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Jimmy Haslip: Former Yellowjacket Generating a New Buzz

Richard  J Salvucci By

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"I have good people skills. I get them from my family." —JImmy Haslip
Well, the Joint Base San Antonio Fort Sam Houston News Leader is probably not the best place to look for local jazz updates, even if the venue is on the base. "Tickets for the next Friday Night Jazz concert at the Fort Sam Houston Theater are on sale. Featured artists include the Jeff Lorber Fusion with special guest saxophonist [sic] Jimmy Haslip of The Yellowjackets." Not a promising start, unless Jimmy has taken up a new axe and rejoined his old band. It takes about four tries and 30 minutes just to get on the base because I am not a Department of Defense ID cardholder. At the Main Gate, I am directed to an exasperated civilian employee to get a Visitor Pass—a new requirement. The employee knows nothing about the concert and unhappily reveals that there has been a steady stream of visitors inquiring about this jazz thing.

I arrive late for the first set. The guy who I am supposed to meet at the hall- -auspiciously nicknamed Bird—is, at first, undiscoverable. When I do find him, I am directed to wait in the lobby.

This, I think, is a government operation. But it's all worth it.

With due respect to Everette Harp, who is wailing R&B lines and sort of channeling George Coleman at the same time—on saxophone, of course, where he belongs—Haslip, as expected, is on electric bass, but is no longer with The Yellowjackets. Jeff Lorber Fusion is putting on a show, and the crowd audibly loves it. Waiting in the lobby is ok by me. I can listen, right?

Eventually, I make my way backstage where the band is between sets. Haslip greets me with a bear hug, like a long-lost friend. Our planned interview gets rolling even before the second set begins. It turns out to be a memorable evening, and we are just getting started.

Lorber and company (including funk drummer Sonny Emory, whose energy and ability to lock into a melodic groove with Haslip are a highlight of the evening) feature a good sample of their Grammy-nominated recording, Hacienda (Heads Up Records). Significantly, as I later learn, Lorber and Haslip have coproduced the album. After an encore, Haslip ushers me into another room backstage. He starts talking almost immediately: the continuation of an interview we began about a month before. I can hardly believe his energy after what Haslip accurately describes as playing "a lot of notes." We get going for a bit, but then the government buses the band downtown to its hotel. I follow and get lost. I go to the wrong hotel. I finally find Haslip sitting in the lobby of the correct hotel. It is near midnight. His day began at 5 AM in another city. He is drinking a Red Bull. So far, the evening has been surreal.

But worth it.

Really worth it.

Because Jimmy Haslip is a great raconteur. If you think he can play some, you really ought to hear him talk. It is, as they say, a real treat. There's nearly fifty years of experience in music here, a figure that really doesn't belie how young Jimmy was when he started.

At age 62, Haslip is, like me, an aging boomer. But he is a youthful-looking 62. He grew up in a music-loving family, but was the only musician. His formative influences were eclectic and his musical vocabulary is correspondingly broad. "I listen to everything. Everybody has something to offer." His older brother, Gabriel Haslip-Viera, introduced Haslip to Miles Davis but just as importantly to Stravinsky and Mahler, whose influence on Haslip was enormous as well. His parents listened to the swing bands of their youth. As for the rest, Haslip grew up listening to what all the boomers passed through, including elvis, the British invasion, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Motown, the Philly Sound, and, he thoughtfully adds, even to Mantovani and to Bert Kaempfert. "And we're of Puerto Rican heritage," he brightens, so that Mongo Santamaria and the rest of the rich Latin jazz scene was there as well. You'd expect that someone who had all of that pass through his ears would be hard to pigeonhole. And he is. Jimmy started on the trumpet, also played Baritone horn and tuba in high school, where he was a multi-letter athlete. I think to myself that he has retained some of that athleticism into late middle age, and that it probably explains some of his physical energy. Whatever it was about his formative years, including learning the bass by playing lines from a trombone method book, it all worked.

By that I mean, Haslip basically made his name as a pioneering fusion player with what started out as an experimental band, The Yellowjackets, where I first heard him in the 1980s.

He spent 31 years with the 'Jackets, "a lifetime," he calls it, "leaving "on hiatus" in 2012, but in reality, for good. His replacement, fittingly, is Felix Pastorius , Jaco Pastorius son.

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