get back to it. As always I really enjoyed talking with you, Jimmy.

JH: The pleasure is all mine, Jim.

AAJ: And hey, we kept it under three hours (barely) this time.

JH: (laughing) Take care, man. Talk to you again real soon.

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