Happy Birthday to “Jaco” Pastorius III born – December 1, 1951 – September 21, 1987
John Francis Anthony “Jaco” Pastorius III (/ˈdʒɑːkoʊ pæsˈtɔːriəs/, December 1, 1951 – September 21, 1987) was an American jazz musician, composer, big band leader and electric bass player. He is best known for his work with Weather Report from 1976 to 1981, as well as work with artists including Joni Mitchell, Pat Metheny, and his own solo projects.
As a musician, he developed an influential approach to bass playing that combined the use of complex harmony with virtuosic technique. His signature approach employed Latin-influenced funk, lyrical solos on fretless bass, bass chords, and innovative use of harmonics. He was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988, one of only seven bassists so honored (and the only electric bassist).
Pastorius was born December 1, 1951, in Norristown, Pennsylvania, to Jack Pastorius, a big band singer and drummer, and Stephanie Katherine Haapala Pastorius and was the first of their three children. His grandmother was a Finn named Kaisa Eriika Isojärvi. He was of Finnish, Sami, German, Swedish, and Irish ancestry.
In 1960, his family moved to Oakland Park, Florida, near Fort Lauderdale. Pastorius went to St. Clement’s Catholic School in Wilton Manors, and he was an altar boy at the adjoining church. He went to Northeast High School in Oakland Park. He was talented in football, basketball, and baseball, and he picked up music at an early age. He often watched baseball with his father. His nickname was influenced by his love of sports and by umpire Jocko Conlan. He changed the spelling from “Jocko” to “Jaco” after French pianist Alex Darqui misspelled it on a note. He preferred the misspelling. His seemingly endless energy led his younger brother, Gregory, to call him Mowgli after the wild boy in The Jungle Book.
Pastorius played drums until he injured his wrist playing football at age 13. The damage to his wrist was severe enough to warrant corrective surgery and inhibited his ability to play drums. He had been playing with a local band, Las Olas Brass. When the band’s bass player, David Neubauer, quit, Pastorius bought an electric bass guitar from a local pawn shop for fifteen dollars and began to learn to play with drummer Rich Franks, becoming the bassist for the band.
By 1968–1969, at the age of 17, Pastorius had begun to appreciate jazz and had saved enough money to buy an upright bass. Its deep, mellow tone appealed to him, though it strained his finances. He had difficulty maintaining the instrument, which he attributed to the humidity in Florida. When he woke one day to find it had cracked, he traded it for a 1962 Fender Jazz Bass.
His first break came when he became the bassist for Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders.[clarification needed] He also played on various local R&B and jazz records during that time, such as with Little Beaver and Ira Sullivan.
In 1973 at the age of 22, Pastorius was teaching bass at the University of Miami. While at UM he made contact with many of the great music students who were going through the program at that time, including Pat Metheny, who enrolled in 1972 but was too advanced a player to remain a student and likewise became part of the UM music faculty at the age of 18.
In 1974, Pastorius began playing with Metheny. They recorded together, first with Paul Bley as leader and Bruce Ditmas on drums, on an album later titled “Jaco,” for pianist Paul Bley and Carol Goss’s Improvising Artists label (it was Metheny’s recording debut), then with drummer Bob Moses on a trio album on the ECM label, entitled Bright Size Life (1976).
In 1975, Pastorius was introduced to Blood, Sweat & Tears drummer Bobby Colomby, who had been asked by Columbia Records to find “new talent” for their jazz division. Pastorius’s first album, produced by Colomby, was Jaco Pastorius (1976), a breakthrough album for the electric bass. Many consider this the finest bass album ever recorded it was widely praised by critics. The album also boasted a lineup of heavyweights in the jazz community at the time – including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, David Sanborn, Lenny White, Hubert Laws, Don Alias, and Michael Brecker. Even the soul singers Sam & Dave reunited to appear on the track “Come On, Come Over”.
Some time prior to the sessions for his debut album, he attended a concert in Miami by the jazz band Weather Report. After the concert, he approached keyboardist Joe Zawinul, who fronted the band. According to Zawinul, Pastorius walked up to him after the concert and talked about the performance, saying that it was all right but that he had expected more. He then went on to introduce himself, adding that he was “the greatest bass player in the world”. An unamused Zawinul at first told him to “get the fuck outta here.” According to Zawinul (quoted in Milkowski’s book), Pastorius persisted and as they talked the Austrian found himself reminded of his own younger self, the “brash young man” in Cannonball Adderley’s band. Pastorius’s attitude that night made Zawinul admire the unknown young bassist after all; he asked for a demo tape, which he received at his hotel room the next day. Zawinul listened to some of the tape and realized at once that the young man had considerable technical skills and real potential. He gave him an address to get in touch by mail, and thus began a correspondence between the two. In time, Pastorius sent Zawinul an early rough mix of his solo album.
Pastorius joined Weather Report during the recording sessions for Black Market (1976), and he became a vital part of the band by virtue of the unique qualities of his bass playing, his skills as a composer (and, in time, arranger) and his exuberant showmanship on stage.