Jimmy Herring: Talkin' Blues, Bluegrass and More

Alan Bryson By

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AAJ: And you had Nicky Sanders, a classically trained violinist who studied jazz and plays bluegrass, and a Cameroonian bassist, it's pretty wild! And Jeff Snipes' brush work is beautiful.

JH: Oh yeah, that is masterful! He blew us all away.

AAJ: I have a hard time picking a favorite on this album, because it changes with my mood. But I'll tell you, as a big B3 fan, the song "12 Keys" is wonderful, and Matt Slocum's playing is fantastic. Did he transcribe those duets you did together, they're so intricate? I love that, it's so light and airy.

JH: Thank you so much. Oh man, Matt is incredible. We were playing that originally as a sketch to improvise on, and I hadn't written a head for it. We would play the chord progression and then take solos over it, and we recorded that as a sketch.

But as we got ready to record it, I knew I had to write a head for it. So I got together with John Keane and did three takes improvising over the progression. We then narrowed down three pieces from those improvisations, and I ended up writing a head based on them. Then I recorded the head and sent it to Matt, which he then learned note-for-note. A couple of days later he came back to the studio and recorded his part, basically doubling with me. Of course his solo is totally his creation.

AAJ: When we spoke last year I don't know what possessed me to ask you about Telecasters and chicken pickers, but I thought that was cool that you shared so many insights, and then all the sudden I hear "Curfew," and you kind of paid tribute to the things you'd talked about-and did it with Bela Fleck. That's so much fun, and his lines are so original.

JH: Béla Fleck is in a class my himself. He's taken the banjo into completely uncharted territory so many times. And really, if I'd had the opportunity and he had been free I would have loved to have had him play on a lot more tracks. But I'll definitely be calling him back to play on things that aren't typical bluegrass or country, because that guy can play anything.

When I called him I said, "I've got this little hillbilly jazz tune, it's like a country tune, but it's got jazz harmony in it at times. It's got changes in it you've gotta play, but it definitely has got a country attitude, would you be interested?" And he says, "Hell yeah I'd be interested!"

I had to send him the file because he wasn't available to record with us at the same time we recorded. He was in another state somewhere on tour, so when he had a day off he went to a studio somewhere, I think it was in Vermont.

It was the same with Bill Evans (saxophone) [saxophone], and Nicky Sanders [fiddle/violin], they had to play their parts in a different town and send them back to me. I hate that, but I'm also grateful, because if it weren't for that technology I wouldn't have been able to play with those guys.

AAJ: In another way it's kind of nice for you too, because when you record you've heard everything so many times, but in these cases you get a bit of the surprise and excitement that the fans get when they hear it.

JH: Yeah man, that's true, because the heads were written and the peoples' solo spaces were open and allotted for, and I knew the track was there. They are all such consummate pros, it was wonderful listening to the playback.

We laughed so hard when Fleck sent his track back to me and we listened to it for the first time, we just fell on the floor laughing because it had so much personality. His spirit is so playful and wonderful, he brought so much fun to that track. He was so clever, he knocked us all out, we loved it!

AAJ: When we spoke last year, you described your commitments for 2012 and it sounded like it would be impossible for you to put something out this year. So when I read that you were working on a new albums, I thought what a blessing when an artist has the right person behind him taking care of business. I'm guessing Souvik Dutta must have gone all out to make this happen?

JH: Oh man, he is the M.V.P. of everything he is involved in. You know, the word "no" is not in his vocabulary. He will do whatever it takes to make things happen. I love that guy, and without him this would never have happened.

AAJ: I think Derek Trucks also has that same kind of thing with his manager, Blake Budney. That's great you guys have people behind you who also get your music and believe in your artistic vision.

JH: Absolutely, and Blake is incredible too. I've known Blake for, good lord-I knew Blake when he was loading the truck and driving the van from gig to gig for Derek. So I've known him a long time. So Derek and I are both really fortunate in that respect.

AAJ: I should mention another musician on the album who caught my attention. A young cat named Carter Herring who plays cello. Where did you find him?

JH: [Laughing] He was in the basement! Carter is a very talented kid. He started playing cello probably in the sixth grade, and he took to it really fast. But to be honest, he doesn't play the cello much anymore, but on those songs we had him on, "Within You and Without You," and "Hope," I'd talked to him about it long before we recorded them. I told him, "One day I want to record this and get you to play cello on it."

But the truth is, he lost interest in playing the cello, and started playing the guitar. You know there were a lot more guitars around the house than cellos! So he really got into Cornell Dupree and Albert King. He loves blues, R&B, James Brown and funk, so he started getting into that and playing guitar all the time. So he kind of put the cello down, but he picked it up again to do this recording. And he immediately put it down after the recording, I don't think he's touched it since, in fact the cello is still sitting in the dining room right by the front door!

But he does a really good job, if he wanted to pursue the cello he could have gone a long way with it. He had a real natural gift with it, almost right out of the gate he was getting the things you look for: good tone, good time, and his vibrato was nice. But he just sort of lost interest, because I think the cello was something he associated with school. He started playing cello as a member of the orchestra at school, and you know how is it with playing in a school orchestra-they have a narrow view of music. It's about classical music and that's it.

We talked about this when he began playing the cello, I told him, "Don't get discouraged by the narrow minds of some of the people you're going to encounter. They are going to try and tell you that jazz is inferior to classical music," of course not everybody, you know what I'm saying. Like the conductor of the orchestra at school thought he was so gifted and that he should be taking private lessons.

So we got him started on private lessons with a cello teacher, and the teacher was really great, but also narrow minded. They didn't want him listening to funk, R&B, and blues, and even went to far as to ask him in an accusative way, "You've been listening to jazz and R&B, haven't you?" And Carter would say, "Yeah, I listen to all music, that and Stravinsky too."

It really bummed him out, and he quit the private lessons. He grew up around all these musicians who basically taught themselves how to play, and he wants to do it that way too. He won't ask me, and I don't teach him anything. But he's got the ear, and if you've got the ear you can teach yourself to play, it's just that simple.

He's doing that. You know, he's playing guitar on a lot of gigs around town and people will ask me, "What did you show Carter? You showed him this or that, right?" I tell them, "Look, I haven't shown him anything, except a few chords and scale fingerings." He learned from that and started teaching himself, and the kid is playing his little butt off- he's on his way. I'm proud of him.

AAJ: It's also interesting too that your daughter is so artistic. Someone from your PR team asked me if I wanted your new album as a CD or MP3, and I told them, CD because I love the artwork, as I did with Lifeboat. She said, "Did you know Jimmy's daughter Cameron did the artwork for the new CD, and she also collaborated on the artwork for Lifeboat?" That blew me away, I love both of them.

JH: Oh yeah, she did that. She's a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design. It's a really good school and she's a senior this year. She's gotten into abstract painting and she had several pieces that could have been the album cover, and that's the one she thought would be best, and I said, "Great, I like that one. Let's use that." She's into a lot of different things, she's into portraits, realism with great detail, but she's also into abstract art-so it's kind of how it is around here musically.

She loves art, just like I love music, from [saxophonist] Ornette Coleman and [keyboardist] Sun Ra to [guitarist] Roy Buchanan or [woodwind multi- instrumentalist] Paul McCandless-gospel music all the way to abstract jazz, it's all just great music, and that's the way she feels about art.

Selected Discography

Jimmy Herring, Subject to Change Without Notice (Abstract Logix, 2012)

Various Artists, The New Universe Music Festival: Abstract Logix Live! (Abstract Logix, 2011)

Jimmy Herring, Lifeboat (Abstract Logix, 2008)

Photo Credits

Page 3: Courtesy of Abstract Logix

All Other Photos: John Kelman
About Jimmy Herring
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