Jimmy Haslip: The Honest Endeavor of Making Music

Ian Patterson By

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AAJ: Timeline features trumpeter John Diversa on a couple of tracks and, following the Yellowjackets previous album, which featured guitarist Mike Stern, I wonder if it ever crossed your minds to bring in another member, either a guitarist or a trumpeter?

JH: No, we've never really discussed that, though we're always very open to collaborative projects like the Heads Up record with Mike Stern. That was an experiment and a wonderful one, I felt. In the past, we've done collaborative projects with many people, including Bobby McFerrin, Michael Franks, and we did a record for GRP called Like a River, where we brought in a wonderful trumpet player by the name of Tim Hagans. He also played on the record that followed, Run for Your Life and other musicians have guested and collaborated with us over the years.

On this record, Bob Mintzer felt that he wanted to have some of the melodies performed by trumpet and saxophone, and we brought in John Diversa, a local musician from Los Angeles. He's a wonderful player who also has his own big band. Little things like this we added to the record, just to bring in another color. We're always looking to experiment with the music.

AAJ: Although the Yellowjackets have always evolved musically—something to be expected over a period of 30 years—do you think it's fair to say that Bob Mintzer marked a before-and-after in the music of the band?

JH: Oh yeah, most definitely. Bob's brought so much to the band. With his expertise in running big bands over the last 30 years or more, he brings in a lot of elements to the group that expand its capabilities and afford us many interesting opportunities to do a lot of things many other bands don't have chance to do. We feel very fortunate, on many levels, to have the personnel that we have. The four of us are very open-minded, and wide open to experiment with all sorts of things. We've always got our thinking caps on, and we're always having these brainstorming sessions where we'll talk about various ideas. We're always looking over the fence for the next project.

AAJ: How much of the music on Timeline was written by Russell and Bob prior to getting together and how much of it was shaped when the four of you did get together?

JH: As I said, the music for this recording was put together fairly quickly although I know Russell and Bob both spent a lot of time on writing prior to the recording, and they had accumulated a whole pile of music between them. Bob had four pieces and Russell had five. We realized we had a really solid bunch of songs that we could definitely hang our hat on and record. Then Russell added a piece, and I had one piece I'd written with Russell, and Will had a piece of music that he'd been working on, so between us all we completed the repertoire for the recording, but Bob and Russ did the lion's share of the writing. Having four people doing the writing gives you plenty of options and room, my perspective is it really gave the record a pretty serious focus

AAJ: There's a nice mixture of music stylistically on Timeline but I think it contains some of the strongest ballads the band has ever written, particularly, "My Soliloquy," "Single Step" and "I Do." There's such poetry in the music of these songs that I wondered whether they stem from lyrics at all?

JH: No, though I stand corrected if I'm wrong. Russell and Bob are very prolific songwriters and they have a very serious, lyrical sense about them which is very evident in these compositions.

AAJ: You and Russell Ferrante go back a long time; how did you first come to make music with Russell?

JH: I met Russell through Robben Ford. I'd met Robben in '77 or '78 and he had asked me to work on his first recording which was a record called Inside Story (Elektra, 1979), and once we started working on that, he mentioned bringing down a pianist from northern California that he'd been working with. Robben and Russell had been working with some very prominent blues artists like Charlie Musselwhite and Jimmy Witherspoon, and they'd also done a lot of gigs together as the Robben Ford Band. That's how I met Russ, and we really hit it off. We started working on other projects together. We went on the road with Tom Scott and Steve Khan's band, and we did several recordings for singer here in Los Angeles called Marilyn Scott and we actually did some writing for her. Things just blossomed from there in the late '70s and we've been making music together for thirty three years now.We have a lot in common: we love music ,and there's serious chemistry there for composition and playing music. It's become more of a brotherhood.

AAJ: Just a year or two before you met Russell Ferrante you were in guitarist Tommy Bolin's last touring band; what was that experience like?

JH: I really enjoyed working with Tommy. I was introduced to Tommy by a keyboardist/organist and singer, Mark Stein, who was the original organist and lead singer of a group called Vanilla Fudge. I met Mark here in L.A. in the mid '70s through Carmine Appice, who was the original drummer in Vanilla Fudge. We all got together and worked in the studio on various projects. Mark was playing keyboards in Tommy's band and one day he called me and asked me if I would be interested in auditioning for Tommy's band. I auditioned and I got the gig and ended up touring with Tommy for a good nine months. It was a wonderful experience. Of course, Tommy had his demons and they caught up with him which was a very sad day. But I only have very positive thoughts about working with Tommy; he was a great guy and a wonderful musician. I was honored to have worked with him.


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