Yellowjackets Biography

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Over four decades, the Yellowjackets have achieved a formidable reputation for their live performances and critical and commercial success with their recordings of electric pop jazz. The members of the band are accomplished musicians in their own right and perhaps this accounts for the Yellowjackets’ two Grammys and six nominations. The formative line-up was assembled in 1977 by Robben Ford (Robben Lee Ford, 16 December 1951, Woodlake, California, USA; guitar) to help record his The Inside Story. Joining Ford in the embryonic Yellowjackets were Russell Ferrante (keyboards), Ricky Lawson (drums) and Jimmy Haslip (b. James Robert Haslip, 31 December 1951, New York City, New York, USA; bass).

The Yellowjackets self-titled 1981 debut featured Ferrante, Haslip, Lawson and Ford, with musical assistance from Bobby Lyle (piano) and Lenny Castro (percussion) among others. By the time of 1983’s Mirage À Trois, Ford’s presence was declining. Saxophonist Marc Russo featured prominently on Samurai Samba (1985) and Shades in 1986 rewarded the band’s steady touring with a Grammy and six-figure sales. Drummer William Kennedy was the next addition to the line-up and this prompted the band to explore some new territory on Four Corners. The relaxed Politics (1988) was another Grammy winner and hinted at the Yellowjackets’ future direction. Their next project, The Spin was recorded in Oslo, Norway with well-known engineer, Jan Erik Kongshaug, and was a more acoustic, resolutely jazz album.

The Yellowjackets’ debut for GRP Records, Greenhouse, featured saxophonist Bob Mintzer (b. 27 January 1953, New Rochelle, Westchester, New York, USA), replacing Russo who had departed to work with Kenny Loggins. Live Wires, their 1992 release, successfully demonstrated the multifaceted approach the Yellowjackets like to adopt. Indeed, the simplicity of the band’s sound belies the diversity of their influences: ‘We spend hours experimenting, studying and listening to music from all over the world. You can’t be afraid to take chances. That’s what it takes to continue to grow!’. The Ferrante/Haslip/Kennedy/ Mintzer line-up continued with GRP throughout the decade, releasing a series of well-received and musically adventurous albums. Club Nocturne was something of a departure from their traditional sound, featuring vocal contributions from Kurt Elling, Brenda Russell and Jonathan Butler. Kennedy departed in 1999 to become more involved in gospel music. He was briefly replaced by Peter Erskine. Ferrante, Haslip and Mintzer were joined by new drummer Marcus Baylor on 2001’s Mint Jam.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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