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Jimmy Haslip: Former Yellowjacket Generating a New Buzz

Richard  J Salvucci By

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Yet success has a downside too. For one, there is the road. Not everyone hates touring, but age and family responsibilities make it increasingly less attractive. Toward the end of his stint with the 'Jackets, Haslip figures he was on the road 9 months a year, including other commitments he had made. It was a kind of crazy existence, and his friends, especially his brother Gabriel, urged him to cut back a bit on the travel. The vagaries of the music business, especially over the past decade, tend to push players in different directions as well.

A change of labels had induced the Yellowjackets to self-produce their first double-album, Mint Jam (2001). Despite numerous warnings about not trying this, the recording was both a commercial and artistic success, and includes such great tracks as "Less is Mo," "Motet" and "Mofongo." Haslip increasingly found himself drawn into producing, not as a substitute for playing, but as another source of creative expression. As he explains it, Haslip's education as a producer was hands-on, learn-by-doing. In his mind, he learned from some of the best: the legendary Tommy LiPuma, who produced Mirage a Trois for the 'Jackets (1983), and who showed Haslip the importance of "a positive environment... with positive results for making music"; Eddie Offord, who produced Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer; the late, and as Haslip calls him, the "iconic" Tom Dowd; and the late Andy Johns, who produced Led Zeppelin in the 1970s, Gary Katz, The Mamas & the Papas, Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, Steely Dan, Don Gehman, John Mellencamp, Hootie and the Blowfish, Blues Traveler, Jimmy Barnes and Tracy Chapman. Aside from the technical and engineering aspects of production, he found the whole of his experience with The Yellowjackets to be helpful. As an experienced studio and sessions player, Haslip made a wide range of contacts—here, in Europe and in Asia. These musicians would become an important element of what he could bring to producing.

Haslip sees production as a multifaceted act. He needs not only a coherent vision of someone else's musical project—everything from budgets to personnel—but also a sense of when and where to inject himself, and when to hang back. Typically, he follows someone else's choice of personnel for a recording, but occasionally, he will draw on his own experiences if he thinks another choice will work better. Even the graphics of a project, the artwork that subtly defines the content, is a concern of his. As Haslip puts it, this is as question of "enticing" a listener not only by who's playing what and how, but what mood the finished product evokes in a potential listener. A lot of striking cover art on the 'Jackets work underscores the idea, with one, the cover for Altered State (2005) done by Peter Max. Even the wryly entitled Politics (1988),a collage art piece by artist Lou Beach, with its last piece of the pie summarizes the band's view of the music business at the time. As Haslip emphasizes, producing is not a part-time gig or a casual pursuit. "I have good people skills," Haslip says, "I get them from my family." Combining the skills of a designer, player, psychologist, contractor, engineer and marketer in one person is not for everyone. As Haslip tells it, the fact that most of his production work takes place in Los Angeles makes life a lot easier for someone with a family than the life of a touring musician— although he continues to travel extensively. And it brings its own kind of creative challenge—different from what you face as a player and improviser. To date, Haslip has produced nearly 100 recordings—over 20 alone since leaving the Yellowjackets—and, as he likes to put it, "is generating a buzz." This is, in short, what it takes to be successful in an increasingly difficult commercial environment for music.



Curious, I asked Haslip what the future might hold for him, especially as an instrumentalist. Does he have unfulfilled ambitions? Is there something, after nearly half a century in the business, he'd still like to do? He considers the question for a bit and then answers a little unexpectedly, "I'd like to play with Jimi Hendrix." I laugh and say I'm sure a lot of people would like to play with Bird. "That too," he responds. So maybe we'll just leave it to a higher power to figure that one out. Right now, Jimmy Haslip has more than enough to keep him busy right here.

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