He was the oldest of three boys born to Stephanie, his Finnish mother, and Jack Pastorius, a singer and jazz drummer who spent much of his time on the road. His family moved to Oakland Park near Fort Lauderdale when he was eight. In , he began spelling it "Jaco" after it was misspelled by his neighbor, pianist Alex Darqui. His brother called him " Mowgli " after the wild boy in The Jungle Book because he was energetic and spent much of his time shirtless on the beach, climbing trees, running through the woods, and swimming in the ocean. He attended St. He was intensely competitive and excelled at baseball, basketball, and football.
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Instead, the man who would be the master of the fretless electric bass was a drummer. A drummer, just like his dad, Jack Pastorius, a big band player and singer. Jaco was the first of three children born to Jack and his wife, Stephanie. He arrived on Dec. Jaco liked the alternate spelling, and kept it.
Jaco was a sweet, competitive kid, who loved to play games, including football. As the son of a musician, he was interested in music, too, and bought a small drum kit with money earned as a newspaper delivery boy.
Jaco continued to play drums after that, but it was far more difficult that it had been prior to that hit in practice. Jaco Becomes a Bassist Regardless, he got gigs as a drummer, and in , while still in high school, he joined the soul cover band, Las Olas Brass.
He used money he earned as a paperboy to make another musical purchase. This time, he bought a new Fender Jazz bass. She returned the favor by replying with an encouraging letter.
With his interest in jazz, Jaco also acquired an upright bass. Later, he would become known for getting an upright-like tone on his fretless electric. Something else happened during this period of his life. He met a girl named Tracy Lee, who was destined to become his first wife. His bass playing grew while he was in the trio. He became a husband and father. He found a cruise ship gig for a bit, and his young family traveled with him in the Caribbean. His playing improved further with the group, but he really broke into new territory with the next band he joined: Wayne Cochran and the C.
He learned to read music during his stint with the group. Band member Charlie Brent also gave Jaco an influential crash course in arranging. Brent remembers Jaco appearing with a chart for the band, just three days after he and Brent had a long talk about arranging. It was gorgeous, Brent said.
As he developed as a player, Jaco had experimented with creating fretless basses. In the early s, he acquired a Fender Jazz bass, which either Jaco acquired already fretless or from which he removed the frets with a butter knife his recollections varied over the years. Jaco filled in the areas where the frets had been with plastic wood and coated the former fretboard with epoxy. This bass, which was the primary fretless instrument he recorded with, and Jaco nicknamed it the Bass of Doom.
After his time with Cochran ended, he returned to Florida. He played with the Peter Graves Orchestra, connected with saxophonist-trumpeter Ira Sullivan and met and first played jazz guitar great-to-be Pat Metheny. The following year, Jaco went into a studio and did a demo session featuring songs that would appear on his self-titled solo album.
And, during a trip to the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston, Jaco showed the students how he achieved his upright-esque sound on an electric. He thought she was cute and they began to talk. He decided to see Jaco play. After watching him in action, he quickly offered Jaco a record deal. Jaco signed it in September and a month later, he was recording Jaco Pastorius. In the very active days of and , Jaco also communicated with Joe Zawinul, leader of jazz fusion band Weather Report.
I mean, he was exactly what I was waiting for, sonically. He began drinking and using cocaine. In , Weather Report released Mr. The year also featured a new beginning for Jaco. While in Berlin that fall with Weather Report, he played a legendary solo bass concert on a day off.
He was at the top of the bass world. His second solo album, Word of Mouth, also appeared that year. In this period, the psychiatrist father of Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine also suggested that Jaco might be manic-depressive. Unfortunately, he and Ingrid began growing apart, and Jaco began spending more time in New York City, instead of the Florida world he knew better.
The New York version of Jaco was different. His drinking and drug use continued, unabated. His onstage behavior turned wild. During a tour of Japan, he threw his bass into Hiroshima Bay. He went out on tour not long after his release, and his combative behavior at an Italian concert turned the crowd hostile, with the event deteriorating into a riot in the middle of the show. Jaco intended for the record Holiday for Pans to be his Word of Mouth follow-up in The album demos featured steel pan music, and no bass from Jaco.
Warner Bros. And instead of Holiday for Pans, it released the live album, Invitation. Jaco, performing with the Word of Mouth band, turned in a confused performance at the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. Depending on the night, he could turn in an inspired performance, or a messy one as he played gigs with the Word of Mouth big band or other artists. His mood swings came with the territory for those who knew him.
By the following year, he and Ingrid were divorced. Jaco sent it to Kevin Kaufman and fellow luthier Jim Hamilton in for refurbishment. Shortly after it was returned to him, again in working order, it was stolen in Greenwich Village.
Jaco, who often left the bass unattended as he played basketball games or slept in a New York park, never saw it again. The bass was only recovered in It is now owned by Metallica bassist Rob Trujillo. Trujillo has told the family it can buy the bass for the same undisclosed price he paid for it.
In the meantime, Trujillo, who has also produced a documentary about Jaco, is keeping the bass safe, under lock and key, in a Northern California vault.
The mids were difficult for Jaco and those who loved him. He was evicted from his New York City apartment and crashed with friends for as long as he could. Jaco returned to New York and continued to play, but with his reputation for performances that could be inspiring one night but dispiriting the next work was hard to find. Friends were saddened by his severe decline. In July , Jaco was encouraged to check into the psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospital. The diagnosis: Jaco was bipolar manic-depressive.
He stayed at Bellevue for eight weeks and was released into the custody of a musician friend, who took Jaco back to the San Francisco area with him, where the two worked on a record. Although he tried to regain stability, the old demons of mental illness reappeared, leading to many strange performances and even short stints in jail.
Everything came to its tragic head on in the early morning hours of Sept. Jaco never left the hospital. On Sept. His family decided to remove him from life support on Sept. Jaco Pastorius was 35 years old. His assailant pled guilty to manslaughter charges and ultimately only spent four months in prison.
The Life of Jaco
JACO PASTORIUS, « s/t »