Happy Birthday Jaco Pastorius!


Once in a spell music finds new languages, fresh dialects drawn from the same Rosetta Stone that everyone thought well studied, known terrain. Jaco Pastorius was one of these rare individuals, opening up forever the possibilities of the electric bass guitar and eroding the calcification that occurs when any genre becomes set in its ways. A fearless innovator, he is perhaps the only jazz bassist known worldwide simply by his first name, and the 21 years since he passed away in 1987 have done nothing to diminish his renown. Nor should they. Without Pastorius there would be no Mike Gordon, no Reed Mathis, no Charnett Moffett. Without Jaco the entire notion of modern jamming would likely be a different thing altogether. Mixing technique and noise, effects and fleshy contact, Pastorius called an anthropomorphic Holy Spirit from his instrument that continues to crawl into the souls of everyone who picks up a bass (and a not a few other instrument players, too).

Besides Weather Report, Pastorius did breathtaking work with Joni Mitchell, Mike Stern and a short lived but stunning trio with drummer Alphonse Mouzon and trombonist Albert Mangelsdoff (see them in action in 1976 over here). Throughout his abbreviated career – he died at just 35 after receiving a fatal beating at a nightclub – Jaco Pastorius conveyed a sense of pure enjoyment in his craft. He seems ever eager to engage and explore, a feeling his many collaborators clearly seemed to spark off in their own performances with him. It's not every musician that gets to alter the trajectory of their instrument, and while a sad tale in many ways, we celebrate the abundant life Jaco brought to music today. Happy birthday, bass monster. Rest in sweet peace.

We light the first birthday candle with "Teen Town" taken from The Midnight Special in 1977. Weather Report's appearance on this show in a very big way highlights how they were rock stars, one of a few rarified units like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return To Forever to punch out of the jazz world and reach mainstream America in a way largely unseen today outside of perhaps Wynton Marsalis. And ain't nobody smokin' reefer and hootin' in the front rows of his gigs!

Pastorius was often at his jaw dropping best in his solo spotlights like this skipping, happy run through Hendrix's "Third Stone From The Sun" in 1978.

Unlike a lot of top shelf players, Jaco didn't need extended compositions or endless jams to shine. For evidence, listen to his limber, forceful bass on this live "Black Crow" with Joni Mitchell and a smokin' hot band that includes Pat Metheny (guitar) and Lyle Mays (keys).

The finger bending continues on this Zappa-esque "Donna Lee" performed by a modified version of Pastorius' big band, which included Peter Erskine (drums), Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Don Alias (percussion).

Pastorius' gift for collaboration was sky high yet irrepressibly playful, too, something evident in this rare clip of Jaco in the studio jamming on "The Chicken" with John Scofield and a tight drummer.

Here's a duet between Jaco and jazz harmonica master Toots Thielemans on Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady."

Jump back to '78 and Weather Report taking us down the "Black Market." Jaco's happy stomp is a lovely thing to behold.

We blow out the candles with Pastorius solo on "Portrait of Tracy." Take a bow, sir. You more than earned it.

[Published on: 12/1/08]

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gratefullybred Mon 12/1/2008 11:43AM
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Pastorius' gift for collaboration was sky high yet irrepressibly playful, too, something evident in this rare clip of Jaco in the studio jamming on "The Chicken" with John Scofield and a tight drummer.

...that "tight" drummer is Kenwood Dennard. Someone should give credit where credit is due..

rainydaywomen420 starstarstarstarstar Mon 12/1/2008 11:57AM
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right on jambase, incredible musician

Ned8 starstarstarstarstar Mon 12/1/2008 12:16PM
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first there was Charles Mingus who took the acoustic instrument to the apex. Jaco took that ground and built it into the electric bass and should be recognized as the height of that form of bass. That entire Joni Mitchell super group concert, "Shadows and Light," needs witness by anyone who loves great music.

Marcsmall Mon 12/1/2008 12:16PM
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Best Bassist ever....No doubt....This guy made Wooten and Les look like chumps.

Conjugal Burning starstarstarstarstar Mon 12/1/2008 12:56PM
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Conjugal Burning

Victor and Claypool hold Jaco as an influential character when speaking of their own skills. Jaco owns for sure. bad ass!

artifishall starstarstarstarstar Mon 12/1/2008 01:12PM
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A bassist who will always remain on the list of my favorites

hippiesnames Mon 12/1/2008 01:32PM
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funny they say mike gordon when jaco inspired many much greater bass players like victor wooten and many much better bass players than gordon. not saying mike isn'r great at what he does but he dosen't compare to many jazz bass players

adventuresinperception starstarstarstarstar Mon 12/1/2008 01:44PM
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Happy birthday Jaco, u continually melt my face.

Nasty Nate Mon 12/1/2008 01:46PM
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Nasty Nate

R.I.P brother. Wish you had not died the way you did.

brooklynite84 Mon 12/1/2008 02:39PM
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Happy B-Day! I can't believe I never knew who he was til a year ago when a friend introduced me to his music. He does have a badass biography book on the shelves as well, so if you love him, you'll definitely love his bio and you should check it out.

2manynotestrey Mon 12/1/2008 03:03PM
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Happy Birthday Jaco, I will never forget the first time I heard "Teen Town," it completely changed the way I approach the bass.

You have had a huge impact on the bass world, but I feel that your impact was not all positive. So many bass players try to play like you, and they end up just shitting on a jam because they lack your musicianship. Bass players need to get back to that Ray Brown, Paul Chambers way of playing. My idea of heaven is sitting and watching you and Scotty Lafario jam together. I think that would be the bee's knees.

TheGreenKynd starstarstarstarstar Mon 12/1/2008 04:31PM
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Happy Birthday Jaco. That Jammed out Chicken is funky as hell.

jamlee Mon 12/1/2008 04:56PM
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Jaco's playing is evident in so many great bass players world known and unknown. His music lives on in us all, although there will never be another bass player like him. R.I.P man you'll be greatly missed forever.

NICU971 Mon 12/1/2008 07:25PM
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Simply an unbeleivable player! Wish he was still here with us

canoftunapudding Mon 12/1/2008 09:05PM
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Great review of an incredible player

tarotplane starstarstarstarstar Mon 12/1/2008 09:46PM
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One thing that really bothers me whenever anybody is paying tribute to Jaco is that they almost always talk about what a great BASSIST he was, or how much he has influenced other BASS players. The thing about Jaco though, is that he was not just a great bass player (which of course he was), but he was one of the most incredible all-around musicians and beautiful composers who ever lived. His influence extends far beyond the electric bass, and musicians of all instruments and all walks of life can, and have, found an incredible amount of inspiration from his staggeringly genius works. More props need to be given to Jaco as a composer! Jaco's home boy Peter Graves once said, "Your music will be with us always, for as great as your bass playing was, I still believe your pencil was mightier than your fretless." And this statement has a lot of truth. Portrait of Tracy is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. And the whole 'Word of Mouth' album? Forget about it!

Hotchkiss starstarstarstarstar Tue 12/2/2008 07:40AM
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what a brilliant player! to bad he became another victim to untreated alcohol and drug addiction.

snoman722 starstarstarstarstar Tue 12/2/2008 08:03AM
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Anyone know who the sax player is in the "Donna Lee" clip, the fourth vid.

iwantstogetfunkedup Tue 12/2/2008 10:03AM
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My bass teacher taught me Teen Town 17 years ago when I was starting bass lessons and it blew my mind! I still have so much fun playing that line today. I too read his biography and its sad that such an amazing musician/composer went from being on the top of the world with every other musician wanting to play with him to getting booed off the stage at the Playboy Jazz Fest and drifting into insanity.

PunkJazz starstarstarstarstar Tue 12/2/2008 12:19PM
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I definitely celebrated Jaco's Birthday yesterday... glad to see JB giving it up to the man.

PunkJazz starstarstarstarstar Tue 12/2/2008 12:28PM
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Its funny that marcsmall said that Jaco makes les and Vic look like chumps. I said the same thing before going to a les show after watching the "slang" solo section from one of his shows. Check out victors tribute to jaco in "Big Country" he teases "Continuum", its very moving.

hippiesnames Tue 12/2/2008 01:20PM
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the best bass player ever is stanley clarke but jaco is right up there with him

DAMONCORY Tue 12/2/2008 01:32PM
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What a great talent, So sad... the guy who beat him to death only served 4 months. To bad he didnt have a friend to watch over him that night. Maybe something tragic was bound to happen to him someday anyways?

DubSaw starstarstarstarstar Tue 12/2/2008 01:58PM
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Jaco's son Julius plays with two incredible Bendy Brothers from WARWICK NEW YORK. check it !


tarotplane Tue 12/2/2008 06:19PM
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The 'sax' player on Donna Lee is Bob Mintzer. It's a bass clarinet though.

snoman722 Wed 12/3/2008 06:48AM
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thanks tarotplane. Thats kind of embarassing, I guess you don't see a bass clarinet everyday, I just assumed it was a baritone sax.

hippiesnames Wed 12/3/2008 12:40PM
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he really didn't make victor or les look like a chump. i'd go see either before jaco if that was possible however the best bass player ever was stanley clarke not jaco

rainydayman Sat 12/6/2008 05:14AM
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Interesting guy. I played basketball with him once.

mesaxi starstarstarstarstar Fri 12/12/2008 06:16AM
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'hippiesnames' knows nothing. Great as Stanley, Victor, and Lesley are, nobody touches Jaco. It's about what and where, not how. Until you understand that, you wont understand Jaco.