Jaco Pastorius – The Revolutionary Innovator Of Electric Bass Guitar

Jaco Pastorius (1951–1987) was one of the most inventive, creative, and revolutionary electric bassists of the previous century, pioneering the jazz fusion genre alongside Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, and Peter Erskine in one of Weather Report’s most well known line-ups. Aside from his solo work and his contributions to Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius had also collaborated with American jazz guitarist Pat Metheny and Canadian singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and painter Joni Mitchell. His life, work, and deeds were documented in a 2014 documentary entitled ‘Jaco‘ which was produced by Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo.

Jazz fusion maestro Jaco Pastorius performing live in Bologna, Italy in 1986. Image source: Commons Wikimedia

Pastorius was born on 1 December 1951 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, United States and spent his first eight years of his childhood there before moving with his family in Oakland Park in the proximity of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He had music in his veins from his father, who was also a jazz musician, more specifically a singer and drummer. Pastorius was also Finnish from his mother side. During his early teenage, Pastorius initially took up drums in a band called ‘Las Olas Brass‘ but had to quit playing them for the rest of his life at some point when he was thirteen due to a serious wrist injury from a football game. The injury was so severe that it actually required a medical surgery. As a kid and teenager, he was a great sportsman, competing in football, basketball, and baseball.

During the late 1960s, Pastorius stared to appreciate jazz to such a significant extent that he had decided to become a bassist and so he eventually saved money for an upright bass which was difficult to maintain due to the high humidity in Florida. One day, he found his upright bass cracked but was fortunate enough to trade it for an electric 1962 Fender Jazz Bass for just $90. He would later nickname this bass the ‘Bass of Doom‘ given its growling sound, which was later the basis for the name of the short-lived jazz fusion supergroup ‘The Trio of Doom‘ which also consisted of jazz fusion virtuoso John McLaughlin of Mahavishnu Orchestra and distinguished drummer Tony Williams (who had also collaborated with several notable rock artists throughout the passing of time such as Ray Manzarek of The Doors or Carlos Santana).

During his teenage years, Pastorius collaborated with American soul musician Wayne Cochran and his band C.C. (Chitlin Circuit) Riders, before teaching bass at the University of Miami and befriending future collaborator Pat Metheny, a skilled jazz guitarist with whom he would later record an untitled studio album and release it in 1974.

Jaco Pastorius with an acoustic bass, standing by the beachside. Image source: Facebook

Prior to even recording his official solo studio album, Pastorius had become a member of Weather Report in 1976, marking his debut in the jazz group with ‘Black Market‘ (1976) and thereby replacing departing former bassist Alphonso Johnson. One year later, he would record the band’s iconic ‘Heavy Weather‘ for which he was so praised (the album was subsequently included in the Grammy Hall of Fame in February 2011). Nevertheless, with great success came a lot of addiction. Pastorius had exacerbated his erratic behaviour by abusing alcohol and drugs to such an extent that it would gradually mark his downfall, very much unfortunately given his great technique, unique talent, and both on stage and off stage charisma and loving character.

He had subsequently quit Weather Report in 1982 due to growing creative differences with frontman Zawinul. He died tragically in 1987, after a bar clash which put him in a coma from which he could have recovered. He was survived by his wife, Ingrid, his children, and nephews, most notably musically by David Pastorius who is also an accomplished musician and bassist.

As it was the case of other major American rock musicians (e.g. Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan), Jaco Pastorius was influenced by the esoteric literary work ‘The Urantia Book‘. As a proof of the book’s influence on his career, the song ‘Havona‘ from the RIAA Platinium-certified ‘Heavy Weather‘ (1977) is a strong evidence and a stupendous musical composition.

Down below you can watch a great approximately one hour and a half-long lesson on modern electric bass from 1985:

In the 2014 documentary film on his life and work, Jaco Pastorius was regarded as an original artist by former collaborator Joni Mitchell and as a normal farmer-style family man by former bandmate Wayne Shorter. In stark contrast, Herbie Hancock described him as a focused sharpshooter or a marksman always ready and successful in achieving his intended goals, musically speaking that is. You can take a closer look at the official trailer of the film right below (which I wholeheartedly endorse watching at the same time):

In addition, you can also listen to a personal selection of most favourite songs from Jaco’s solo discography down below, starting off with a live performance of his version of ‘The Chicken‘:

This particular song is considered a jazz standard, for those who don’t know:

And two absolutely special ones:

Pat Metheny on Jaco Pastorius:

Jaco Pastorius managed to release three solo studio albums between 1974 and 1981 (one unofficial and two official), more specifically:

  • Jaco (1974; through Improvising Artists) – unofficial debut solo studio album alongside friend and collaborator Pat Metheny
  • Jaco Pastorius (1976; through Epic Records) – official debut solo studio album
  • Word of Mouth (1981; through Warner Bros.) – second official solo studio album

In addition, he also released a great live album entitled ‘Invitation‘ which was released in 1983 and a collaborative album with French jazz guitarist Biréli Lagrène in 1986 titled ‘Stuttgart Aria’.

As for his career in Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius is credited on the following studio releases:

Furthermore, Jaco Pastorius is credited on three live compilations by Weather Report as follows:

  • Live and Unreleased‘ (2002);
  • Forecast: Tomorrow‘ (2006);
  • The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978-1981‘ (2015)

Aside from the aforementioned releases, Jaco had also collaborated with Joni Mitchell, as previously mentioned in the beginning of this article, on four of her studio albums, between 1976 and 1980, more specifically on: ‘Hejira‘ (1976), ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter‘ (1977), ‘Mingus‘ (1979), and ‘Shadows and Light‘ (1980). He worked with Herbie Hancock as well on two of his studio albums, more specifically ‘Sunlight‘ (1978) and ‘Mr. Hands‘ (1980). He also collaborated, among many others, with jazz guitarists Randy Bernsen (on three albums) and Al Di Meola (on his 1976 studio album ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’) and Jimmy Cliff (on his 1985 studio album ‘Cliff Hanger‘).

In conclusion, it is absolutely undeniable that Jaco Pastorius was an original, legendary musical genius, a tremendously gifted and talented musician, a very technical bassist, an innovator in its own right and league as well as a truly great man! His music will live forever! Thank you for your time and readership! 😊

Documentation sources and external links:

  1. Jaco Pastorius on www.wikipedia.org (in English)
  2. Jaco Pastorius discography on www.wikipedia.org (in English)
  3. Jaco Pastorius’ official website on www.jacopastorius.com
  4. Jaco Pastorius and the “Bass of Doom” on www.denvermusicinstitute.com
  5. Trio of Doom on www.wikipedia.org (in English)
  6. Weather Report on www.wikipedia.org (in English)
  7. Weather Report discography on www.wikipedia.org (in English)
  8. Jaco Pastorius, An Introduction To The Jazz Legend on www.udiscovermusic.com

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