OVER a decade on from their last visit to these shores, it is a revitalised Yellowjackets who will appear at Eden Court this weekend.
With a Grammy Award winning career that stretches back over 30 years, the veteran band has been given a fresh boost thanks to the addition of bassist Felix Pastorius, the son of Weather Report bass player Jaco.
Pastorius steps in to replace original bassist Jimmy Haslip and joins drummer Will Kennedy, founding keyboardist Russell Ferrante and special guest saxophonist Bob Franceschini which has chalked up two Grammy Awards and many more nominations over its 32-year history.
"It’s been quite a joyous experience, adding Felix to the band," Kennedy said.
"Jimmy left a big footprint and Felix has expressed a number of times that these are big shoes to fill, but he is a great musician and a great personality and he is fitting into the group nicely.
"It was a challenge for us, once we found out that Jimmy was going to move on from the band, to identify where we would go from there — it was a bit scary, actually. But once we found Felix, it was just like a breath of fresh air. He’s a great addition to the band. He loves the music and he’s brought a fresh feel to a lot of the old songs. It’s been a thrilling ride for both the original band members and Felix."
However, over the years, the Yellowjackets have become used to absorbing new members and new influences, even including bagpipes on one of their albums.
"One of the fortunate things for Yellowjackets is the opportunity to travel the world and experience different cultures and different musicians," Kennedy said.
"That is all good seed for us and a great inspiration for us to incorporate into our sound and music. Sometimes people would love to have a category for our type of music. It is based on jazz, but it is difficult for any artist to put a label on their music. The fun one we have come up with lately is ‘Good Music’!
"You’ll hear American jazz, African music, some Latin music. We are inspired and influenced by it all and we love bringing that under the umbrella of Yellowjackets."
After 33 year in the business, Kennedy still sees it as blessing to be able to go out and make music, but his own musical education started young, growing up in a home in Oakland, California, with a father who had an extensive collection of great jazz records. Kennedy’s older brother Hershall also became a professional musician, most notably with San Francisco R & B band Graham Central Station.
"I had my father’s great jazz record collection and my brother helping me along with exposure to funk and rock and roll — I had the best seat in the house," Kennedy chuckled.
"That experience really helped me along as I discovered my gifts as a drummer because I had such a broad background.
"I started fooling around the drums when I was four or five years old. It was just a game I did with my brother and I didn’t discover it could be a career until I was 13 years old. It just hit me in a discussion one time — wait a minute! I could make a living?"
Grateful that he is that he has made music his career, for Kennedy the biggest drive is not money, but the fun and the thrill of being able to walk onto a stage and take an audience on a musical journey.
"Jazz is a disease," he laughed.
"Once you hear it, it grabs your heart if you are open and takes you someplace. Music is a very emotional and spiritual experience and because we are all human and breathing, we are all affected by it. So jazz is everywhere, as well as rock and funk and so on, but I guess Yellowjackets are best known as a jazz band — we are soldiers of the music."
However, Kennedy has had his own decade long hiatus from the band, which he joined in the mid-1980s at the age of 26. After a dozen years, he decided to do his own thing for a spell, producing solo albums, touring and recording with stars such as Chaka Kahn and Mick Jagger and worked in television as house drummer for shows hosted by comedians Wayne Brady and Martin Short.
"That was also the time when my son was born, so it was a great time to be off the road," he said.
He was also a member of the house band for the Grammy Awards, which Kennedy says was a wonderful opportunity to perform alongside anyone from some of music’s most established names to new talent.
However, three years ago he was delighted to "put my Yellowjacket back on" and rejoin the band and is now looking forward to reconnecting with the band’s Scottish fans.
"It’s been too long," he said.
"There are a lot of fresh ears out there that need to hear the latest version of Yellowjackets and we hope everyone is encouraged to come out and join us. We promise to give it our 200 per cent commitment to giving them their money’s worth — and beyond!"
The tour is part of the J-Word programme, which aims to change the image of jazz and encourage new audiences around Scotland to experience the music.
Opening for the Yellowjackets on the tour is Trio Red, which showcases the talents of award-winning Edinburgh-based drummer Tom Bancroft, London pianist Tom Cawley, and Norway’s Per Zanussi on bass.
Like Yellowjackets, Bancroft thinks Trio Red’s tunes will appeal to people eager to try out jazz for the first time, as well as for those who are already into the scene.
"We often get people saying ‘I don’t like jazz but I really liked that’. The music is very melodic and rhythmic and catchy — even when it is being improvised — and I think people find that compelling," he said.
• The Yellowjackets, with support from Trio Red, appear at Eden Court on Sunday 10th March.