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Jimmy Herring: The Lifeboat Sessions and More

Phil DiPietro By

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AAJ: Then now I 'm going to have to ask you about Neal Fountain, another great bassist that I saw you play with.

Jimmy Herring / Jazz is DeadJH: Now that dude, man. How do you know him?

AAJ: I interviewed Neal and reviewed his two records for AAJ a few years ago. He had a serious health scare a couple of years back that he's come back from.

JH: Yes he has in a big way. He is one of the most freakishly good musicians I've ever worked with. I think it was 1992 when I first heard him and he knocked me off my chair. I was like, 'Who is this guy and what planet is he from?' I found out he was from Macon. I remember writing down his number in my address book with a huge exclamation next to it. I wanted to work one day with that guy. So we've done a few things here and there. We did a band with Sipe and Bobby Lee Rogers. Bobby Lee was the songwriter of the band and his tunes were great jumping off points to improvise off of.

AAJ: I saw you with Sipe and Bryan Lopes and Neal back in 1998 or so in Boston. Sipe called it The Apartment Projects.

JH: That was another band where we just went out with no tunes and played. Lopes is another one of those people that's just a crazy fantastic musician. Neal and Sipe together is an incredible force. I just heard some of that recording that Souvik [Dutta, owner of Abstract Logix] recently put out of Neal and Sipe, with the Austrian guitarist Alex Machacek. I think it's absolutely incredible.

AAJ: Did you ever think about doing your own recording previous to the current release?

JH: I always had an idea to do a record with Sipe, Oteil, Kofi and Derek Trucks and also to get Greg Osby to play on some stuff.

AAJ: Osby was always part of the plan?

JH: Greg was something that was imagined to be involved from the birth of the whole thing. He worked with us on Project Z.

AAJ: Not to mention with Phil Lesh.

JH: That all started because Phil mentioned Greg Osby in a Rolling Stone article. They asked Phil what he was in his CD player at the moment and he said "Greg Osby." That made me happy because I was into Osby but I didn't know Phil was. Then Phil and I started talking about it, and then I think Greg contacted Phil to thank him for mentioning his name in the article. Phil basically told him, "You're welcome and by the way come play with us." We had a gig in Philly the next month, so he came down and played and we really hit it off almost instantly. We both felt some chemistry there and he wanted to do something with me. But when we did that last Project Z record we cut it live in the studio and Greg couldn't be there. We were editing the record—I mean it wasn't even supposed to be one—It was pretty bizarre and parts of it were really out- but we made the decision to put it out there. We were in the editing process when Ricky passed away. It was horrible.

But during that editing process I remembered that when we were cutting parts out, we'd say, "If only we had somebody else playing over this part, we wouldn't have to cut it out." It needed another melodic voice. Ricky and I had actually talked about calling Greg Osby. I didn't end up actually doing it until a couple of years later. He came to Atlanta and just played one live pass through the whole thing, just like we did, but on a different day. There were just one or two other things where I played something that sounded like a head, so I asked him to double it with me. Other than that it's completely live. I knew then I really wanted to work with him in a different setting.

So I called him up this time and he flew in and went straight to the studio. He was there for two full days and played his tail off on that stuff.

AAJ: Yeah Greg may have a name for himself as a great jazz composer and conceptualist but as a player, he can reel off chorus after chorus of amazing ideas on any tune.

Jimmy HerringJH: Where I got hip to him was Jeff Sipe. I was really into Cannonball and James Spaulding but as far as alto players it was Cannonball and of course Bird. I really wasn't that up on anybody contemporary, but Sipe said, "Man, you have got to hear Greg Osby." So he hipped me to a couple of his records and I was knocked out of my seat. He immediately became my favorite contemporary alto player. I never imagined getting to work with him. But then, not too long after that, less than a year later, is when Rolling Stone did the Phil article I referred to earlier. So you can imagine my surprise when I show up to the gig and Greg Osby's there—wow! I immediately called Sipe and said, "Greg Osby's here." Jeff was like, "What? Osby is going to play with Phil Lesh's band?" You wouldn't think about someone so deep into the jazz world being connected with the world we were in, but it was really cool.

In fact, Greg is the one who most seriously brought up the touring question with regard to the new record. When we did this record it was a very small budget. It's not like I had a ton of money to pay world-class musicians, so I had to get world-class musicians to do it cheap. I didn't have to talk him into it too hard. I just said, "Man, I'm embarrassed to even ask, you know. Are you sure you are okay with this, for this fee and a flight?" And he immediately said, "Yeah man, that's cool, but I'm hoping there will be some performances down the road." I was hoping so, too, and in that way, once we start playing gigs, it will definitely be worth all of it.



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