Jaco Pastorius

In my early years, I got heavy doses of Jimmy Raney, Bill Evans, Bob Brookmeyer, Cannonball Adderly, Pat Martino, Stan Getz and whatever records my brother Doug inherited from Dad. Doug put many albums on reel to reel tapes (the mp3s of yesteryear in terms of packin’ your favorites on one unit). Plus I heard my brother making recordings, jamming with himself and transcribing solos by Dad, Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt. Sometimes half speed.

When my brother left for Europe, that’s pretty much where my head was at in high school. I listened to the same records and it was all great but very traditional stuff. I would wear out records such as Live in Tokyo and Montreux II. Then my friend, bassist Steve Schwab put on this record called Jaco Pastorius it turned my head around. He played me “Havona” from Heavy Weather after that. Zawinul is a master player and Shorter was keen commentator and part player in the band but even as a pianist I was still listening mostly to Jaco. I was particularly blown away by “Used to Be a Cha Cha” from his debut album and ofcourse that unique but lyrical blowing on “Donna Lee”. I had heard the tune tons of times before, but never like THAT. I now had a new hero in addition to my Dad.

I then picked up Pat Metheny’s album Bright Size Life with Jaco and that started a new current for me. Now I was into jazz fusion. I was not really blown away by Billy Cobham, Jean Luc Ponty or Mahavishnu, prior. I liked it but it was very techno sounding. But when I heard Heavy Weather and Black Market I really became a fan. There was just a lot more feeling there. I also liked Pat Metheny’s group. Some people thought they sounded too “happy” or pop, but I liked the feeling they had and they were obviously top notch musicians. Mark Egan had that Jaco sound even if he wasn’t quite Jaco himself. I went to see both Jaco and Pat Metheny at Carnegie Hall and saw Pat at the Bottom Line and the Beacon Theatre.

To me this new fusion style was hip, electric but yet informed by jazz. Plus I was young and searching for new things. It’s just before Jaco, nothing really impressed me besides my favorites: Hancock, Evans, Corea, Raney, Getz, Powell, etc. I listened intently to the local jazz station and I got my first dose of the tune, “Punk Jazz” with Tony Williams beginning cymbal smash and Jaco’s scorching solo. I also remember Downbeat giving the album one star and thought that was ridiculous. I also remember the Heath Brothers criticizing it in a Downbeat blindfold test and saying Jaco’s playing was mostly about technique. Please…I liked the album Mr. Gone and still do. And if there’s anyone that should be a jazz purist it’s me. I remember savoring the album Night Passage from the school library. When Jaco quit the band and started doing Word of Mouth for some reason I just tuned out. Perhaps it was a good thing I did. Because so much bad shit was happening to Jaco from about 1983 onward. I would hear stories about him from Doug and other people–at clubs like Bradleys and such. I remember him sitting on the Great Lawn in Central Park in his bare feet with some friends listening to our street band a year before his death in 1987.

Recently, I read the Bill Milkowski biography and fell under Jaco’s spell again. I had this great longing for him to be alive again. I felt genuine sadness at his great rise and fall. Someone should really make a movie out of his story. For example when you experience the rise of a great talent and then all the sudden their life goes to shit. I felt this recognition for three people in the jazz world: Jimmy Raney, Bill Evans and Jaco. I don’t know why. The latter two I never met, but somehow I feel like I had. It’s funny when you listen to someone’s music constantly how it makes you feel like you know them. There is a humanness about the sound of Jaco and the range of his instrument is right in my vocal range. I feel a resonance there from his great melodic phrasing and general pathos. I knew he was an egotist, but I have known many in my life time and the more off-the-wall types–you almost had to go along with them. You gave them the slack almost because you recognize they are living life in a different way. Completely their own way. They are so confident that they make you feel like perhaps you are the one that’s crazy–or perhaps just less real or honest with yourself.

**I’ve since learned from Jaco fan Mark Fogarty and some Internet digging that the concert I saw with Pat Metheny and Jaco was in fact Avery Fischer Hall not Carnegie on June 23, 1979. Foggy memory…

        
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