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Yellowjackets: Looking Back and Moving Forward

Yellowjackets
Yellowjackets (L to R: Jimmy Haslip, Russell Ferrante, Robben Ford and Ricky Lawson)
Russell Ferrante of Yellowjackets
Marcus Baylor of Yellowjackets
Robben Ford of Yellowjackets
Jimmy Haslip of Yellowjackets

It was 25 years ago this summer that I happened to catch Yellowjackets playing in New York at Seventh Avenue South, a popular nightclub owned by the Brecker Brothers that served as a downtown haven for a bevy of kindred young musicians immersed in the business of melding jazz and funk.

Guitarist Robben Ford, whom the band had essentially been built around, was on stage killing it with stinging, bent-string abandon on the gospel-tinged “Imperial Strut” while keyboardist-composer Russell Ferrante feverishly worked his Fender Rhodes, Detroit drummer Ricky Lawson laid it down with solid, in-the-pocket authority and bassist Jimmy Haslip bore down on his Yamaha electric four-string ax, occasionally reaching over to punctuate the groove with a well-placed thumb-slap statement. I distinctly recall Haslip wearing bell-bottoms on that early Jackets gig while sporting Mork-like suspenders, long black hair and a bushy, black Tony Orlando-style mustache. Hell, I may have been wearing bell-bottoms myself. It was standard issue for the times.

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