We’re so used to thinking of our fingers moving towards the floor when we play an ascending bass part that it comes as something of a shock to see the unique former Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip in action. Not only does he play a left-handed bass, he strings it upside-down, in other words his low B string is physically lower than his high C. Add to this his phenomenal ability when it comes to fast soloing, and your brain ends up tied in knots.
Fortunately we have the great Grammy-winning bassist right here, 69 years old and full of energy, ready to talk about his unorthodox technique, some of the many albums on which it appears, and his memories of taking bass lessons 46 years ago with a certain J. Pastorius...
Have you done much recording from home in the pandemic, Jimmy?
I have two studios that are a stone’s throw away from my home here in Venice Beach. For that reason I’ve dragged my feet about getting a home studio set up, but in February 2020 it started looking a bit crazy with the virus, so I realized that I needed to get some gear together to allow me to work from home. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with it. I don’t profess to be a very good engineer, but I can actually sit here and record electric bass, and even some keyboards, so I’m happy.
What is your go-to bass gear these days?
Aside from the Roscoe basses that I’ve been using for some years, I also have a bunch of old Tobias basses and some newer MTDs. I’ve been in touch with [luthier] Mike Tobias for a long, long time and I absolutely love his instruments. I feel connected to them, just as I do with Keith Roscoe’s basses. I met a luthier in Japan named Hirotaka Kiuchi who has a boutique company called Inner Wood, and I hooked up with him. I introduced him to Keith Roscoe’s company, and he ended up being the rep in Japan for them. We became friends, and he built me three beautiful instruments. They’re pretty straightahead: Offthe top of my head I would just describe them as souped-up Fender basses with great-quality sounds. You plug one of those into a direct box in the studio for a session and engineers and very comfortable with it.
Tell us about the reissues of your albums Red Heat and Nightfall.
I was originally signed to a small label named Unitone, and I did the original version of Red Heat for them in the early Nineties. I did that record with [pianist] Joe Vannelli, having already worked with him on a variety of projects. At the time, my father wasn’t well, and he had always wanted the Yellowjackets to do a Latin-influenced album, which—as I told him—would be difficult because the band was a consortium of four musicians, and I wasn’t comfortable pushing a certain genre of music on the band. When he took ill, I thought it would be a good idea to do a project of music that was influenced by my Latin roots, which are not especially deep, because I grew up in Long Island.
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