100 Jazz Profiles
1951 - 1987
Bass guitarist. In his short life, Pastorius elevated the bass guitar into a major jazz instrument. He grew up in Florida, and after starting out on drums, took up bass when he hurt his arm in a football accident. Soon he was accompanying visiting musicians to his home state, but by the mid 1970s was working at a national level with pianist Paul Bley and guitarist Pat Metheny, playing on Metheny's celebrated album Bright Size Life.
In 1976, he joined the fusion band Weather Report, and his bass-playing became an integral part of its sound, in concert and on albums such as Heavy Weather and Night Passage. As well as pulsating basslines, he played dazzling solos in the higher register, with a thin, nasal tone that contrasted to the thumping drive of his ensemble playing.
He also included chords and harmonics that gave his contribution to the band a rich texture. He played both the fretted and fretless bass guitar, but his playing was always notable for its incredible accuracy and rhythmic drive. He was a very flamboyant personality on stage, and not all the band's fans liked his posturing and the way he milked audiences for applause.
In the early 1980s he formed his own band Word of Mouth, with which he recorded and played concert tours. The final years of his life involved problems with drugs and alcohol, and he died needlessly in a brawl at a Florida nightclub. Nevertheless, in less than a decade he had transformed his instrument from the backbone of the rhythm section into a solo force.
Bill Milkowski: Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius. (San Francisco, Miller Freeman, 1995)
Weather Report: Heavy Weather
Suggested track: Birdland
Official Jaco tribute site
on radio 3
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