Jaco Pastorius – Bassist With a Limitless Tank of Energy
Jaco was an incredible bassist renowned for his seemingly boundless energy and unmatched technique, still revered and imitated today (notably Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo ).
He joined jazz fusion ensemble Weather Report as Alphonso Johnson’s replacement in 1976, also making an appearance on Joni Mitchell’s Hejira album by contributing his thick bottom sound to her tracks.
Early Life and Education
Pastorius was born in Pennsylvania but raised in Florida where he developed his musical talent playing local R&B and pop acts. Additionally, his competitive nature was evident through playing football, baseball and basketball games; as an innate drummer his wrist injury forced him into taking up bass guitar instead. Due to his outgoing nature and seemingly limitless energy his brother gave him the nickname Mowgli from The Jungle Book;
His 1976 debut solo album began with an extraordinary cover of Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee standard that helped secure him a recording contract. However, according to jazz scholar Bill Milkowski his music was too advanced for wider jazz audiences at that time and so he found himself struggling.
Pastorius left an extensive body of his own recordings as well as working alongside many musicians – most notably guitarist Pat Metheny (see 1977’s Bright Size Life for further evidence of Pastorius’ jazz influences).
His brash confidence earned him a major break after attending a performance by Weather Report’s frontman Joe Zawinul, who recognized and asked for his demo tape.
Word of Mouth was released in 1981 as an opportunity for him to demonstrate both his songwriting and bass playing abilities, along with performances by such musicians as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Peter Erskine, as well as Toots Thielemans who was known for playing harmonica virtuosoly and Hubert Laws who provided saxophone accompaniment.
Achievement and Honors
After performing with Weather Report, Pastorius approached their frontman Joe Zawinul to express interest in joining their band – this decision gave his musical career its boost! Zawinul took a chance and allowed Pastorius to join, marking the beginning of an incredible musical journey for Pastorius.
Bassist Jim Dexter earned him entry into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988 for his distinctive bass playing. His revolutionary harmonics, funk-influenced soloing and melodic chord progression made him one of the most acclaimed basseists ever to grace musical history.
Miles Davis and Victor Wooten dedicated several songs from their albums to Jaco, as did a 2014 documentary titled Jaco that celebrated his life and legacy. Jaco is now resting peacefully at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery in North Lauderdale, Florida.
Pastorius’ talent and popularity was marred by mental health issues; he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and suffered manic episodes; alcohol use worsened these conditions while heroin and cocaine addiction also plagued him.
He was best-known for his virtuosic bass lines that blended Afro-Cuban rhythms with R&B music, using his right hand’s “movable anchor” thumb technique for syncopated 16th note funk lines.
Pastorius collaborated with many esteemed musicians, such as Joni Mitchell. Mitchell credits Pastorius as being a major influence on her music; he featured prominently on her albums Hejira, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter and Shadows and Light; his bass work for those albums has long been considered among the finest ever heard in jazz history. Furthermore, Weather Report provided another outlet for Pastorius to showcase his bass prowess.
Jaco Pastorius had an estimated net worth between $1 Million – $5 Million when he died, although details on his personal and love life remained private as he was single.
His later years were marked by heavy drinking and mental health issues that doctors diagnosed as bipolar disorder. His erratic behavior sometimes resulted in confrontations, including one at the Midnight Bottle Club in Wilton Manors when he got into an altercation with Luc Havan after being expelled from a Santana concert.
Jaco Pastorius (ECM, 1976), his final solo effort produced by Bobby Colomby, featured performances by jazz greats Herbie Hancock, Hubert Laws, Michael Brecker and Wayne Shorter – as well as R&B group Sam & Dave and R&B singer-songwriter Sam & Dave – while also joining forces with Pat Metheny to form Bright Size Life album.