Born: December 1, 1951 | Died: September 21, 1987 Primary Instrument: Bass, electric
Jaco was born John Francis Pastorius III, the first of three sons born to John Francis Pastorius II and Stephanie Katherine Haapala Pastorius. He had Finnish, German, Swedish, and Irish ancestry. Although Jaco was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, the family subsequently moved to Fort Lauderdale. Jaco 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. 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, whose nickname was Jack. Jaco's 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; Jaco liked the new spelling.
Originally a drummer, following in the footsteps of his father, stand-up drummer Jack Pastorius, Jaco switched to bass at age 15, after suffering an injury to his wrist. In about 1970, he began playing in a nine-piece horn band at the time called Las Olas Brass, which covered popular material of the day by Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown and the Tijuana Brass.
Musical influences included James Jamerson, James Brown, The Beatles, Miles Davis, and Stravinsky. Other musical influences include: Jimi Hendrix, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Paul Hindemith, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, The Band, Santana, Frank Zappa, Bob Marley, Rocco Prestia, Tommy Cogbill, Ray Charles, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Otis Redding, James T. Doggington, Cannonball Adderley and Jerry Jemmott.
He played music throughout his youth, drawing on 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 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 fusion album 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. During this time, he had run into keyboardist Joe Zawinul in Miami, Florida, where his band, Weather Report was playing. According to Zawinul, Jaco 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.
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 stalwarts Sam and Dave reunited to appear on one of the tracks, Come On, Come Over.
Shortly after the release of the album, Jaco made guest appearances on records all over the jazz canvas, (Mott The Hoople's Ian Hunter's solo album, Joni Mitchell's Hejira album, and Al Di Meola's solo album are standouts, all released in 1976). Soon after that, Pastorius was invited to join fusion band Weather Report, where he played alongside Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter until 1982. 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.
By the time he and Weather Report amicably parted ways in early 1982, Jaco had already been pursuing his interests 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). Like his 1976 debut, Word of Mouth also boasted guest appearances by several distinguished jazz musicians; Herbie Hancock appears again here, as does Weather Report alumnus Wayne Shorter and Peter Erskine, and other legends such as harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans and Hubert Laws.
The songwriting on Word of Mouth overshadowed his bass playing to a degree and really opened the eyes of a lot of people who thought that his prowess was confined to the electric bass. His production and ability to bring together a project that was recorded on both coasts of the United States was stunning indeed.
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). 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. 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 steel pans tinged release entitled Holiday for Pans, which once again showcased him as more of a tunesmith and producer than a bass player. (Historical Note: It turns out Jaco didn't even play any of the bass parts on the bootleg. Some years after his death, bass player Kenny Burrell Jr. confessed to doing the dark deed.) Jaco couldn't find a distributor for the album and the album was never released, however it has been widely bootlegged since. (In 2003, a cut from Holiday for Pans, entitled Good Morning Anya, was included on Rhino Records' anthology Punk Jazz.)
Near the end of his career, He guested on low-key releases by jazz artists such as guitarist Mike Stern, gypsy guitarist Bireli Lagrene, and drummer Brian Melvin.
Instruments and technique
Pastorius was most identified by his use of two well-worn Fender Jazz Bass from the early 1960's: A 1960 Fretted, and a 1962 Fretless. The fretless was originally a fretted bass, 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.
The Jaco growl is obtained by using the bridge pickup exclusively and plucking the strings close to it. Additionally, Jaco used the Variamp EQ (equalization) controls on his two Acoustic 360 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 chorus effect (an offboard sound modification device similar to a phase shifter) which gave a slight doubling effect, and his use of the original Acoustic brand bass amplifier. He would often use the fuzz control built in on the Acoustic 361. Other effects he used live were his octaver (an offboard effect pedal which provides a second tone an octave lower) and his MXR sampler pedal which can be heard on his live solo spot with Weather Report, Slang (Jaco loops a short extract of playing, and then solos over it).
Pastorius used natural and artificial/false harmonics to extend the range of the bass (exemplified in the bass solo Portrait of Tracy off of his eponymous album) and could achieve a horn-like tone through his playing technique. Both of his Fender basses were stolen shortly before he entered Bellevue hospital in 1986; they were never recovered. Jaco also had two Jaydee Basses made for him shortly before he died; a fretted and a fretless.
Health problems and death
In the early to mid-1980s, Pastorius began to experience mental health problems, including symptoms of manic depression. These were worsened by heavy drug and alcohol use. 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 also suffered.
During this time he played in various solo acts and many nightclubs in Fort Lauderdale and New York City. He became an outcast in the music business. His final address while alive was Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale. After sneaking onstage at a Carlos Santana concert September 11, 1987, he was ejected from the premises and made his way to the Midnight Bottle Club in Wilton Manors, Florida. What then happened was clouded with discrepancy. Some say he tried to kick in the glass door after being refused entrance, others say he did absolutely nothing and did nothing to deserve his fate. Whatever the case, he ended up in a violent confrontation with the club bouncer, Luc Havan, who was trained in martial arts. Pastorius was hospitalized with multiple facial fractures and gruesome disfigurement to his face, including the probable loss of his right eye and sustained irreversible brain damage. He slipped into a coma and was put on life support. Increasing signs pointed to brain death and his family decided to remove him from life support. After life support was removed, his heart continued to beat for three hours. Pastorius died on September 21, 1987, aged 35, at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale.
In wake of his death, Havan was charged with second degree murder and went to trial. However, Havan only ended up serving four months for this crime.
Jaco is buried at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery in North Lauderdale.