If you ever wondered where the name Yellow Jackets originated from, you would have to go back to the year 1977, when Robben Ford assembled a group of veteran session musicians to record his album. The trio of musicians included keyboardist Russell Ferrante, bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Ricky Lawson. Being a mainly instrumental group, Robben Ford’s record label wanted him to record another album that was more pop and vocal-oriented. The group, known as the Robben Ford Group, preferred to pursue the instrumental route, and a "band within a band" was formed. This same group, with Robben Ford on guitar, recorded digital demos that were eventually accepted by Warner Brothers. After reviewing a sheet full of possible names, the one that popped out was Yellow Jackets, as it seemed to connotate something lively, energetic and something with a sting. Thus, the Yellow Jackets were born.
The Yellow Jackets album, Life Cycle, with Mike Stern on guitar, actually happened last year in Montreal where Mike Stern invited the Yellow Jackets to perform together at the 2007 Montreal Jazz fest. The chemistry was as great there, as it is on the album recordings highlighting the magnificent of five musicians.
The phenomenon captures an energetic opener "Fallens Maze," through the rhythmically intricate "Yahoo," ten amazing tracks, seven that feature Mike Stern and three flawless tracks showcasing the Yellow Jackets. That brings me to one particular tracks on Life Cycle, "3 Circles," where each member has a solo that expresses an effortless yet remarkable jazz expression from saxophonist, Bob Mintzer, drummer Marcus Baylor and bassist, Jimmy Haslip. I had the opportunity to interview Drummer, Marcus Baylor, while the Yellow Jackets are on tour in Europe.
Marcus Baylor, has been playing with the Yellow Jackets since 2000. His first recording with them was recorded live at the Mint in California, and entitled Mint Jam.
JazzReview: Life Cycle, this is an excellent collaboration or should I say explosion with Mike Stern. The sound was energetic and brilliant. Is this what happens when talented musicians merge?
Marcus Baylor: It was a blessing and a pleasure to record with Mike! He’s an explosive and energetic musician . Merging both of our sounds together created something special which I hope our old and new listeners will enjoy.
JazzReview: What was it like playing with Mike Stern ? Is there a certain flexibility you need to work in a band?
Marcus Baylor: Playing with Mike is a blast and a lot of fun! Musically it’s always important to be flexible to be able to try different things. The more we play together chemistry is created which we feel has happened from this recording.
JazzReview: Is there one particular song , you favor over others on this album? I like them all but " Double nickel and " Yahoo" stand out.
Marcus Baylor:" Double Nickel and "Yahoo" are two great tunes. I enjoyed playing " "Country Living" which has a nice groove and is very expressive. I really enjoy the different gears we switch between musically, from " I wonder" to " Claire’s Closet". This record offers a little bit of everything from classical, rock, to jazz.
JazzReview: What is your approach to composing for the Yellow Jackets ? Do you know what projects you have in mind before hand?
Marcus Baylor: My approach to composing music comes in various ways. Sometimes I might hear a groove in my head or I might sit down on the drums or piano first. Then that translates into recording an idea in my home studio. After completing that part of the process I take it to the guys to check out and we jam on it. The guys will have ideas to add other elements or "jacketize" the composition. That’s an expression we use after we make changes or alter the composition.
Once the composition is up and running we will record it. It sounds one way when you initially compose the tune but by the time it’s " jacketized" it takes on the Jackets sound!
JazzReview:How did you get involved with playing for the Yellow Jackets?
Marcus Baylor: In December 1999, my life was rededicated at church back to the Lord. One of the messages that was spoken to me by the minister was that "God was going to bless me like never before." After that day, I really didn’t think about it, but was growing in my relationship with God.
One day, January 2000, I was fasting along with my church in St. Louis and had just come from jamming at Kenny Garrett’s house. I remember checking my home answering machine. There were a few messages from the guys and their management to make some gigs. Wow! I never met the guys or saw the band live in person. I always liked the Yellow Jackets. After speaking with Russ, he sent out a tape and sheet music to learn for upcoming gigs.
My first gig was at Berklee School of Music, which was proceeded by a few days at Sculler's jazz club in Boston. I found out later that I was recommended by a Yamaha drums rep when Bob asked him did he know any drummers.
One thing I have to say is to always pray to be prepared when the opportunity comes. From that day, it’s been a blast playing with the band, and God’s word always comes true.
JazzReview: Who were your influences as a musician, and more specifically, on the drums?
Marcus Baylor: I grew up listening to a gospel group named the Commissioned and the drummer Michael Williams. The Winans and their touring drummer was Dana Davis. Those two groups had the biggest influence on me.
JazzReview: Lately, what music periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener?
Marcus Baylor: I listen to a lot of gospel music like Tye Tribbet & GA. There is an incredible record called Stand Out, Israel & New Breed Live in South Africa, CeCe Winans, Commissioned, and the Winans ' Light Years.
JazzReview: What’s in the future for the Yellow Jackets? What can we expect?
Marcus Baylor: We have upcoming Yellow Jackets tour dates and selected dates with Mike Stern. We want to keep growing as people and musicians, and spread the gift of music. We look forward and hope to play a city near you!
JazzReview: Life Cycles is one of those albums that makes you enjoy the various roads that music takes you on. It’s 10 tracks of musical expression with superb performances.