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Bassist Jimmy Haslip – Why Is Music Important (The Panel Experiment) by Brent-Anthony Johnson



Bassist Jimmy Haslip - Why Is Music Important

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Jimmy Haslip, and I am a musician/bassist/producer/composer.

Who are your primary musical influences?

All music, R&B, Rock, Funk, Jazz, Classical, pop, ethnic music, folk music, Jaco Pastorius, Ron Carter, Weather Report, Jimi Hendrix, Bartok, Sly Stone, Mstislav Rostopovich, Salif Keita, Antonio Carlos, Jobim, Issac Delgado, Joni Mitchell, Led Zepplin

What are you listening to musically, in  the past 12 months that has enhanced the way you think about music and your craft?

Lots of Sly Stone! Also, Allan Holdsworth [especially a song called “City Nights”], a ton of Tower of Power songs, and John Coltrane [especially two recordings; “Sun Ship” and “A Love Supreme”].

How does your personal musical voice directly relate to the function of the basses?  Also, what are your main instruments?

My main instrument is bass . . .  My main instruments for composing are keyboards and guitar. I’ve had a connection with the electric bass since I was in the 7th grade [13 years old] and I am now 62 years old. I’ve spent thousands of hours practicing and playing the instrument.

It has become my innermost mode of expression and a direct link of expressing myself within the language of music. A language that has several different levels of expression through sound, emotional, undefined and indescribable senses coupled with the physical reactions to sound. This is a deeper level in expressive connection between the individual and his instrument that I strive for and experience. In Basketball… it’s called being in the zone. Being ‘In The Zone’ can be described as a state-of-mind allowing your brain/body to run on instinct, unencumbered by distractions.

Describe  your  musical composition  process.

This is a tough question, as I am a self-taught composer…

But, for me, and how I go about writing music… which is not totally a process, really! I’m mainly focused on always trying to find just a small “seed” [an idea, a short phrase, a beat or groove, a progression, bass line, melody] if possible to be inspired by.

Along with my feeble technique, playing keyboards is usually where I start searching for an idea, and 5-out-of 10 times, I may start with a progression or a groove that I heard and liked.  This all becomes more of a harmony lesson, at first, and then it blossoms into actual writing from what I have taught myself in that moment. It boils down to a progression, a bass line, a melody, a groove, or even a sound or a chord that inspires me and will ignite some creative input that will trigger an idea, eventually and hopefully becoming a song.

Of course, this isn’t always 100% failsafe! I have crashed and burned many more times, probably, than I’ve been successful at coming up with something that was a bona fide piece of music. I do have some serious work ethics that come into play and I raise the bar very high with any ideas or seeds that I would or might feel comfortable with, especially in a collaborative situation.

Bottom line: I don’t put a lot of restrictions on myself when writing unless it’s writing for a specific artist, group or genre. The door is wide open and I just try to write something that moves me emotionally… even if it’s just an 8 bar phrase.

How does music affect your culture and immediate environment?

Music is a huge part of my life and it’s around me all the time! It’s healing, it’s celebration, and it’s truly a gift on a daily basis and helps me through all kinds of situations. I am sure it’s the same for most people. I only wish all people in the world were into music like this and cherished it like a mantra, a prayer, a sermon or a soul searching relaxing sanctuary. This world would probably not be as violent a place as it is now.

What would you be, if not a professional musician?

That’s difficult to say…! Music is my life and has been as a professional since 1969/1970. I would be hard pressed to change my focus onto another vocation at this point in time. I do have some cool hobbies that may point to another career. But, I would need to study and prepare in a big way to justify my changing anything at this point.

I have already recently re-directed my career from being a musician primarily, to focusing more so on producing, coordination, contracting and consulting. In the last three years I have produced 23 projects and I am currently producing and in pre-production for another 5 projects coming up in 2014.

What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve ever made while in the practice of being a musician, and how did that sacrifice affect you?

I can’t say that I have sacrificed much… But, as I look back, I would consider the fact that I left my home town at an early age and missed a lot of quality time with my immediate family – including not being around when both of my parents passed away. This may haunt me for the rest of my life. Yet, I know they completely understood my motivation to succeed in the music business and supported just about everything I did to achieve as much as I possibly could… including always being there in support my marriage and my family.

I would say that there was definitely sacrifice for me, there. Otherwise, my life has been good and I have continued with moving my career in a forward motion since I became a professional musician. It’s been quite an adventure and the adventure continues to unfold here in 2014 and I am still in close contact with my older brother, Gabriel Haslip-Viera and some of my cousins and close friends still living in NYC. 

Describe your standing practice regimen.  Also, what technical (and musical) aspects of your playing are you currently working on?

Honestly, I am always motivated to practice a wide variety of musical things. Mostly though, I am constantly working on keeping my chops in high gear and I spend a good amount of time working on scales and hand strength. I am most interested in working on improvisational skill and, as I am not a schooled bebop player, I recently started to work on that genre of music.

When I studied with Jaco Pastorius for a short period of time in 1976, He suggested I learn more about playing Bebop as it would definitely open my ears to more advanced harmonic sensibility. He was right about that. I have lately been trying to focus more on bebop improvisation and melody.

My roots are rock and R&B and, being basically self taught, I spent a lot time focusing on those genres of music and listening to everything from Jimi Hendrix [thank you, Billy Cox and Noel Redding], Allman Brothers [thank you Berry Oakley], and anything from Motown that I could get my hands on [thank you James Jamerson Sr., Bob Babbitt, Carol Kaye, and Clarence Isabel]. I also listen to Led Zepplin [thank you John Paul Jones], Yes [thank you Chris Squire], Jethro Tull [thank you Glen Cornick], the Band [thank you Rick Danko], Sly and the Family Stone [thank you Larry Graham], The Beatles [thank you Paul McCartney] and many others. I eventually focused on early fusion music like Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters [thank you Paul Jackson], Weather Report [thank you Miroslav Vitous, Alphonso Johnson, and  Jaco Pastorius] and Brecker Brothers [thank you Will Lee]! I have also been influence by Ron Carter, Charlie Haden, Jimmy Garrison, Scott LaFaro, Paul Chambers, Stanley Clarke, Cecil McBee, Dave Holland and about 100 other acoustic bassists!

So the practice regime is vast and grows everyday. There are so many things to work on and learn and it’s a constant inspiration for me. I also have to be honest in saying, some mornings I wake up and I have so many things I want to practice, that I get confused as to where to start. So I try to just listen to music or look at beautiful paintings to clear the palette… That allows me to re focus on just on thing at a time.

Jimmy Haslip - Modern Improvisation for BassBy the way, please check out my latest book by Alfred Music, “Modern Improvisation for Bass”, you will see that I go in a lot of directions all at the time in practice session!

This also helps me to, hopefully, find new ideas, forward motivation and creative energy… all in the name of being a better player. 

What does music, and being a musician, mean to you – at the deepest  level of your being?

My thoughts and belief is that it’s a gift to be a musician, and to be in a position to entertain multitudes of people over time! Music opens the door for many emotionally jam-packed possibilities for the listener like solace, joy, sanctuary, excitement; a release from sorrow, or a new experience that takes people to another reality, even a new environment… freedom from any stressful situations; a meeting place for a new friendship, even a place that creates a new vision for someone that focuses on their future. Music can be all these things and more!

I know this because I have experienced this myself when listening, as an audience member, of a live concert… or, in headphones, listening to a newly released recording. I also know this from speaking to and connecting with audience member/listeners and connecting personally after a concert that I participated in as a musician.

For me, it boils down to it all being a gift that I will never take for granted and always respect on the highest level. It’s a gift on the deepest level of understanding, and I will always appreciate it for the rest of my life.

How important  is it to understand  the Language of music?

In order to be a well-rounded musician, I personally think the knowledge of the language of music is a big plus!  I also think there are many examples of incredible musicians, through history of music, who had no training or knowledge of the technical aspects of music. Yet they became masterful musicians on their own! To be a great musician, it may be important to study in a school, learning all that there is about music harmony and the intricacies of the infinite options concerning music and it’s language. But, I also think it takes fortitude, sacrifice, passion, vision, good instinctual intention, practice/rehearsing and strong self-motivation to bring success on some level, once the decision is made to pursue music as a career. If you add technical study to that, I think it can help in many ways! But it’s still not a guarantee!

You would also need to add these attributes: fate, luck, chemistry, intelligence, talent and confidence. Then I think there’s a good shot to reach a level of success as a professional musician.

So, the Language of music is just one aspect of importance that may have a positive effect towards a future of being a professional musician.

How do you collect the series of seemingly random influences and articulate them through music?

In my opinion, influences should come from all sorts of places! Influences bring visions and ideas that push a variety of buttons that trigger emotions and feelings from within, and light the creative candle within you. My favorite random influence is going to an art museum… actually any museum will work. The environment in a museum is full of surprises and it has so many amazing visuals that consist of colors, shapes, imagery and textures. It certainly ends-up pushing a multitude of buttons in my mind and starts a lot of creative fires within me.

Once I’ve experienced something like that, I can’t help but try to express that creativity through sound! It also opens a lot of doors on a deeper emotional level, then and all I need to do is channel that energy into my instrument in the studio, or on a stage, and/or keyboard while composing. Everyone has triggers and all you need to do is find out what those triggers are for you.

Once you have a key in that door, it’s simple to connect to the music and the musicians around you! I even find that I can mentally re-create those feelings by envisioning past experiences, or an emotional situation (like creating a film in my mind, I am in that place).

Creating music from a random influence, a random thought.

Can music ever truly become commercial?  Why, or why not?

It depends on the definition of commercial. In my world, I have been involved with music since the 60’s and commercial was a completely different animal compared to what is considered commercial today! To be honest, I think my vision of commercial music is more open-minded and has a lot more variety than what commercial music is now, and how it’s categorized in today’s music scene.

Here are several definitions of commercial music:

  1. A typically indie or alternative-rock song that has a good beat and/or catchy lyrics, making it likely to be used in a television commercial.
  2. Having profit as the main aim.
  3. Of or relating to commerce: Involved in work that is intended for the mass market: a commercial artist.
  4. Of, relating to, or being goods, often unrefined, produced and distributed in large quantities for use by industry.
  5. Music having profit as a chief aim: commercial music, not a scholarly tome.
  6. Music Sponsored by an advertiser or supported by advertising and commercial television.
  7. Music for a paid advertisement on television or radio.

Considering the definitions above, and what I envision as being commercial, it all boils down to any music that would have money behind it by a recording company, private investors or the and/or the artists themselves. Or, perhaps, having serious support by critics, the press, radio and fans around the world. Or, if its used in television commercials, movies and videos… or, if it has generated large quantities of revenue.

This would all put the music at hand in the category of being a commercial success and therefore I would consider that to be commercially accepted music. Then again, one really good example of high quality music being commercial would be, The Beatles. (laughs)

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