On My Hard Drive: Jaco Pastorius, d. Sept 21, 1987

So time to get this done and posted - it's been sitting here for a bit now.

Jaco Pastorius died on September 21, 1987, 20 years and a few days ago. I was going to write a post about him to commemorate his passing. So here it is.

Jaco Pastorius was one of those kids with too much energy and teachers who didn't know how to channel it. He was good at sports, particularly baseball, and that held his attention for a while. His brother gave him the nickname "Mowgli" after the Rudyard Kipling character, and in recognition of his unbridled energy. Jaco would later establish his music publishing company as Mowgli Music.

Pastorius started his musical career as a drummer (following in the footsteps of his father Jack, a stand-up drummer) but when he was 13, he injured his wrist while playing football. The break was so severe it caused calcium to build up in his wrist and required corrective surgery. After that he was never able to hit a snare drum properly again. At that time he was in a nine-piece horn band called Las Olas Brass (which covered popular material of the day by Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown and the Tijuana Brass). Rendered unable to play the drums, he decided to fill in the spot left open by the recently departed bass player.

As Pastorius' interest in jazz grew, he developed a desire to play the double bass. After saving money for a considerable length of time for the purchase of a double bass, he found that the instrument could not stand up to the Florida humidity. One morning, his double bass was "in like a hundred pieces" as he put it. Deciding that to replace it would be too expensive, he instead pried out the frets on his Fender (traditional electric bass), and filled the fret holes with wood putty.

And that's where the story gets interesting.

Pastoruis is regarded as having changed forever the way jazz was played on the electric bass, and is credited with the popularity of the fretless electric bass.

In 1975, Pastorius met up with Blood, Sweat and Tears drummer Bobby Colomby, who had been given the green light by CBS records to find "new talent" for their jazz division. Pastorius' first album, produced by Colomby and entitled Jaco Pastorius (1976), was a breakthrough album for the electric bass. Many consider this to be the finest bass album ever recorded; when it exploded onto the jazz scene it was instantly recognized as a classic. The album also boasted a lineup of heavyweights in the jazz community at the time, who were essentially his stellar back up band, including Herbie Hancock, David Sanborn, Lenny White, Don Alias, and Michael Brecker among others. Even legendary R&B singers Sam & Dave reunited to appear on the track "Come On, Come Over".

Soon after that, Weather Report bass player Alphonso Johnson gave notice that he would be leaving to start his own band. Pastorius was happily invited to join the band where he played alongside Joe and Wayne Shorter until 1981. It is with Weather Report that Pastorius made his indelible mark on jazz music, being featured on one of the most popular jazz albums of all time, the Grammy-nominated Heavy Weather. Not only did this album showcase Jaco's stunning bass playing, but he also received a co-producing credit with Joe Zawinul and even plays drums on his self composed Teen Town.

For you who are unaware, Pastorius pioneered a whole new way of thinking about the bass in ensemble situations. Up until that time, the bass was the timekeeper, partner of the drummer, and a general harmonic background figure.

Jaco heard something entirely different. He brought the bass forward, played soaring, dancing, staccato, melodic solos in the higher ranges, and brought sounds out of the instrument no one had ever heard before, as a third melodic voice.

He toured in 1982; a swing through Japan was the highlight, and it was at this time that bizarre tales of Jaco's deteriorating behavior first surfaced. He shaved his head, painted his face black and threw his bass into Hiroshima Bay at one point. That tour was released in Japan as Twins I and Twins II and was condensed for an American release which was known as Invitation.

His increasingly erratic behavior began to affect his musical career, and he was eventually dropped by Warner Brothers. He had to be pulled off stage during the 1982 Playboy Jazz Festival due to drunkenness, prompting an apology to the crowd by MC Bill Cosby.

Both of his Fender basses were stolen shortly before he entered Bellevue hospital in 1986. In 1993, one of the basses resurfaced in a New York City music shop, with the distinctive letter P written between the two pickups. The store told Bass Player magazine it was brought in by a "student" of Jaco's, and the asking price was $35,000.

His final address was at Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After sneaking onstage at a Carlos Santana concert September 11, 1987, he was ejected from the premises, and he made his way to the Midnight Bottle Club in Wilton Manors, Florida.

What then happened was clouded with discrepancy. After reportedly kicking in a glass door after being refused entrance to the club, he was engaged in a violent confrontation with the club bouncer, Luc Havan. Pastorius was hospitalized for multiple facial fractures and gruesome disfigurement to his face, including the probable loss of his right eye and right arm, and had sustained irreversible brain damage. He fell into a coma and was put on life support.

There were initially encouraging signs that he would come out of his coma and recover, but a massive brain hemorrhage a few days later pointed to brain death. His family decided on a majority vote to remove him from life support, even though his second wife Ingrid was against the decision. Pastorius died on September 21, 1987, aged 35, at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, his heart continuing to beat an agonizing three hours after the plug was pulled.


That One Guy said...

and if you've read this far, be sure to check out one of the best examples of Jaco's work, you'll see exactly what I'm talking about: Weather Report's album Heavy Weather has a cut written by Jaco, called Teen Town. Spend the $.99 and check that out...

I looked for it on YouTube, found a couple of live examples, but nothing quite like the studio version. Pretty freakin amazing.

hoody said...

I'm a big Jaco fan. . .and this sounds very much like the info on Wikipedia.

You're saying this is your own composition?

That One Guy said...

never said anything of the sort... The series "On My Hard Drive" is simply something I do occasionally to talk about musicians that are essentially on my iPod.

Any information I post in this series is an accumulation of my own knowledge, online sources, anecdotal information, etc.

Thanks for reading and I hope you'll stick around for a while.