Tuesday, August 23, 2016

40 Year Itch : Jaco

All of us stand on Jaco's shoulders. - Sting

Jaco Pastorius : Donna Lee

In August of 1976, 25 year old Jaco Pastorius released his self titled debut album. Pastorius reinvented the bass. He plucked off the frets and created the warmest, most resonant, most expressive voice in the world of jazz. He played the bass as though it were a lead instrument, using harmonics in a way most people had never heard. He was, as his wife told Blood Sweat and Tears drummer Bobby Colomby, "the greatest bass player in the world".

Colomby agreed. He produced the debut album with one goal in mind : "to bring Jaco to as many people as humanly possible". Jaco Pastorius is not a traditional jazz album. The second track, the funky "Come On, Come Over", features the vocal talents of Sam and Dave. Herbie Hancock performs on six of the nine original tracks.

 In the tremendous documentary, Jaco, Hancock says Jaco was able to handpick whoever he wanted to work with. A surprising number of 1976 albums would illustrate that remark. He played bass on Ian Hunter's All American Boy, on debut albums by both Pat Metheny and Al DiMiola, on two tracks of his future band, Weather Report's Black Market ( including Joe Zaniwul's tribute to Cannonball Adderly), and most significantly perhaps, on Joni Mitchell's Hejira.

No discussion of Jaco's brilliance can end without painfully discussing his battle with mental illness and alcoholism. In the Jaco documentary, Flea relates the story of coming across a homeless looking musician in New York City's Washington Square. And then this sad image appears on the screen : the world's greatest bass player playing for spare change.

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