Their debut album Yellowjackets made serious waves in jazz radio, garnering public and critical acclaim. Mirage A Trois followed in its footsteps. While they went on a brief hiatus to pursue other projects, they reassembled in time for the 1984 Playboy Jazz Festival, adding percussionist Paulinho Da Costa and their new lead voice, sax man Marc Russo. This landmark concert paved the way for their eventual success both on the Billboard Jazz charts and concert venues around the world, and resulted in the third spicy Yellowjackets album Samurai Samba. 1986 saw the group moving over to MCA Records to record Shades, the title track being written by Donald Fagen (of Steely Dan fame) as a tribute to the many “shades” he heard in the group’s music.
With their album Four Corners, Ricky Lawson departed to join Lionel Richie’s touring band and was replaced by the versatile William Kennedy. This rock-solid lineup took the Yellowjackets into new territory, exploring world beats and densely-populated soundscapes that reflected a growing maturity in their music. CloudjacketsPolitics, the follow-up to Four Corners, mellows out, and the group sheds some of the electronic elements and starts exploring acoustic sounds. Marc Russo’s final recording with Yellowjackets, The Spin, was recorded in Oslo, Norway by noted engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug (well known for his work on the ECM label), and the Jackets proved that they could belt out acoustic jazz with the best!
Greenhouse ushered in a new era. With Marc gone, the Yellowjackets trio would record one of their most adventurous albums to date, featuring ace big band arranger and saxophonist Bob Mintzer on many of the tracks, and string accompaniments on a handful of others. Shortly thereafter, Bob Mintzer became a bona fide member of Yellowjackets. The Jackets also recorded on one of Bob Mintzer’s dmp Records projects, One Music. Live Wires captures the group in concert with Mintzer at the helm. The two albums that followed, Like A River and Run For Your Life, reflected a growing interest in straight-ahead acoustic jazz.
With 1995’s Dreamland, Yellowjackets returned to their first record label, Warner Brothers, producing their most relaxed, and relaxing, recording to date. Blue Hats is more spontaneous than its predecessors, musically rich and particularly revealing in showing how Yellowjackets have evolved since that landmark first album. Club Nocturne, their latest studio recording, achieves great crossover appeal with the guest vocalists Kurt Elling, Jonathan Butler and Brenda Russell. And while the Yellowjackets of today sound little like the original Yellowjackets from fifteen-plus years ago at first listen, the unmistakable talents of the individuals involved still have the unique signatures that shine through regardless of their musical setting, whether it be blistering-hot fusion or full-blown acoustic jazz. In other words, their music has evolved and matured considerably, but there’s no mistaking that it is Yellowjackets you are hearing.
At the beginning of 1999, William Kennedy departed Yellowjackets to pursue other interests, and Peter Erskine joined the group for the balance of the year. Peter had played with Bob Mintzer on some of his big-band and small group recordings, so it was a natural that he would become one of the Yellowjackets. Unfortunately, Erskine’s busy schedule would conflict with the band’s, and he would depart by year’s end without ever having recorded an album with the group.
In early 2000, the Yellowjackets were once again a trio, with Russell, Jimmy and Bob using different drummers as they continue touring throughout the year. Two of the fine drummers they’ve hooked up with were Marcus Baylor and Terri Lynn Carrington. For 2000, the band also saw a change in management, and Jimmy’s long-awaited (and long-delayed) solo recording, Red Heat, was released later in the summer.
In 2001, the band self-released the pivotal live “Mint Jam” recording, with Marcus Baylor now essentially the band’s full-time drummer. Since that time, the Jackets signed a deal with the HeadsUp International label, and have since released “Time Squared”, the holiday release “Peace Round” and, most recently, “Altered State”.
Today the prolific group is comprised of Russell Ferrante on keyboard, Bob Mintzer on sax, Felix Pastorius on bass and William Kennedy on drums.