“In Wilton Manor, Fla., a tiny town near Fort Lauderdale, detectives describe the death of the former bass player for the jazz group Weather Report as a homicide,” read a local newspaper, reporting on the previous day’s murder of legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius on September 21, 1987.
Today quietly marks the 25th anniversary of that sad event, and is in marked contrast to the well-promoted celebration of Jaco’s life just five years ago on the occasion of the 20th anniversary. That tribute came about thanks to the tireless work of Jaco’s old friend Bob Bobbing, who organized a memorial concert in Florida with help from Peter Graves. It featured a spectacular performance by the Jaco Pastorius Big Band with many special guests, including Randy Brecker, Bob Mintzer, Gerald Veasley, Jimmy Haslip, Ira Sullivan, Alex Darqui and Jaco’s former Weather Report bandmates Peter Erskine and Bobby Thomas Jr. All four of the Pastorius kin were on hand as well, with Mary performing a beautiful duet on stage with bassist Tony Franklin. It was a wonderful night thanks mostly to the valiant effort by Bobbing, who also revealed an extended clip of his Jaco documentary-in-the-works on a giant screen above the stage as the concert began.
So here we are five years later, and things are noticeably more subdued on the Jaco front. His official website lays dormant as its former webmaster Corey Brown has since moved on and started his own bass site. The once-popular forum community on jacopastorius.com has been shut down for years. Bobbing has kept a low profile since releasing and promoting his intriguing collection of rare Pastorius recordings titled Portrait Of Jaco: The Early Years. Jaco’s second wife Ingrid, who ran her own much-visited tribute website to her late husband, passed away suddenly last November. The feuding that was at one time rampant among various Pastorius factions has been exposed for its triviality in the face of life’s quickly passing years. And as those years do indeed pass, the memory of Jaco fades ever more slightly. Curiously, new debates questioning Jaco’s greatness or validity seem to arise with regularity among a newer generation of bassists.
For those of us who were there when Jaco came on the scene, there was–and is–no debate. We witnessed his giant effect on our little bass world first hand; we knew there was electric bass before and electric bass after, and the two eras were not the same because of him. It was more than just his astounding technique that captured our collective imagination, and perhaps that is the point that may be lost on some younger players today. Jaco was larger than life; he brought an attitude and swagger to playing the bass that we had not seen before. He was absolutely audacious. It was that aspect of his personality that probably fueled so many of his groundbreaking ideas about how to approach his instrument, and in turn, his musical swagger became our musical swagger and we suddenly played our basses in new ways. I consider myself fortunate that I was able to see Jaco play quite a few times, and had the opportunity to meet him as well.
Last fall I had begun writing an article for this magazine, to be published on December 1st, commemorating Jaco’s legacy on what would have been his 60th birthday. I received much help from Peter Erskine, who contributed to the piece, and I had a few discussions and “mini-interview” with Ingrid Pastorius as well. She was quite busy at the time, partly due to her own annual honoring of Jaco on his birthday. She sent this message to me in late November:
“Hello Rick, my apologies. I have been so swamped, between teaching mornings and nights, personal going-ons, my sons being in town, haven’t seen Felix since last year. He’s on tour with Jeff Coffin, first time in Florida, as well as organizing two, perhaps three events for Jaco’s 60th, it’s been quite a marathon…. just to let you know, there will be a Jaco Celebration at the Zinc in NY on November 30th, and another one down here in Florida on December 4. Can’t wait, there is a B3 on stage! The third one is still formulating, I am trying to organize a jam for budding musicians, several schools are participating, I am psyched about this!” After briefly discussing a cover photo she was trying to help me with for Bass Musician, she wrote, “Thanks again for anything and everything you have done and are doing on behalf of Jaco’s legacy, looking forward to the issue. All the best, Ingrid.”
Ingrid never got to see any of those events she was planning; she died on November 29th of a heart attack. That e-mail was my final communication with her. It was sudden, shocking, out of the blue. And so perhaps it is appropriate, on this day that we remember Jaco, to share a few of Ingrid Pastorius’ final thoughts of her husband. Here is a brief excerpt of an interview I had done with her several weeks earlier:
What are some of the memories you have of watching Jaco play with Joni Mitchell?
Joni looked to Jaco for guidance and support. The way he responded is evident by how magical their sounds seem to stroke each other. It always felt like a dance to me, watching and listening to them play.
Though he’s known to be a jokester, when in the studio recording, an artist couldn’t be more on top of the situation and his game than Jaco. I remember Jaco being in charge of the editing/splicing during Weather Report’s mastering, he was impeccable.
There was that time when working on “Dry Cleaner” for Joni, in the middle of the session, Jaco suggested to add some horn parts. So that night at the Sunset Marquis, in natural wisdom mode, he stayed up until 5 AM writing out the parts in order to bring them in that day.
Joni was always gracious and generous to Jaco, as well did Jaco deeply respect Joni, there definitely was a love. It was the Shadows and Light tour that facilitated him to buy our home. Forever grateful.
Did he ever discuss her music with you, and did you ever hear him work on her music at home?
No, Jaco didn’t discuss the music. I don’t remember him working on Joni’s music at home, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t. If there is anyone able to do one-takers during recording sessions, and improvise, it’s Jaco. At home he mostly worked on his compositions, recorded himself, and practiced….aside from spending time with his children, juggling, beach, yard-work, cooking, playing baseball and basketball…to name a few.
In your opinion, if he had remained physically and mentally healthy and were still alive, what do you suppose life would be like for Jaco at 60 years old?
Jaco had several aspirations he still wanted to fulfill, aside from being a great Dad. He spoke of composing soundtracks for film, learning to play the oboe– as a matter of fact, perhaps all woodwinds. He was also keen on nature, recorded aspects of it. Who knows what would have emerged from that.
Jaco at 60, what a loaded thought….one thing is clear: life would be different, not only for his family and friends, but also for most musicians, bassists in particular. What and how would they be playing now?