Fittingly, one says, because arguably the single greatest musical influence on Haslip, at least as an instrumentalist, and probably on most electric bassists of his generation, was Jaco Pastorius. Haslip's unorthodox technique on the bass, left handed and therefore, backward and upside down, had always suggested that he was self-taught. But it turns out that that's not entirely true. The reading skills he developed studying other instruments are obviously an important part of being a sessions player and studio musician. Yet Haslip has also studied ethnomusicology, following up on an interest that he and keyboardist Russell Ferrante developed in folk music while playing with The Yellowjackets. Haslip met Pastorius largely by coincidence at a studio in California shortly after arriving in LA, hung out with him, shedded with him, listened to music with him, talked to him, ate Mexican food with him, and learned from him. Haslip makes no bones about his respect for Pastorius as the musician who really turned his playing around: "I listened for a while and was completely mesmerized by this guy....It was like a nuclear explosion in my life. It took me to another place I couldn't even imagine. The way he played was very magical and, at the same time, very technical. I put him in the same rank as Jimi Hendrixas somebody who actually changed the music and the role of the instrument. It was new and fresh and innovative and even visionary." Did Jaco's starting out as a drummer have much to do with Pastorius' unique approach to the bass? "Yes," said Jim "to me the bass acts as a direct link and a partner to the drum set. I see the bass being played like a drum, but it's melodic. It's a melodic drum.... Together they create this really nice marriage of melodicism and rhythm and that's how I look at the instrument... on a basic level."
Reviewing the Yellowjacket's body of work over three decades is enlightening, particularly when you consider that Haslip and Russell Ferrante
were there all the way, drummer Will Kennedy
(1987-1999, 2010 to present) for much of the time and Bob Mintzer
for almost two-thirds. Fans are well aware how substantially the music and the band evolved: from a I-V-vi-IV progression in "Daddy's Gonna Miss You" (Samurai Samba, 1985) to "Greenhouse" (Greenhouse, 1991) which evokes Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," to Mintzer's 3 against 4 "Red Sea" (Run for Your Life, 1993) to the folkish septuple meter of "Timeline" (Timeline, 2011), with a parallel change from an emphasis on electronic to acoustic, and from fusion to something more like straight-ahead. With "Greenhouse," Haslip started out with a number of African melodic motifs which Ferrante further elaborated. The piece was then orchestrated for a 28 piece chamber orchestra by Vince Mendoza
, who put his own distinctive stamp on it. To the extent that the band's personnel changed especially with the addition of Mintzer and to the extent that a wide array of guest artists from Chuck Findley
to Bobby McFerrin
expanded their palette, there was a collective sense in the band, as expressed by Haslip, "Well, what are we going to do now?"
One thing the band did was start making appearances with big bands in the 1990s, something that the addition of Mintzer, a veteran of the Tito Puente
, Buddy Rich
, and Thad Jones Mel Lewis Remembered
bands made more logical. Some of the best work is not (yet, or widely) commercially available, but you can view some of the results on YouTube by looking for "Yellowjackets and WDR," namely, the WDR Big Band in Koln,Germany, conducted by Vince Mendoza. It's very interesting to hear "Orange Guitars," which Haslip originally did on his solo recording "Arc" (1993) with Joshua Redman
and John Scofield
, performed in this way, with a rocking trombone solo and screaming trumpets. A different feel entirely! Or the lovely "Azure Moon" (Like a River, 1993) in 5/4 composed by Mendoza.
So the Yellowjackets' extended run encouraged experimentation and change, and kept long standing-members like Haslip interested and involved. Miles Davis once said that his need to change "[was] like a curse." Some curses are good curses, because, as Haslip puts it, 21 recordings is a lot of music to put down, especially when you're aiming to do it at a consistently high level. "Every record is different," Haslip said, "There is an evolution from 1980 through 2012." The result was 18 GRAMMY nominations with Yellowjackets (he also has 2 with Jeff Lorber Fusion), for a total of 20 and 2 wins, a record that speaks for itself.