Last November, Josh and I had the opportunity to see Renegade
Creation perform in Connecticut. The band is an amazing collection
of talent that includes Robben Ford, Michael Landau, Gary Novak
and Jimmy Haslip. It was a fantastic evening, with the band delivering
an impressive and professional set list that offered some great
songs from their album.
the show, the four members of the band met with some of the audience
that had stayed, and I had the chance to speak with Jimmy for
a few moments. I was thrilled when he agreed to take part in the
interview you are about to read.
two things you need to understand about Jimmy Haslip that I hope
will reveal exactly how excited and grateful I am for his time
Jimmy Haslip may be one of the busiest musicians working today.
In addition to dates and projects involving Renegade Creation,
2011 finds him releasing an album and hitting the road with a
tremendous band… the Yellowjackets. He also has a new solo effort
out, has been working on what seems to be about two dozen efforts
with Russell Ferrante, and still manages to find time to produce
projects for other groups.
one of my questions involved asking him if there was one or two
projects that he felt particularly proud of. His answer included
the following: “I can say I am proud to be a working musician
and happy to help other musicians and artists in any way I can.
Helping people is about the proudest and most satisfying element
in my life’s work.” This is a guy that has worked with Robben
Ford, Bobby McFerrin, Bo Diddley, John Scofield, Booker T. Jones…
the list is long and impressive, just check out
his biography… and he’s studied with legends such as Jaco
Pastorius. And even with such an amazing set of credentials, you’ll
see this in his responses and I can attest to it from my experience,
he’s very approachable and still thrilled to be doing this for
had the good fortune to meet some incredible people as a result
of this web site, and I’m proud of the interviews I’ve conducted…
as well as those I have planned for the future. I can honestly
say that as amazing and fantastic as all of these people are,
Jimmy Haslip is the most down to earth, easy going, friendly,
driven, highly motivated, incredibly busy, make the most of every
moment while still enjoying the day as it comes around person
I believe I’ve ever met.
cannot thank him enough for his participation in this interview.
I appreciate everything he did for me, and the careful consideration
he gave to each of my questions. You are in for a real treat as
you go through this, because his answers and thoughts are simply
it is the latest release, I want to take a moment to direct your
attention to the Yellowjackets. You can read up on them at
their web site, and I hope you’ll check out
their new album, Timeline. It’s out now, and it continues
the long line of high-quality efforts the Yellowjackets are widely
known and respected for. The band is also touring this year, and
there isn’t a doubt in my mind you should look at their schedule
and see a show if you can. I know I’m watching for the dates in
doing some research for this interview, I came across a video
clip where Jimmy was talking about an early memory from his musical
career. He was playing the trumpet and bugle at the time, and
had been hired on Memorial Day to accompany some visits to cemeteries
and play “Taps.” He recalls the emotions of the experience, created
for him as a combination of the special day and circumstances
as well as the music he provided.
really like this story, because in a short, simple example, it
provides insight into the complete package of Jimmy Haslip. He
understands that there is a real connection between music and
life… the story I just shared is one example, where his growing
up surrounded by the rhythm and power of Latin and Salsa beats
along with other influences provides another… and presents his
music with a sincerity and conviction that truly captures a moment.
the years he has produced or played with just about anyone you
could name. Rita Coolidge, Al Jarreau, Donald Fagen, Walter Becker,
and Anita Baker stand alongside Crosby, Stills & Nash, George
Harrison, Tom Scott, Larry Carlton and dozens upon dozens of others.
up surrounded by the music of Tito Puente, Celia Cruz and many
more drove home and developed those rhythmic sensibilities that
are a key part of his bass playing today. He credits his brother
for exposing him to jazz and classical music. And, naturally for
his love of music and the times of his teenage years, there is
room for the Beatles, Wilson Pickett, and anything that may have
been playing around him.
first formal dive into music was with the trumpet. After about
ten years with the that, the bugle, and other brass instruments,
he fell in love with the electric bass and began teaching himself
how to play it. This led to some interesting discoveries and moments
of creativity. It is also quite likely one of the reasons he is
well-known for pushing envelopes, trying new things, being open
to so many musical styles, and for being so fundamentally sound.
He has an appreciation for how instruments can work together,
a solid knowledge of just about all areas of music, and a personal
education in playing a variety of instruments. Unite that with
a love and passion for the work, and maybe it’s no wonder magic
so often results.
the mid to late seventies, Jimmy was working on a project that
included Robben Ford, Russell Ferrante and Ricky Lawson. The band
had come together mainly to work on some material for Robben,
recording The Inside Story as the Robben Ford Group.
As so often happens, even the best of plans sometimes move in
wonderful and unexpected directions. Record companies and multiple
projects developed, and soon Yellowjackets would take flight on
their own, with Robben on hand as a “guest artist” for the first
1981, Yellowjackets were organized and had released a self-titled
debut album. The combination of Russell and Jimmy have been at
the center of this group for three decades now, and have released
a string of successful and acclaimed albums. Frequently the Yellowjackets
have been nominated for, and have won, awards such as Grammies,
and they are consistently cited as one of the most influential
groups around, particularly in the jazz world. The Yellowjackets
frequently record and tour, and in 2011 have released their twenty-first
studio album, Timeline.
addition to his work with the Yellowjackets, Jimmy has kept busy
with many groups and efforts over the years. With Robben Ford
he has been a part of Jing Chi and Renegade Creation. He has produced
several notable albums, and participated as a studio and performing
musician in support of a dizzying number of individuals and groups.
And, somehow, he’s even managed to complete three solo projects.
so busy I’m honestly not sure what keeps him moving. What I can
say is that the music we all enjoy has definitely benefited from
his contributions. And I hope that someday I can figure out a
way to grab my guitar and sit down with him for a few minutes.
I know I won’t play nearly as well as I’d like… but I’ll thoroughly
enjoy every moment of it if it happens. For now… it is a privilege
for me to share this interview with you, and I hope you enjoy
it is… In My Backpack is proud to bring you an interview
with Jimmy Haslip…
~ ~ ~
sure you’ve been asked this a thousand times, but I’d like to
know the origins of your instrument setup. I believe you play
not only left-handed, but with it strung as if for a right-handed
player (so, for you, the low strings are on the bottom). I saw
a guitarist that played in a similar fashion… I seem to remember
it being Doyle Bramhall II. What are some of the challenges you’ve
faced playing left-handed… from starting to the current day? Is
the setup you use something you’ve encountered as a recurring
challenge/solution for lefties? And, considering how often you’ve
been seen experimenting with advancements (such as 5-string and
6-string basses), do you think you are more open to new approaches
and is the way you started a part of that?
off, yes, I basically play a right handed instrument left handed.
So in 1963, I began learning to play the electric bass up side
down. My bad…
was more difficult early on, as the design of the basses I played
presented a problem with reaching the high octave notes and I
had to rely on an acoustic bass technique called the “thumb position.”
(Using the thumb, planted on the fingerboard, to enable my other
fingers to stretch over the fingerboard, in order to reach the
higher notes above the 12th fret.) This took some practice and
effort to feel comfortable with.
be honest, now I have been playing for some 47 years and as playing
is an on going challenge and work in progress, I feel that any
challenges I have had and still face are similar to challenges
for any musician, whether they play an instrument conventionally
(left handed or right handed) or not.
far as experimenting with the instrument, I believe the fact that
I started off knowing nothing about the instrument and having
been self taught at first opened the door for experimenting and
trying to get comfortable with the instrument. There have been
many changes in the course of my progress. For example… I started
only using my thumb as a pick. That severely restricted me and
it was brought to my attention by another bass player when I was
in high school. (Yet, I am blown away by the amazing technique
by iconic Jazz guitarist, Wes Montgomery, who only played with
are many things like that over the years, that have been issues,
yet some have panned out to add a unique dimension in my playing.
But believe me when I say, there are NO advantages to playing
this way. In fact, because of the struggles I have encountered
many times, it only motivated me further to accomplish some sort
of progression with my own playing.
continue to study and practice, and I continue to find new ways
to do things on the instrument, unveiling knowledge as time goes
by. All very enlightening and revealing to me and my music. Knowledge
is power and as long as you have the passion to focus and study,
you will progress on some level.
my motivation in life and it all revolves around music and a lifetime
of study, playing, producing and composing.
with the idea of different beginnings and approaches, I believe
Robben Ford… a musician you have a long history of working with…
began his musical career playing the saxophone. And, I think you
started by playing a trumpet. Do you find that having been exposed
to other instruments changes a musician? In other words… do you
feel differently about how you approach your work as a musician
and producer because you have that experience with different instruments
or elements of the creative process (writing, playing, producing)?
And, for you or someone like Robben… a unique guitarist that might
be at his strongest in how he sets up his phrasing and the minimalism
of his notes… do you find that perhaps it has meant something
for you to have that background?
feel the 12 plus years I spent playing mainly trumpet, but also
flugel horn, baritone horn, tenor horn, tuba and the bugle, gave
may another perspective on the electric bass. Even my original
studies with my first real bass teacher was interesting in that
name was Ron Smith and he was a string bass player who also played
electric bass and the tuba.
took probably a dozen or more lessons from him and when he began
to teach me the Diatonic system on the electric bass, he had me
studying out of several trombone books. The books had a very melodic
approach to the scales and therefore I began learning the scales
and practicing them more as melodies as opposed to straight up
and down scales. This made the study and the exercises more interesting
to me and something that I was more comfortable with anyway as
a trumpet player.
I immediately starting relating to the instrument as a melodic
instrument as opposed to an instrument only concerned with the
foundation of the music. I later got more of the idea that the
instrument is also extremely rhythmic and connected to the drums
the two together was a revelation and growing up on a healthy
dosage of Latin Salsa music, rhythm was inherited through my family
and our culture. (Another reason for choosing the trumpet as a
even if you don’t start off playing horn first, I think it is
good advice to study horn players no matter what instrument you
play. Melodically, the horn players have so much information to
offer as a single line instrument.
many instruments certainly increases the palette for a musician.
I advocate playing many instruments, even poorly, just to expose
yourself to what the instrument does and how it sounds when you
play it. The experience will promote progress.
Your playing seems, and I may be way off on this, to be
much more based on the moment it occupies in a song than some
strict rhythm or pattern. (I’d be foolish for not pointing to
Jing Chi… with the name of the band meaning “Life Force” and the
group consisting of a very solid lineup (you along with Robben
Ford and Vinnie Colaiuta) with music that fits the “feel and emotion”
idea.) Do you have any foundation in place for how you approach
your playing, or does it really change based on the situation?
For instance, Jing Chi was more of a power trio, while for most
of its existence, Yellowjackets has presented you with the interesting
situation of working without a guitar player.
far as all the different bands I am playing with or have played
with in the past, I’ve always played to what’s there. This consists
with a drummer is very important to the foundation and the drive
of the ensemble. So focusing on that first has always been part
of my plan to establish that strong foundation from the get go.
you have to recognize what the music is and what genre the songs
are in. This will establish some style points and this all conceptually
dictates how to approach the music.
I have observed and have a handle on these parameters, I can then
add my own ideas of how to decorate the music… where there might
be space to improvise and create tension… where it’s essential
to perform certain melodic phrases in the music. For example,
with the Yellowjackets, there are some very arranged areas in
the music that have to be performed with some precision (melodies,
unison lines with other instruments and chord progressions that
dictate a form and/or a progression). These arranged areas within
a song have to be there and motivate the music in various ways.
I mentioned, creating tension and setting up the following section,
creating certain dynamics within a song… these subtle changes
within a song form are what gives a song/piece of music dynamic
changes and those changes are what adds a compelling atmosphere
to a song/piece of music.
am responsible, as the bass player in the ensemble, to help bring
this all together and help motivate the song along with the drums.
where the next important element comes in, and that is to listen
to what is going on around me, listening to all the musicians
in the ensemble, whether it is a trio or a chamber orchestra of
28 musicians and making sure that the timing, rhythmic composition
and support of all the other musicians is all in hand. Being able
to tightly perform certain elements of a song with the other musicians
and then also loosely perform improvisational sections of a song
in support of the other musicians demands command of your instrument
and ability to support an ensemble, just like the defense of a
football team. Working together with one common goal. Performance
on a high level of execution.
am also inspired so much by music and believe in the interjection
of passion and emotion. This takes time to develop and time to
find a way to bring that into the music without getting overly
excited, to the point where you may lose control of what you are
it’s important to work on breathing and being in the moment all
at the same time as you may be exploring a deeper emotional expression
with what you are performing.
have been working on corralling all of these elements to help
me become a better musician and to also achieve a higher rate
of success with a performance of deep expression and emotion along
with precision execution and a strong motivating groove that all
comes together with an ensemble of musicians playing in front
of an audience and/or recording music in a studio.
hard do you find it to write songs? And do you find yourself challenged
to keep things fresh… meaning staying away from certain keys or
chords? As an example of this, I’d be interested to hear how a
group with such a long-standing and solid core (Yellowjackets)
continues to push each other creatively and produce strong material.
it’s always a challenge to write music, especially when you are
trying not to repeat yourself. Trying would be the optimum word
matter what happens, a writer will always rely on certain chords
and/or melodic phrases that come natural when working on new music.
But something to consider is always being aware of the things
that inspire you as a writer. Those are the things that will push
you into other directions. For me personally, it’s art in a museum,
music I never heard before, an amazing film and a life experience
that had impact on my emotion.
brings inspiring thoughts into my head and/or puts me in a creative
mood or an emotional state that brings in an idea for a melody,
a groove or a bassline. Those are the things that will hopefully
ignite a solid idea that could potentially blossom into a new
piece of music.
the Yellowjackets, we have four musicians that all contribute
composition. So the odds of compiling a body of work with an abundance
of creative writing, is great. One reason this band has had some
success in making recordings, 21 recordings to date, that have
some similarities, but also many unique differences. None of these
21 recordings has a cookie cutter conceptual basis. They all stand
alone as individual statements. That’s our goal and for better
or worse, we move forward with that mentality with every new recording.
has always been high expectation, which brought in some new elements
to each new recording that could also possibly bring new identity
and hopefully a fresh new and clean slate that would ultimately
create a strong clear and lyrical statement within the music.
been our goal every time we have an opportunity to make a new
work has always occupied an interesting place in music. Whether
your dedication to practicing and studies (I believed you were
a student of Jaco Pastorius)… the work with Yellowjackets… the
equipment you’ve used (often noted for adding strings and working
with fretless models)… your efforts behind the scenes as a writer
and producer… you’re a respected leader in all facets. What motivates
you to take on a specific project or work with certain people
or groups? And, what haven’t you tried yet as a project that you’d
like to attempt?
never really look at it this way, but the bottom line is that
I have had the motivation, going back to my youth, when I was
just starting out as a professional musician in the Long Island,
New York area, to study and progress as a musician and later as
a composer and producer. The creative fire was apparent to me
and there was a lot to be inspired by.
I saw in live performance, all genres from Rock, to R&B, Pop,
Jazz and Classical. Bands I played in with some wonderful musicians
that raised the bar for me as a growing young musician. Teachers
and mentors I encountered since, especially Jaco Pastorius, who
not only inspired me by his incredible musicianship and his compelling
composition, but was also a super inspiring teacher. All this
plus the path that has led me through all the musical experiences
I’ve had through the years add up and create solidity, confidence
have been blessed to meet all the product endorsers that have
been supporting me through the years with excellent gear, from
electric basses to amplifiers and strings, speaker cabinets and
effects… Mike Tobias, Keith Roscoe, Gard Lewis, Ken Dapron, Bernardo
Rico, Alexander Dumble, Steven William Rabe, Chris Campbell, Dean
Markley, Jim D’Addario, Jack Thrift, Ken Daniels, Paul Flynn,
Truetone Music, Darryl Anders, Jim Dunlap…
then also work with some amazing producers early on in my career,
that set a precedence for me and taught me, through working with
them, what was important for a producer to bring to an artist’s
project and how to get organized. Very important lessons learned
for many years working as a studio musician As I said, all these
things add up and shape what you become on a professional level.
am forever grateful to have had all the experience that I have
accumulated on all levels. But there is always more to learn and
more to fine tune and from that, there is always progression on
a very positive level.
what I strive for everyday. This leads up to your question, What
motivates you to take on a specific project or work with certain
people or groups? And, what haven’t you tried yet as a project
that you’d like to attempt?
am mostly motivated by the music and enjoy being able to collaborate
with an artist, to bring his vision and the music to life. There
are too many projects that I have yet to do to even list here.
All I know is that I have four productions ahead of me in various
stages of production and I am focused on them as well as several
productions recently released.
you find it much different when working on a project solely from
outside the playing, say as a producer?
yes. If I am just producing and not playing.
example, the Rita Coolidge Jazz Standards recording I produced
for Concord Records, I hired three different acoustic bass players,
because of scheduling. Chuck Berghofer, Dave Carpenter and Darek
Oles. Then basically with arrangers/piano players, Alan Pasqua
and Russell Ferrante, I had two rhythm sections to work with including
drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Ralph Humphrey.
later added some other musicians and soloists, saxophonists Bob
Sheppard, Ronnie Cuber, vibraphonist Dave Samuels, cellist Stefanie
Fife, percussionist Alex Acuña, guitarist Larry Koonse
and Herb Alpert on trumpet.
really had the freedom to focus on the performances and not divide
myself into two people, the Producer and the Musician. That was
a liberating factor.
have produced many recordings that I am also involved in playing
and that is much more challenging in several ways. I have to relinquish
my producer hat when I am playing, say live with other musicians
in the studio, and then quickly put the producer hat on when I
step into the control room… although, they do sometimes overlap.
is, I love producing and all the facets involved in making records.
So either way, I am game to move on a project as long as I like
the music and the artists/musicians/bands.
such an amazingly diverse (and impressive) list of credentials
for your work, I’m wondering if any specific efforts or moments
stand out as some of your proudest accomplishments.
actually find it hard to list things I like when I have to think
of this. When I’m questioned about it, I can say I am proud to
be a working musician and happy to help other musicians and artists
in any way I can.
people is about the proudest and most satisfying element in my
the past few months I’ve spoken with several people that are really
frightened… shocked… scared… pick your word and description… about
the decline, both in quality and availability, of live music.
They have pointed to things like a business model that stresses
popularity and conformity over originality. There are instances
where shooting for quick hits has taken over for learning the
craft and building a band by touring. Prepackaged and programmed
shows are becoming the norm for the biggest showrooms, where the
music is taped as a background for some sort of bigger spectacle,
or where singers have claimed that tapes are fine since it’s so
hard to dance while singing or playing an instrument. Do you find
that a lot of the younger musicians these days seem less complete
as artists and the music is suffering creatively?
is a void of sorts in the business, but behind the scenes are
creative and passionate young musicians… artists that are looking
to push forward and find new and unique ways of composing and
teach a lot and I see a wonderful array of young, forward thinking
musicians all over the world who are not blinded by the current
business model. So I am totally optimistic about the future of
is a gift and I believe that it will be cherished and honored
by musicians and artists long after I am gone. There is always
an underground movement that is sparkling with life and ingenuity.
an add on to that thought, do you think styles like blues and
jazz… ones so strongly associated with what I mentioned earlier,
that emotional foundation… are being lost on younger musicians?
(And I ask that almost afraid of the answer, since I feel that
the music, expression and heart found in the blues plays an amazingly
important role in completing the growth and development of a musician.)
Well, I don’t see a loss at all
in the young and new generation of musicians. As I mentioned,
while traveling around the world I see many young players taking
music extremely serious and studying their hearts out to understand
the roots of music, and this will bring forth a new generation
of amazing and gifted new artists abound.
generation needs to also address this and pass on, unselfishly,
our knowledge and experience in the classroom and in live performance.
see it happening every day and that gives me plenty of hope for
the future of music.
know Jimi Hendrix has been a big influence for you. From the perspective
of a musician that is known primarily as a bass player, is there
something from his work that inspires or drives you as a bass
player? Or, is it more along the lines of Hendrix simply being
Hendrix… a giant that transcends a specific instrument and can
create an impact on music in general?
I think it’s both. He was a magical
personality and amazing musician that brought us all a gift of
genius to the guitar. Innovative and creatively on another level
comparatively to what was going on around him. He did this naturally
and without forcing the issue. That’s true genius.
a writer of music, he was also brilliant and unique. He was the
complete package of raw natural talent and an otherworldly persona.
There is true enlightenment in seeing someone like him perform
and absorbing his music on recordings.
inspired me in many ways and I think all young musicians from
my era would agree that he was motivational on all levels! I still
love listening to his music and it always inspires me greatly,
just like the first day I heard him.
that you might read often or listen to other musicians, what book(s)
or performer(s) would we find you excited by right now?
Haven’t found too much time for
reading, and being somewhat dyslexic I choose books when I am
going on long trips. I am currently reading a book entitled SHANTARAM
by Gregory David Roberts, a very compelling true story about an
escaped convict and his horrifying trials and tribulations.
a sort of lighter not, I often read scientific journals about
everything from quantum physics to NASA planetary exploration.
Well, everything I can get my hands on plus listening to the radio
with my 16-year-old daughter is super enlightening. I like have
been listening to Kings of Leon, Coldplay, Mumford and Sons, Esperanza
Spaulding, Rachel Z, Hurts, Maroon 5, Led Zeppelin, John McLaughlin,
Bartok and Blind Willie Johnson.
does 2011 and beyond hold for you? Do you have any plans or projects
you can talk about… or releases or tour dates we can look for?
far 2011 is very hectic.
am currently touring in support of a new Yellowjackets release
for Mack Avenue Records, “TIMELINE.” Celebrating our 30th anniversary
and the return of drummer William Kennedy. Awesome!!!
will be touring throughout the year all around the world and we
are even doing some special concerts in Los Angeles and New York
in collaboration with Bobby McFerrin.
also have been touring with the Jeff Lorber Fusion, featuring
Eric Marienthal on saxophone, all around the world as well. We
just got back from doing the Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta, Indonesia,
and we were nominated for a Grammy for the recording “NOW IS THE
TIME” produced by Jeff Lorber, Bobby Colomby and myself.
am still working some with Allan Holdsworth and in a band led
by drummer Harvey Mason, with Patrice Rushen on piano and keyboards,
Bill Summers on percussion and Azar Lawrence on saxophone, called
the Chameleon Band.
I have been touring with a cool Blues/Rock band featuring Robben
Ford on guitar and vocals, Michael Landau on guitar and vocals
and Gary Novak on drums in support of a recording project I produced
called “RENEGADE CREATION.”
am now mixing two new production projects. The first is a group
out of Syracuse New York called ESP, and their 5th upcoming release
entitled, “REACH.” And a new SHAPES recording featuring vibraphonist/pianist/composer
Roger Burn, Dave Derge on drums, Andy Suzuki on woodwinds, Mike
Higgins on guitar, Edwin Livingston on bass, along with featured
guests, Mike Stern on guitar, Bela Fleck on banjo and Russell
Ferrante on piano.
am in pre-production stage with two other projects now, a new
Marilyn Scott project with arranger/pianist Russell Ferrante,
and a new project by German composer Michael Schmidt/TRANSIT that
I will co-produce with pianist/keyboardist Mitchell Forman.
have several more projects on my desk for future productions now
totaling 7 more interesting projects that I will be working on
over the next year, and I am also doing session for several other
projects including an interesting, large ensemble project by Atlanta
based pianist/composer/arranger Randy Hoexter.
last but not least, I have released my third solo project which
features co-producer, pianist, keyboardist, arranger, engineer
Joe Vannelli entitled, “NIGHTFALL.” It is now available on iTunes
along with my first solo recording “ARC.” And we will soon re-release
my second solo recording (which was out of print), “RED HEAT”
also co-produced by Joe Vannelli.
~ ~ ~
want to thank Jimmy Haslip for being so incredibly generous and
considerate. I hope to have the pleasure of meeting him again,
and perhaps working on another effort in future.
you would like to hear some amazing music, or see some live music
performed by incredibly talented musicians, you might want to
check these links out…
Haslip web site
music… solo work, Yellowjackets, Renegade Creation, and other
material… can be found at iTunes for digital download, as well
as through several
retailers. I recommend picking up the original
Yellowjackets as a starter, but you simply can’t go wrong. Timeline
would be another outstanding choice.
The photos of Jimmy Haslip
shown here were provided by Jimmy. All rights belong to him,
and they cannot be used without his permission.