John Francis
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John Francis "Jaco" Pastorius III.

jaco13.jpg (17972 bytes)In 1976, Jaco Pastorius single-handedly revolutionized the world of Bass Playing in particular, and music in general. That was the year that Jaco released his self-titled first solo album, played with both Pat Metheny and Joni Mitchell (at one time, Joni's band was Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, Jaco and Tony Williams) and was hired by Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter to replace bassist (and later, Stick-player) Alphonso Johnson in the band Weather Report. In 1977, Weather Report released the album "Heavy Weather" which featured the tracks Birdland, Teen Town and A Remark You Made, all featuring Jaco's fretless '62 Jazz with Rotosound Roundwounds (completely stock).

What made Jaco special?

It begins with a bass tone that still holds me in awe. And, by the way, Jaco used very few effects: "Its in the hands, man," Jaco used to say. It was a keen ear and mastery of theory and its applications (he was an instructor at the University of Miami during a time when Pat Metheny, Mark Egan, Steve Morse, Andy West (from the Dixie Dregs), and Will Lee (from the Late Night w/David Letterman Band), amongst others, were all attending. It was Jaco's ability, as composer and player, to go from the most blistering, rocking solos (Jaco called his style "punk jazz"), to the most elegant and eloquent ballads. It was a mastery of Bass harmonics (check out Portrait of Tracy from that first album).

It was Jaco's reverence for classic jazz, including note for note readings of Charlie Parker's Donna Lee and John Coltrane's Giant Steps and classic R&B. He duets with Sam & Dave on that first album - can't remember the tune (Expressway to Your Heart?) and he got his start in Wayne Cochran's CC Riders (a legendary southern R&B band). Cochran fired him for the same reason that Lil' Richard fired Jaco's idol, Jimi Hendrix - he was stealing the show (did I mention Jaco's cover of Third Stone from The Sun?) Despite his soloing abilities, Jaco was admant: "If you can't groove, if you can't support, you ain't playin bass". Allyn Robinson, the CC Rider's drummer, has stated, "There's bass before Jaco and there's bass after Jaco. That's just the way it is."

In 1982, Jaco left Weather Report. For fans, this was our opportunity to hear Jaco, the big band arranger, leading an orchestra that included french horns and steel drums. Key cuts: Three Views of a Secret, Liberty City, and Amerika (sic). Our gain was, ultimately, Jaco's loss, and, I guess, pentultimately, our loss. Jaco was always a high strung individual. The producer of his first album, Bobby Colomby of Blood, Sweat and Tears fame, tells a story of Jaco, when he was unknown, shopping his tapes to the record companies. He would walk into record company execs offices, jump up on their desk, and declare, "I'm the greatest bass player in the whole world." What separated Jaco from every other young turk of the time (and what sends shivers up my spine as I type) is that Jaco could back it up.

jaco32.jpg (19464 bytes)However, he also suffered from manic depression. In Weather Report, Zawinul and Shorter could act as fathers to him and keep him in line. On his own, Jaco plunged into an incredibly self-destructive cycle, eventually ending up homeless, sleeping on Miami beaches. He began crashing gigs. At a Santana concert, he jumps onstage and is ushered off by stagehands who don't recognize him. The next night, he tries to crash an after-hours club and is beaten into a coma by a bouncer. Jaco never wakes up.

 

BTW, Bill Milkowski has just written and published a biography, Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius, The World's Greatest Bass Player.

Take care.

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