John Francis Anthony Pastorius III (December 1, 1951 – September 21, 1987), known as Jaco Pastorius, was an American jazz musician and composer widely acknowledged as a virtuoso electric bass player.
His playing style was noteworthy for containing intricate solos in the higher register and for the "singing" quality he achieved on the fretless bass. His innovations also included the use of harmonics. Pastorius suffered from mental illness including a substance-related disorder, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982. He died in 1987 at age 35 following a violent altercation at a Fort Lauderdale drinking establishment.
Pastorius was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988, one of only four bassists to be so honored (and the only electric bass guitarist). He is one of the most influential electric bass players of all time.
Jaco Pastorius started out following in the footsteps of his father Jack, playing the drums, however he injured his wrist playing football at age 13. The damage to his wrist was severe enough to warrant corrective surgery and ultimately inhibited his ability to play drums. At the time, he had been playing with a local band, Las Olas Brass, and since the bass player, David Neubauer, had decided to quit the band, he picked up an electric bass guitar from a local pawn shop for $15, and began to learn to play,, with drummer Rich Franks assuming his former position in the band.
By 1968–1969, Pastorius had begun to appreciate jazz and had scraped up enough money to buy an upright bass. Its deep, mellow tone appealed to him even if its cost was prohibitive. Pastorius discovered the difficulties in maintaining the instrument, which Pastorius attributed to the humidity of his Florida home, coupled with his shift in focus to R&B music. Following the development of a crack in the body, he finally traded the instrument for a 1960 Fender Jazz Bass.
Pastorius' first real break came when he secured the bass chair with 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 future 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 Pastorius recorded a trio album with Bob Moses on the ECM label, entitled Bright Size Life.
In 1975, Pastorius was introduced to Blood, Sweat & 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 was the eponymous Jaco Pastorius (1976), 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 widely praised by critics. The album also boasted a lineup of heavyweights in the jazz community at the time—essentially a stellar backup band—including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, 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"
Around the time of his solo album, he ran into keyboardist Josef Zawinul in Miami, where Zawinul's band, Weather Report, was playing. According to Zawinul, Pastorius walked up to him after a concert one night and talked about the performance and said that it was all right but that he had expected more. He then went on to introduce himself to Zawinul, adding that he was the greatest bass player in the world. An unamused Zawinul told him to "get the fuck outta here." According to Milkowski's book, on that same evening, Pastorius persisted and, according to Zawinul, reminded Zawinul of himself when he was a "brash young man" in Cannonball Adderley's band, which made Zawinul admire the young bassist. Zawinul asked for a demo tape from Pastorius, and thus began a correspondence between the two.
Pastorius joined Weather Report during the recording sessions for Black Market, and he became a vital part of the band both by virtue of the unique qualities of his bass playing, his skills as a composer and his exuberant showmanship on stage. His stage act and melodic, propulsive solos brought Weather Report a large new African-American audience; before his arrival the band had mostly pulled in white college fans
Pastorius guested on many albums by other artists, as for example in 1976 with Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople fame, on All American Alien Boy, which again featured David Sanborn as well as Aynsley Dunbar. Other recordings included Joni Mitchell's Hejira album, and a solo album by Al Di Meola which were also 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. Zawinul invited Pastorius to join the band, where he played alongside Joe and Wayne Shorter until 1983. During his time with Weather Report, Pastorius made his indelible mark on jazz music, notably by being featured on one of the most popular jazz albums of all time, the Grammy Award-nominated Heavy Weather. Not only did this album showcase Pastorius's bass playing and songwriting, but he also received a co-producing credit with Joe Zawinul and even played 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 Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, and many of the songs on that album seem to be composed using the bass as a melodic source of inspiration. Also worthy of mention is his collaboration with important jazz figures Flora Purim and Airto Moreira. Pastorius can be heard on Moreira's 1977 release I'm Fine, How Are You? His signature sound is prominent on Purim's 1978 release Everyday Everynight, on which he played the bass melody for a Michel Colombier composition entitled "The Hope", and performed bass and vocals on one of his own compositions entitled "Las Olas".
Near the end of his career, he guested on low-key releases by jazz artists such as guitarist Mike Stern, guitarist Biréli Lagrène, and drummer Brian Melvin. In 1985, he recorded an instructional video, Modern Electric Bass, hosted by acclaimed bassist Jerry Jemmott.
Pastorius' original compositions for solo electric bass guitar, "Portrait of Tracy" and "Three Views of a Secret" have been arranged for piano and published in The New Real Book: Volume 1 published by Sher Music.
He and Weather Report parted ways in early 1981, and Jaco began pursuing his interest in creating a big band solo project named Word of Mouth, one that found its debut aurally on his second solo release, Word of Mouth. This 1981 album also boasted guest appearances by several distinguished jazz musicians: Herbie Hancock, Weather Report's Wayne Shorter and Peter Erskine, harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans and Hubert Laws. The album allowed Pastorius' songwriting to take some of the spotlight from his bass performance. It also showcased his producing skills and ultimately, his ability to bring together a project that was recorded on both coasts of the United States, as well as in Belgium where he recorded Thielemans.
On his 30th birthday, December 1, 1981, he threw a party at a club in Fort Lauderdale, flew in some of the artists from his Word of Mouth project, and other noteworthy musicians that included Don Alias, and Michael Brecker. The event was recorded by his friend and engineer Peter Yianilos, who intended it as a birthday gift. The concert remained unreleased until 1995.
He toured in 1982; a swing through Japan was the highlight, and it was at this time that bizarre tales of Pastorius' 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.
In 1982, he recorded 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 a composer and producer rather than a performer. Jaco Pastorius did not play any of the bass parts on this album. He 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.
Pastorius was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression. Pastorius showed numerous features of the condition long before his initial diagnosis, although they were insufficiently extreme to have been diagnosed at the time as mental illness, being regarded instead as eccentricities or character flaws. The condition in its earlier stages is likely to have contributed to his success as a musician. Hypomania, the cyclical peaks in mood that distinguish bipolar disorder from unipolar depression, have been associated with enhanced creativity. It was recognized (retrospectively) by friends and family that these peaks played an essential role in his urge to create music.
In his early career, Pastorius avoided both alcohol and drugs, but he became increasingly involved in alcohol and other drugs during his time with Weather Report. Alcohol abuse ultimately exacerbated Pastorius' condition, leading to increasingly erratic and sometimes anti-social behavior.
Pastorius was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in late 1982 following the Word of Mouth tour of Japan in which his erratic behavior became an increasing source of concern for his band members. Drummer Peter Erskine's father, Dr. Fred Erskine, suggested that Pastorius was showing signs of the condition and, on his return from the tour, his wife, Ingrid, had Pastorius committed to Holy Cross hospital under the Florida Mental Health Act, where he received the diagnosis and was prescribed lithium to stabilize his moods.
By 1986, Pastorius' health had further deteriorated. He had been evicted from his New York apartment and had begun living on the streets. In July 1986, following intervention by his then ex-wife Ingrid with the help of his brother Gregory, he was admitted to Bellevue Hospital in New York, where he was prescribed Tegretol in preference to lithium. He moved back to Fort Lauderdale in December of that year, again living on the streets for weeks at a time
After sneaking onstage at a Carlos Santana concert on September 11, 1987, and being ejected from the premises, Pastorius made his way to the Midnight Bottle Club in Wilton Manors, Florida. 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 injuries to his right eye and left arm. 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. Pastorius died on September 21, 1987, aged 35, at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale and was buried at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery in North Lauderdale.
In the wake of Pastorius' death, Havan was charged with second degree murder but later pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Because he had no prior convictions, and accounting for time served while waiting for the verdict, he was sentenced to 22 months in jail and five years probation. He was released after four months in jail for good behavior.
The "Jaco growl" is obtained by using the bridge pickup exclusively, and plucking the strings right above the bridge pickup. Pastorius used natural and false harmonics to extend the range of the bass (exemplified in the bass solo composition Portrait of Tracy from his eponymous album) and could achieve his signature horn-like tone by utilizing his fretless neck (covered in polyurethane marine varnish). His playing techniques earned him accolades both from the critics and his audiences. He used finger-style playing exclusively, and was not seen using the slap and pop method that dominated the R&B charts
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, known by Jaco Pastorius as the "Bass of Doom", was originally a fretted bass that had the frets removed. Pastorius claimed to have removed the frets himself but later said he had bought it with the frets already removed. Pastorius finished the fretboard with marine epoxy (Petit's Poly-poxy) to protect the wood from the roundwound Rotosound strings he was using. 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. In 2008, the 1962 fretless "Bass of Doom" also turned up in good condition in New York. It was subsequently acquired by Robert Trujillo, bassist with Metallica. Although Trujillo currently owns the instrument, the Metallica bassist agreed in writing to relinquish the instrument to the family at any time for the same purchase price.
Jaco Pastorius 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 MXR digital delay unit that fed a second Acoustic amp rig.
He often used Hartke cabinets during the final three years of his life because of their characteristic aluminum speaker cones (as opposed to paper speaker cones). These gave his tone a bright, clear sound. He typically used the delay in a chorus-like mode, providing a shimmering stereo doubling effect. He would often use the fuzz control built in on the Acoustic 361. For the bass solo "Slang" on the 8:30 album, Pastorius used the MXR digital delay to layer and loop a chordal figure and then he soloed over it.