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John Francis Anthony "Jaco" Pastorius III (December 1, 1951 – September 21, 1987) was an American jazz musician and composer widely acknowledged for his virtuosity on the bass guitar, as well as his command of varied musical styles. His playing style was noteworthy for containing intricate solos in the higher register. His unique innovations also included the use of harmonics and the "singing" quality of his melodies. In 2006, Pastorius was voted "The Greatest Bass Player Who Has Ever Lived" by reader submissions in Bass Guitar Magazine. Later in life, Pastorius suffered from mental health problems and substance abuse, both of which contributed to his death.
Early life and education
John Francis Pastorius III was born December 1, 1951 in Norristown, Pennsylvania to John Francis Pastorius II and Stephanie Katherine Haapala Pastorius, the first of their three children. Pastorius was of Finnish, German, and Irish ancestry. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Fort Lauderdale. Pastorius went to elementary and middle school at St. Clement's Catholic School in Wilton Manors, and he was an altar boy at the adjoining church. In his years at St. Clement's, the art he was most known for was drawing. Pastorius formed his first band named The Sonics along with John Caputo and Dean Noel. He went to high school at Northeast High in Oakland Park. He was a talented athlete with skills in football, basketball, and baseball, and he picked up music at an early age. He took the name "Anthony" at his confirmation. He loved basketball, and often watched basketball with his father. Pastorius' nickname was influenced by his love of sports and also by the umpire Jocko Conlan. He changed the spelling from "Jocko" to "Jaco" after the pianist Alex Darqui sent him a note. Darqui, who was French, assumed the name was spelled "Jaco"; Pastorius liked the new spelling. Jaco had a second nickname, given to him by his younger brother Gregory: "Mowgli," after the wild young boy in Rudyard Kipling's classic The Jungle Book. Gregory gave him the nickname in reference to Jaco's seemingly endless energy as a child. 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, and filled the fret holes with wood putty. He continued to play music throughout his youth, drawing on aforementioned influences like Jerry Jemmott, James Jamerson, Paul Chambers, Harvey Brooks and Tommy Cogbill and honing his skills and developing his songwriting prowess in bands like Wayne Cochran and The C.C. Riders. He also played on various local R&B and jazz records during that time such as Little Beaver, Ira Sullivan's Quintet and Woodchuck. In 1974, he began playing with his friend and later famous jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. They recorded together, first with Paul Bley as leader and Bruce Ditmas on drums, then with drummer Bob Moses. Metheny and Jaco recorded a trio album with Bob Moses on the ECM label, entitled Bright Size Life.
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".
During this time, he had also run into keyboardist Josef Zawinul in Miami, Florida, where his band, Weather Report was playing. According to Zawinul, Pastorius walked up to him after a concert the previous night and talked about the performance and how it was "all right" but he had "expected more". He then went on to tell Zawinul that he was "The Greatest Bass Player in the World". An unamused Zawinul told him to "get the fuck outta sight." According to Milkowsky's book on that same evening, Jaco persisted and, according to Zawinul, reminded Zawinul of himself when he was a "brash young man" in Cannonball's band, which made Zawinul admire the young bassist. Zawinul asked for a demo from Pastorius, and thus began a series of correspondence between the two. Zawinul and Pastorius struck up a close friendship almost immediately, as both men were outgoing and energetic, full of life. But Zawinul was tempered with age; he was in his 40s, with a sense of life's limits, while Jaco was still in his early 20s. One night before a gig, Zawinul offered Jaco a drink to loosen up. Jaco had never drunk before due to his father's own struggles with alcohol, but after two drinks, Zawinul said he got "strange. He started throwing things. I knew right away I had made a mistake." Pastorius's drinking grew more out of control in the ensuing years, with Zawinul so furious during a Japanese tour in 1980 he was ready to fire Jaco. He called bassist Tony Levin, but he wasn't available. Before finding a replacement, Jaco showed up at Zawinul's door apologizing profusely, and Joe once again forgave him.
Guesting on albums
Also during this time period, Pastorius guested on many albums by other artists; Joni Mitchell's Hejira album, and a solo album by Al Di Meola are standouts, both released in 1976. 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 by Zawinul 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. During the course of his musical career, Pastorius played on dozens of recording sessions for other musicians, both in and out of jazz circles. Some of his most notable are four highly regarded albums with acclaimed singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell: Hejira (1976), Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (1977), Mingus (1979) and the live album Shadows and Light (1980). His influence was most dominant on Hejira, and many of the songs on that album seem to be composed using the bass as a melodic source of inspiration. Near the end of his career, he guested on low-key releases by jazz artists such as guitarist Mike Stern, gypsy guitarist Biréli Lagrène, and drummer Brian Melvin. In 1985, he recorded an instructional video, Modern Electric Bass, hosted by bass legend Jerry Jemmott.
By the time he and Weather Report parted ways in early 1981, Jaco began pursuing his interest in creating a Big Band solo project, one that found its debut aurally on his second solo release, which was distributed by Warner Brothers, Word of Mouth (which was also the name of the Big Band). His 1981 album Word of Mouth also boasted guest appearances by several distinguished jazz musicians; Herbie Hancock appears again here, as do Weather Report alumni Wayne Shorter and Peter Erskine, and other legends such as harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans and Hubert Laws. Word of Mouth allowed Pastorius' songwriting to take some of the spotlight from his bass performance. It also showcased his production skills and ultimately, his ability to bring together a project that was recorded on both coasts of the United States. 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.
Behavior and health problems
In the early to mid-1980s, Pastorius began to experience increasingly prevalent mental health problems, including symptoms of bipolar disorder. These were worsened by heavy drug and alcohol use and he was eventually diagnosed as being manic depressive. Although his on-stage and off-stage antics were already well-documented, his mental health and addiction problems exacerbated his unusual and often bizarre behavior, and his musical performances suffered. During this time he played in various solo acts in Fort Lauderdale and New York City, and became an outcast of the musical community due to his health problems. He was homeless, penniless, and secluded from nearly all who once held him dear. He was left to gig at various nightclubs around town, but when his behavior became too much, he was banned and would segue to the next club. 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. By 1984, the Word of Mouth Big Band had also splintered. He managed to record a third solo album, which made it as far as some unpolished demo tapes, a steelpans-tinged release entitled Holiday for Pans, which once again showcased him as more of a tunesmith and producer than a bass player. In fact, Jaco did not play any of the bass parts on the album. Some years after his death, bass player Kenny Burrell Jr. confessed to playing the bass parts, although this admission was considered suspect in light of Burrell's inferior capabilities as a bass player. Jaco could not find a distributor for the album and the album was never released; however it has since been widely bootlegged. In 2003, a cut from Holiday for Pans, entitled "Good Morning Anya", was included on Rhino Records' anthology Punk Jazz.
By this point, Jaco had been in the throes of mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse, and had been homeless for a stretch. In a video from this period, he appears shaky, his playing is uneven, and he admits he can't play some of his old licks. The video is not structured and tends to jump around from one subject to the next. It finishes with an impromptu jam session with Jaco, guitarist John Scofield and drummer Kenwood Dennard.
Apart from his career in the influential jazz fusion band Weather Report, he had two Grammy Award nominations for his self-titled debut album. He was inducted into Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988, one of only four bassists to be so honored (the others being Charles Mingus, Milt Hinton, and Ray Brown), and the only electric bassist to receive this distinction.
The "Jaco growl" is obtained by using the bridge pickup exclusively and plucking the strings close to it. Pastorius used natural and false harmonics to extend the range of the bass (exemplified in the bass solo masterpiece Portrait of Tracy from his eponymous album) and could achieve a horn-like tone through his playing technique.
Pastorius was most identified by his use of two well-worn Fender Jazz Basses from the early 1960s: A 1960 fretted, and a 1962 fretless. The fretless was originally a fretted bass (at the time Fender did not manufacture fretless instruments) from which he removed the frets and used wood filler to fill in the grooves where the frets had been, along with the holes created where chunks of the fretboard had been taken out. Jaco then sanded down the fingerboard, and applied several coats of marine epoxy (Petit's Poly-poxy) to prevent the rough Rotosound RS-66 roundwound bass strings he used from eating into the bare wood. Even though he played both the fretted and the fretless basses frequently, he preferred the fretless, because he felt frets were a hindrance, once calling them "speed bumps." However, he said in the instructional video that he never practiced with the fretless because the strings "chew the neck up." 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. Jaco also had two Jaydee Basses made for him shortly before he died; a fretted and a fretless.
Amplification and effects
Jaco used the "Variamp" EQ (equalization) controls on his two Acoustic 361 amplifiers (made by the Acoustic Control Corporation of Van Nuys, California) to boost the midrange frequencies, thus accentuating the natural growling tone of his fretless passive Fender Jazz Bass and roundwound string combination. His tone was also colored by the use of a rackmount MXR digital delay unit that fed a second Acoustic amp rig. He often used Hartke cabinets because of their characteristic aluminum speaker cones (as opposed to paper speaker cones). These gave his tone a bright, clean clarity. Jaco typically used the delay in a chorus-like mode, providing a stereo doubling effect. He would often use the fuzz control built in on the Acoustic 361. Another effect he used live was an octave pedal (which provides a 2nd tone an octave lower). For the bass solo "Slang" on the 8:30 album, Jaco used the MXR digital delay to layer and loop a chordal figure and soloed over it.
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 (which is now The Corner Pocket, near the intersection of NE 6th Ave and Wilton Drive, in The Shoppes of Wilton Manors). 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 damage to 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 for three hours after the life support machine was disconnected. His final address was at Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In the wake of Pastorius' death, Havan was charged with second degree murder, but later pled guilty to manslaughter, for which he served four months. Jaco is buried at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery in North Lauderdale.
Honours and tributes
Miles Davis honored the late bassist on his album Amandla with the Marcus Miller composition "Mr. Pastorius," as Jaco was an inspiration to Marcus Miller. Victor Wooten also honored Jaco on his album Soul Circus on the track "Bass Tribute", thanking Pastorius several times. He also, in 'Bass Extremes' with Steve Bailey, does a song titled 'Glorius Pastorius,' and also a tribute to Jaco's interpretation of Charlie Parker's 'Donna Lee' titled 'Madonna Lee'. Pat Metheny Group also honored Jaco on their album Pat Metheny Group on the track "Jaco", with whom Metheny had previously played. Note: this tune was not specifically written for Jaco. Metheny wrote the song and then realized that the main melody sounded a lot like Jaco's "Come On, Come Over," and subsequently decided to name the tune for Pastorius. John McLaughlin also honored Jaco on his album Industrial Zen with the song "For Jaco". English keyboard player Rod Argent includes a track titled "Pastorius Mentioned" on his 1979 Album "Moving Home" Canadian bassist Alain Caron pays tribute to Pastorius by playing an upright bass version of "Donna Lee" on Uzeb's "World Tour '90" album, and has mentioned that Pastorius was his biggest inspiration when it comes to playing fretless bass.
On November 28, 2007, the Oakland Park City Commission unanimously voted to name the city's new downtown park after Jaco Pastorius. Jaco's hometown celebrated its most famous artist with a tremendous honor: a living memorial with a focus on the arts. A 2-1/2 year grassroots effort by loyal south Florida fans finally came to fruition. Now south Florida residents and Jaco fans worldwide will have a place to reflect upon and enjoy the legacy of this music giant. There are also plans to incorporate Jaco's name and story into the City's various performing arts events. On December 2, 2007, the day after what would have been Jaco's 56th birthday, a concert called "A Tribute to Jaco Pastorius" was held at The Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, featuring performances by the award-winning Jaco Pastorius Big Band with special guest appearances by Peter Erskine, Randy Brecker, Bobby Mintzer, David Bargeron, Jimmy Haslip, Gerald Veasley, Jaco's sons John and Julius Pastorius, Jaco's daughter Mary Pastorius, Ira Sullivan, Bobby Thomas, Jr., and Dana Paul. Also shown were exclusive home movies and rare concert footage as well as video appearances by Pat Metheny, Joni Mitchell, and other luminaries from Jaco's life. Almost 20 years after Jaco's death, Fender released the Jaco Pastorius Jazz Bass Fretless from its Artist Series. Rush bassist Geddy Lee was messing around with one of these basses (the Jazz bass has become his bass of choice in recent years) during down time while recording the band's 2007 album Snakes & Arrows, and the improvised riff became the instrumental Malignant Narcissism. Jaco was known for his proficiency and repertoire with pentatonic scales, weaving simple patterns into intricate jazz masterpiece solos.
In 1995, jazz author Bill Milkowski published "Jaco: The Extraordinary And Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius. 'The World's Greatest Bass Player'." The book was filled with interviews with leading jazz musicians, music executives and Jaco's brother, but Milkowski's first-hand experiences with Jaco were toward the end of his life, when he had deteriorated badly. Jaco's second wife Ingrid has taken issue with many of the claims made in the book, stating that they either did not happen or happened very differently. Guitarist Pat Metheny, with whom Pastorius worked on several albums, leveled his own criticism in the liner notes of the reissue of Jaco's first album, calling it "a horribly inaccurate, botched biography." When the softcover edition of "Jaco" was published, one correction was made concerning an incident supposedly involving Jaco's daughter Mary, but the rest remains unchanged.
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