By Lucas - Twitter @LCSFU
I'm a musician. You might be as well. So might be the third guy to the right or that lady to your left.
There's a lot of us, we play music and we call ourselves accordingly, musicians. But if we are musicians, what are those people that lift an instrument or an entire genre to new heights?
For example when you listen to a Eric Clapton tune, you're hearing a master musician, yet when you listen to Jimi Hendrix, you listen to a a person gifted on a level most of us won't reach and might only get a glimpse into or just barely start to understand.
These people are forces of nature and this article is about such a person, a guy that, for me personally, was the best bass guitar ever, nobody ever played a bass guitar like him, before or after, hell nobody even touched the fucking strings of a bass guitar like him.
I talked about him on FizzButton and since his music is very dear to my heart, I'll take this oportunity to get into that man a lil more in depth, I'm talking about a true pioneer of American music and a real fucking genius, Jaco Pastorius.
At around age 17 he really got into Jazz and saved enough money to buy an upright bass.
What he didn't know then was that it's rather difficult and potentionally expensive to maintain an upright bass, especially in a place as hot and humid as Florida.
His interest in R&B also grew and his upright bass couldn't cope with the electrified loud driving rhythms, it's simply not built for that, ya know.
When he woke up one morning to find his precious upright bass had cracked, so he decided to get rid of it and traded it in for the instrument he would be associated with from then on, a 1960 Fender Jazz Bass.
At age 22 he was teaching bass at the University of Miami, where he met a lot of young talented musicians, like a certain Pat Metheny, who enrolled at UM but was considered too advanced to be a student and started teaching as well. In 1974 they started playing and recording together with Paul Bley usually in a trio setting.
A year later, in 1975 he was signed to Columbia records by Bob Colomy (Blood, Sweat and Tears) and released his first solo effort, titeled „Jaco Pastorius“, featuring the likes of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Lenny White and many more. It was a ground breaking record for the electric bass and in my opinion the most amazing bass record ever.
Just before the sessions for his debut, he attended a concert of a band called Weather Report.
Weather Report was a band founded by another Jazz heavyweight, Austrian born pianist Joseph Zawinul. According to Zawinul he approached him after the concert and itroduced himself with the words „Mister Zawinul, I really like your music, my father was a big fan of Cannonball (Adderley, who Joe played with during the 50s & 60s), I'm a big fan of Cannonball and by the way my name is John Francis Pastorius the 3rd and I'm the greatest bass player in the world“ to which Joe Zawinul responded with „Get the fuck outta here, you idiot.“ but he didn't. He just stood there looking at him, when a Miami journalist, who witnessed the scene, told him that he might be a lil weird, but in fact is a tremendous bass player. So he told Jaco to meet him in the hotel the next day and bring him a demo tape.
He liked it, but already had a great bass player in his band so he didn't hire him but they stayed in contact, until Jaco sent him a tape of him playing with Donna Lee and Joe was so impressed by his playing that he hired him the moment Alphonso Johnson left the band to form a band himself.
Jaco Pastorius joined Weather Report in 1976, during the recording sessions for Black Market and changed the whole dynamic of the group right away, not only bringing his tremendous skills on bass to the mix, but also his writing and composing ability as well as his stage anticts and showmanship.
By 1977 when they recorded Heavy Weather, he not only played drums on a track and wrote a lot of music, but he also got a co-producer credit for the record. He remained with Weather Report until 1981, but never stopped providing studio work for other musicians, so he can be heard on records by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Albert Mangelsdorff, Ira Sullivan, Ian Hunter and many more.
But not only the music business in general, but Jazz specifically changed during that time and this epic work of his simply wasn't appealing to the ears of what Jazzers found trendy at the time, now Warner Bros, who singed him under a very favorable contract , had an album in their hands that didn't sell, so they released him the next year.
Pastorius toured extensively in 1982 and it was then that stories of erratic and weird behavior started to surface, he shaved his head, played with his face painted black and while touring in Japan threw his bass into Hiroshima bay. He also recorded another album that year, but couldn't find anyone willing to distribute it, so it never made it out of the rough demo stages.
By that time he was also drinking and doing drugs, which exacerbated his mental issues and made his behavior even more awkward, erratic and anti social. When the 1982 Japan stint of the tour was over, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was given lithium, as usual at the time.
That didn't help too well though and by 1986 his health had further deteriorated and he became homeless after he was evicted from his apartement in New York. He was amitted to Bellvue Hospital by his ex-wife, given more drugs and moved back to Florida where he was living in the streets for weeks at a time.
John Francis Anthony Pastorius III died on September 21, 1987, aged 35.
The utterly useless human being that beat him to death with his bare hands, called Luc Havan was sentenced to 22 months (months, not years!) and five years probation but was paroled out of jail for good behavior after four (4!) months.
A talentless, bad natured, overly aggressive dipshit caused the death of one of the greatest musicians of the 20th Century and served four months for it. Justice, huh?
Let's start of with his sound, very unique to him and special. The instrument he is known for is his Fender Jazz Bass, nicknamed the „Bass of Doom“ whih describes it quiet well. His bass work sounds way more smooth and natural than your regular bass. First of all that is due to him pionieering the use of the fretless electric bass, which makes for a very smooth transition between notes and a way more woody, natural tone than a standard fretted bass would produce and it makes for a very stand up bass like, almost horn like tonal quality.
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But he was by no means just a soft Jazz player, listen to this solo of his with Weather Report and you'll hear him make notes growl, scream and whisper all at the same time. This video also shows very nicely another feature of his playing style which was ground breaking at the time, he used to loop a short chrodal rhythm part and then solo over it. Bass Galore my friends!
He used roundwound swing 66 strings, on a fretboard he coated with epoxy to minimize wear, which also enhanced the upright bass like tone, he used Acoustic 360 and 361 amps and frequently used the EQ to boost the midrange frequencies and enhance the snarl and growl of his Bass. He also used a rack mounted MXR delay (used to loop the riff in the video above) and frequently played with the fuzz control in the Acoustic361.
Here's another solo, from Joni Mitchell's concert film Shadows and Light, which displays him looping a rhythm structure and then soloing over it, while adding effects, like delay, fuzz and others.
He combined a unique mix of influences and the ability to fuse any styles of music, he was able to play a fusion of RnB, Funk, Jazz, African & Afro-Cuban, to create 16th-note funk like lines syncopated with ghost notes. He played with a floatin thumb technique, resting his right thumb on the bridge pick up while playing the E & A strings and muting the E string when he played the higher strings. Here are some examples...
Come on come over
Another of his major innovations was the use of harmonics, isolating the overtones of a note, muting the string at a harmonic node, which enables playing a way higher than usual.
He used this technique frequently and masterful, to play riffs and melodies that you wouldn't usually get out of a bass.
A great example is the intro to the Weather Report tune Birdland, which many people mistake for a guitar.
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Another tremendous example of this technique is this epic piece from his debut album, titled Portrait of Tracy, but not only this is displayed here, but also his signature touch, not only with the left but the right hand as well.
If it wasn't for his mental health issues, which basically drove him out of work and making him very unproductive in the last years before his untimely death, we definitely would consider him the Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie or Thelonious Monk of bass guitar.
Unfortunately most of his music, his ability to play are forgotten and not known by your average music fan.
I hope this piece might have turned you on to his work, because it's dear to my heart and I'd love it to trigger the same thing in you that it does in me, emotions.
He didn't just play bass, he translated sheer emotional power and communicated it through his instrument, in the most perfect yet raw way.
If you'd like to check out more of his stuff here's a lil selection for you to hopefully enjoy!