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.
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