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Jimmy Herring: The Lifeboat Sessions and More

Phil DiPietro By

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AAJ: It's one thing to be knocked out by it; it's another to learn it.

JH: To be truthful, it's not like I could—I mean Scott was just so good, he was so intimidating because he could play changes like a horn player but he had a delivery like a rock 'n 'roll guitarist. That was just so appealing to me and it made me want to study jazz and work on playing jazz changes. I could learn his lines but I couldn't really understand what went into the composition of the line. It was one thing to transcribe it off a record but another thing to understand what led him to that choice of notes and rhythms. Being in that environment was great because it got me interested in him and in listening to the music he was inspired by.

AAJ: Now he's put it out there for everybody. He has authored more than a few method books and videos.

JH: He's a monster, man.

AAJ: Does he know what you think of him?

JH: I'm sure he does. Actually, I'm scared to death of him. [laughs] When I was a student, at about 22, Holdsworth and Steve Morse were my favorite guys but I wasn't hip into the deep harmony. For instance, I didn't know what augmented major 7th chords were or how to play over them. I didn't know the scales that fit the wild chords.

Scott would do these open counseling sessions which consisted of him sitting there with a Real Book and a guitar and have students come in and play tunes with him. My weakest thing was trying to play Real Book tunes. I dug it but I couldn't play freely through those changes. I would just go in there and listen—I would not play. But then he would start getting on my case like, "Hey! Where's your guitar? You can't get away with coming here week after week with not playing." So I said, "OK. I'll just stand outside and listen." [laughs]. But he told me to get my ass in there in play. See, Scott was tough man—I've seen a few people look pretty much like they wanted to cry. It was inspiring but I didn't have the balls to go in there and play with him. But every album that he'd put out during that time I would get it and listen to it constantly. I would try to learn his ideas -his touch and his tone affected me in a way too.

AAJ: It's interesting because Henderson was your teacher, but he's only four or five years older than you. He's only about 54 or so now.

JH: Yeah I'm 46. Plus he looks incredibly young.

AAJ: So that makes him only 30 when he was your teacher at GIT.

Jimmy Herring / Project ZJH: When I first got there he was playing with Jeff Berlin. He had just put his record out called Champion (Passport, 1985), and Scott's playing on that really made the whole record. Do you remember the Cannonball tune they did "Marabi"? I learned some phrasing from that. Then he put out Spears (Relativity, 1986), with Tribal Tech, and that hit me real hard. I learned some of the lines from that and then I'd go see them play anytime they were playing in Hollywood. One thing that hit me hard again was a time the musicians from Tribal Tech were playing at Donte's, a jazz club in L.A. My mother was actually in town and I convinced her that she had to see Scott Henderson. I mean this was in 1984 or '85, and the lineup was Henderson, Gary Willis [bass], Steve Houghton [drums] and I forget who the keyboard player was [It was probably Pat Coil, the keyboardist on Spears].

I got there and I remember seeing a music stand on the stage and saying "No. They're not going play standards, please tell me." I remember being disappointed until they started playing. They turned those standards into the most interesting tunes I'd ever heard. I was so blown away with what they did with those same tunes I'd hear my friends working on at school. The tunes are hard to play and you have to learn the language if you're ever going to play jazz, but the tunes had never lit a fire under me. But then I heard them play, with a freshness and an over-the-top energy and intense dynamics—they'd be at a whisper and then be raging, blowing the roof off the place.

AAJ: It is amazing the way some of these so-called fusion guys can play standards. The world should hear it. It would change the perception of these musicians that get pigeonholed as fusion guys.

JH: Like who?

AAJ: I just saw a trio with David Gilmore on guitar and Matt Garrison on bass and a drummer named Rudy Royston. I mean they took "Inner Urge" out of the stratosphere.

JH: I know who Matt Garrison is and Gilmore too, that's for sure. Garrison is a freak man. I played a gig with him, a T Lavitz gig at the Bottom line in New York awhile back. We didn't have a drummer or a bassist and T just wanted to go in there and improvise. We didn't even play a bunch of tunes; we just did what I would call experimental, exploratory playing. I was nervous about getting a bassist and a drummer and it turned out to be Matt Garrison and Ben Perowsky. I was like, "Well, we got the right guys here." It was a great time, we had an amazing time. Matt Garrison was brilliant.

We really trusted the force for that gig. I remember at first T wanted to do some tunes, including "Footprints" and "All Blues." I remember telling him, "Look, T, if we play those we're going to have to play 'Stairway to Heaven' and 'Free Bird' too." [laughs] I love all four of those songs, I really do. I mean I love Wayne Shorter, but everybody plays "Footprints." So hopefully, I made a point to him by mentioning those other tunes. So we got out there and we didn't play a single tune and it was smoking. We were just trying to do a cool gig in the off time from the Jazz is Dead project that we were doing at the time, and Derek Trucks was playing on the same bill. We didn't have time to rehearse, so we did the Project Z philosophy of no tunes, without a net, and it was great. We just listened to each other and reacted.

Matt and I had talked about doing something together and we actually were going to do something two years ago in September, but it just didn't pan out because of schedules. I just got super-busy with all this stuff that's going on. I'm dying to work with him.


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