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Haskell got his first break in the music business through his mother, who knew Anita Steiman, who ran the publishing company for Lew Chudd, owner of Imperial Records. Steiman introduced him to Chudd, and Haskell eventually convinced Chudd to hire him. Chudd was a cut-throat operator who produced a steady stream of hits for Imperial by having Haskell copy the arrangement off of regional hits Chudd had sent to him from his network of local disc jockeys. It might not have been ethical, but as Haskell admitte later, "[Chudd] knew how to make hit records."
While with Imperial, Haskell composed and conducted a space age-flavored album now highly sought after by exotica fans, Count Down. On Count Down, Haskell used much the same kind of arrangements he used in his rock knock-offs, but he dealt with other wordly themes ("Astrosonic," "Blast Off," "Moon Mist," "Asteroid Hop") and mixed in squeaks, beeps, and tones from a variety of electronic equipment.
Among his best-known work for Imperial was with Ricky Nelson. Although Nelson is now recognized as a serious rock and roll artist, at the time he was very much under the control of his father, Ozzie. Haskell arranged and produced most of Nelson's gold records, but Ozzie refused to give him production credits. When Nelson switched labels to Decca, he insisted on keeping Haskell as arranger, though he didn't receive producer credits due to his continuing relationship with Imperial.
From the early 1960s to the present, Haskell has been among the premier arrangers in the business. The list of artists he's accompanied includes many of the best-known names in pop, rock, and soul music. He's racked up 4 Emmy nominations, 3 Grammys, and 3 Clio awards and has contributed to over 100 Gold and Platinum albums.
Ironically, the award he's best known for is perhaps the one that involved less work than most of his jobs. Haskell had been working with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel when Simon asked him to stick around and listen to a new song Simon was working on. As Haskell recalls,
He said, "Jimmie ,I just wrote a new song and Larry Knechtel is coming here to play piano on it. Please take it down [transcribe it] so Larry can have music to read when he gets here." Paul then played and sang it for me, and I wrote the notes and chords on music paper for "Bridge Over Troubled Water."Months later, the National Academy of Recording Artists (NARA) was trying to sort out credits for the song. Ernie Freeman had written the string accompaniment and was listed as the arranger. Haskell felt his own work, along with Knectel's, should also be credited. As it was, all three, as well as Simon and Garfunkel, were awarded the 1967 Grammy for Best Arrangement. Haskell ended up collecting the awards for the duo, who'd retired earlier in the evening, already loaded down with armfuls of Grammies.
Haskell scored 30 films and contributed to dozens of others, including "Pulp Fiction," "Grace of My Heart," and "The Color Purple." He wrote for television, working with Warren Barker and others on "Bewitched," and wrote the themes for "The Hollywood Squares" and "The Krofft Supershow." He worked with hundreds of pop performers, from Bobby Darin and Jose Feliciano to Steely Dan, Sheryl Crow, and k.d. lang. Still considered (to steal a line from A.J. Liebling) "faster than anyone better and better than anyone faster," Haskell continues to work today as arranger, composer, conductor, and musical handyman.
For more information, check out Jimmie Haskell's web page at http://www.jimmiehaskell.com.
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