For some, the name Haslip is synonymous with Yellowjackets. But, for many, master bassist Haslip is a musical wonder in all phases of production, with an appetite for diversion.
Stepping out of a recording session at ten o’clock in the morning to do this interview, Haslip mentions he has been at work for three hours already, and needed a little break. He’s currently mastering a second recording for the group Shapes.
(Sleep? What is sleep? Working late into the night-getting started early in the morning, sleep seems to be those elusive hours for such an accomplished star.)
JazzReview: I have a recording of Shapes, called The Last Farewell. It’s an exciting array of talent expressed through a wide venue of tunes and tones, including a wild harmonica number performed by Tollak Ollestad.
Jimmy Haslip: That’s the first one. I produced that. And, this one I’m working on is tentatively called The Big Picture.
JazzReview: Will that be similar to the first one, or do you plan to do a wide swing from the first one?
Jimmy Haslip: This will be similar to the first one yeah.
JazzReview: Since we are already talking about this album, let’s continue from here. This album has some great guitar solo spots and some intricate piano rolls. I also hear a great harmonica piece on The Last Farewell.
Jimmy Haslip: That is Tollak Ollestad. He’s on this record, too. He’s a very popular musician out here, in Los Angeles.
JazzReview: He’s really fantastic, bringing out a wide range of sounds. Could you tell me about Shapes, the group?
Jimmy Haslip: Yes, the group is lead by a very, very talented composer who plays piano and vibraphone, named Roger Burn. Roger contracted me to produce the last group. His concept was actually a septet, a seven piece group with a string bass player; a drummer, a guy who plays electric and acoustic guitars; a gentleman by the name of Andy Suzuki, who plays all the wood winds, a lot of coronets. Then, there’s flutes and Tollak on harmonica. Roger’s on keyboard.
JazzReview: The Last Farewell featured a sextet. On this album, they added a trombone player, Mike Fahn.
It’s a very interesting group. They’ve been playing around the LA area for the last four or five years. They’re not signed to a label. They’re doing this as a totally independent group. Quite an interesting batch of fellows and they are all really great musicians.
The Last Farewell was actually picked in the top ten CDs for the year-I think it was 2002.
JazzReview: Please tell me about the young man who plays the 11-string guitar.
Jimmy Haslip: Ahh, yes. That is Matthew Von Doran, who has a record out now called In The Present Moment. He’s an incredible musician. It is very unusual for someone to play the 11-string guitar. He also plays the six string electric and acoustic guitar. It’s a wonderful sounding guitar.
Matthew’s from southern California, as well. I met him because he’s actually a fan of Shapes. When I met him, he hired me to produce his first album: In The Present Moment. It’s doing very well-getting great reviews.
When I first met Matthew, I sat down and listened to his music and really enjoyed his compositions. I knew I could make a nice record for him. I hired some really wonderful musicians here, in LA: Peter Erskine, Terri Lyne Carrington, Gary Novak on drums. I also got Larry Goldings, a master organist, to come in and play on some stuff.
Also, we got this really wonderful upright player, Darek Oles.
JazzReview: I’ve listened to this album several times. It is very enjoyable. Looks like Von Doran has a good future. His music is easy listening, introspective and provocative.
Jimmy Haslip: Well, thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed the music. He’s also doing an independent thing. That seems to be the trend right now because most of the large record labels aren’t interested in promoting jazz right now.
Jimmy Haslip: Yes. They have jazz artists. But, they don’t have strong support for that genre of music. They basically are supporting music they have on their roster-that has been proven to have good sales. Miles Davis is still active at Sony. There just isn’t a lot of promotion.
JazzReview: I’ve noticed much of the jazz promotion is to jazz lovers-it’s like staying within the circle of people already familiar and already loving the music. To reach outside that circle, it takes music people can relate to-something familiar to bring them into the jazz circle.
Jimmy Haslip: Well, yeah, thankfully for the Internet. It has actually been helping things out. At this time, it’s a growing avenue for people like Matthew Von Doran and Shapes to get out there and promote their own projects. They reach a vast amount of people that way.
JazzReview: Let’s talk about you and your own album: Jing Chi-3D. The name--Jing Chi, does it have a meaning?
Jimmy Haslip: Yes, Jing Chi is Chinese for Life Force-the Vital Energy. That’s our third record.
JazzReview: I guess the musicians on this CD are no longer sidemen. After the second time-- these guys are now called your band, right?
Jimmy Haslip: [chuckle] Right. They are a band. Robben Ford on guitar. Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. I’m playing bass and I’m the house producer.
JazzReview: You have a link for pre-sales on your web site. This CD is already sold out at that site! You have people beating down the door to get a copy.
What is the heart and soul of this series of CDs? It is driving your fans into a frenzy.
The name Jing Chi is certainly appropriate because that’s a very strong recording. The first track, Colonel Panic is a courageous beginning.
Jimmy Haslip: That’s a chance we took. But, we actually wrote that song in the studio-Vinnie and me. It has a lot of energy. It’s the only composition on this CD that the three of us collaborated on. We thought it appropriate to start the record with it.
We were actually solicited to do a project for Mike Varney, at Shrapnel records, an independent label in Novato, California. Shrapnel is the mother label, with two subsidiary labels: Com Center-the label Jing Chi is on, plus another label which does mostly heavy metal type music. Com Center wired us to do a trio recording with these musicians and I took the concept a little further. I was into the trio concept. We were all inspired by groups like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
JazzReview: It’s easy to hear the Hendrix influence on the CD.
Jimmy Haslip: We’re huge Hendrix fans. Also, there are elements of Frank Zappa and Mothers of Invention; and Miles Davis, plus Led Zeppelin. These are the types of music influencing the Jing Chi band. All three of us are around the same age, so we grew up listening to these bands.
Our objective was to create some music that was inspired by these groups of musicians but, to modernize the concept by using synthesizers and sequencers and modern technology. We brought in a couple of sound designers-a guy named Steve Tavaglione. And, on Jing Chi-3D there is also a sound designer named Judd Miller, plus Eno. Are you familiar with Eno? He’s a very interesting instrumentalist who wrote music for a synthesizer in the 70s and 80s. In fact, one of my favorite pieces of music he put out [is] called Music for Airports.
It’s a great music that’s very atmospheric and sound-design wise. I’m combining those kinds of textures with a sort of raw, jam band, kind of blues-based trio concept-like the Hendrix Experience.
JazzReview: On track number 7, Blues Alley, the guitarist really keeps the notes afloat. It takes a special talent to string out a note that way. It’s something you would expect from Larry Carlton’s wonderful expertise on the strings.
Jimmy Haslip: We’re going to have all kinds of great things in that album. And, of course, Larry Carlton is a great guitar player. We actually all know Larry very well and have all played with him. All these things enter into the equation.
JazzReview: It’s interesting how people influence each other when they’re creating music. It’s more than technique. It’s emotion.
Jimmy Haslip: It is like that in other artistic creative development, as well-art, film, and writing.
JazzReview: We all have our musical heroes. For many upcoming young musicians, you are the hero. You’re an icon.
When a lot of people hear Haslip, they think it’s synonymous with Yellowjackets.
Jimmy Haslip: Of course. [chuckling] They’re a group that I love and that I’ve been writing, arranging and producing records with since 1978. We are now getting ready to produce our 18th CD. Out of the 17 CDs we’ve produced, we’ve been nominated 12 times for a Grammy and we’ve won a couple of Grammies. So it’s a very inspiring group of fellows and it’s a creative environment being in the Yellowjackets. I’m very grateful and am humbly thankful for having the opportunity to be in a band like that. It allowed me to develop a lot of other skills. Along with being a better musician, it also helped me establish myself as a producer-and a composer.
JazzReview: Do you have a name for the new project with the Yellowjackets?
Jimmy Haslip: We’re working on that right now.
JazzReview: You also have a solo project coming up.
Jimmy Haslip: Yes. I’m just finishing up some compositions for that. I’m hoping to start that project this summer, as well. The Yellowjackets recording will begin the first week in August. Shortly thereafter, I’ll be starting my solo project. It’s my third solo record.
JazzReview: How did you make the transition from performing, being produced by someone else, into the position of being the producer?
Jimmy Haslip: I’ve been producing for at least 10 years now. I signed with the Yellowjackets and Dave Love about 2 ½ years ago. So I was already producing. I just finished working with Nestor Torres, producing two songs on his CD.
JazzReview: Oh yes. I reviewed that CD, Without Words [English translation]. It’s fabulous. It stays in your head after you’ve turned the stereo off.
Jimmy Haslip: Sweet Lips is one of the songs I produced.
JazzReview: The entire CD is sensual, yet full of life, as is all the work Jimmy Haslip creates.
Haslip’s enthusiasm is reflected through the talented artists he assembles, through the music he plays and the artistic productions he creates. No wonder this man is a legend in his own time.
The Yellowjackets are celebrating their 21st year together.
Music fans all over the world are celebrating legendary bassist Jimmy Haslip, as they enjoy his sounds, whether in a group or on his own.