TRIBUTE: Jimmie Haskell (1936- 2016)

Jimmie Haskell and Richard Niles

Dr. Richard Niles remembers composer/arranger JIMMIE HASKELL, three-time Grammy winner, Emmy winner, and responsible for 135 gold or platinum albums, who died last week aged 79. Richard writes:

Jimmie Haskell was successful as a composer, arranger and producer from the late 1950s onwards. Starting out with Ricky Nelson, he worked with Sheryl Crow, Steely Dan, Barbara Streisand, Elvis, Blondie, Tina Turner, The Bee Gees, Chicago, Bobbie Darren, Crosby Stills & Nash, The Doobie Brothers, Jose Feliciano, Barry Manilow and Michael Jackson. He won Grammys for his work with Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Water), Chicago (If You Leave Me Now) and Bobbie Gentry (Ballad of Billie Jo). He also won an Emmy (four nominations) and composed music for 31 feature films, 32 TV movies and 445 TV episodes.

I was fortunate enough to interview him on three occasions and devoted a chapter to him in my book on the great pop arrangers, The Invisible Artist. He was a warm, inviting, kind gentleman with an understated sense of humor. He told great stories but he was also a great listener, really interested in other points of view. He was the kind of guy who it was impossible not to like. The twinkle in his smile made you think about perhaps putting on a pair of sunglasses. He was couch-comfortable to be around.

He had a relaxed confidence about his years of success and was able to clearly explain the working methods of his art.

Arrangers must be generically literate to be able to write for a variety of styles. His arranging choices were determined not only by the song and the artist, but by the meaning of the song. Much of his work was “scoring the lyric”. He advised aspiring arrangers to transcribe their favorite work and get help from a teacher or mentor. He warned against over arranging.

“A good arrangement enhances the song, makes you want to listen to it again and again and, most importantly, makes you want to buy the record.”

How did he begin writing?

“When I listen to the song, I think of what I’m gonna write but I don’t try too hard. I listen some more and notes pop into my head. I jot them down on paper.”

Commercial considerations?

“Commerciality doesn’t control what I write, but it controls the attitude of the people who hire me!”

Haskell won a Grammy for “Bridge Over Troubled Water” though it was “the song I did the least work on”. But his masterful writing, as exemplified by his arrangement of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Old Friends” and “America” uses many techniques. Contrasting orchestration, melodic counter lines, varied voicing techniques, descriptive programmatic writing and dissonance are all used with the sole purpose of intensifying the emotional impact of the music and the lyric.

To what did Haskell attribute the longevity of his career?

“The fact that I enjoy 99% of my sessions and they’re all fun!”

I am very grateful that I was able to share some stories and some fun with him. He was a very nice man.

Dr. Richard Niles (website) is a composer, arranger and author living in California. His new album BANDZILLA RISES is due April 2016.

Jimmie Haskell (born Sheridan Pearlman). Born November 7, 1936 in Brooklyn, NY, died February 4, 2016, Laguna Niguel, CA.  (WEBSITE)

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