September 21, 2008 7:24 AM   Subscribe

That Mitchell ensemble was one helluva all-star band. Thanks mattoxic.
posted by netbros at 7:54 AM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

damn alcohol makes you wacky.
posted by billybobtoo at 7:59 AM on September 21, 2008

don't pass up the interview/lesson (part 1 of many)
posted by mikhail at 8:02 AM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Jaco was one of the greats, and every so often something by him will catch me unawares and break me up. Jazz doesn't need this many tragic figures.

Thanks for the great music.
posted by ardgedee at 8:15 AM on September 21, 2008

I get chills every time I hear "Portrait of Tracy." I think Jaco is the reason why I don't understand bassist jokes.

Anyway, thanks a ton.
posted by giraffe at 8:22 AM on September 21, 2008

This book (revised from an earlier edition) is a good read for anyone wanting to know more about his life.
posted by TedW at 8:45 AM on September 21, 2008

posted by stubby phillips at 9:03 AM on September 21, 2008

S'funny, I was unaware of the significance of the date, but last night I listened to Bright Size Life for the first time in years.
posted by Forrest Greene at 9:03 AM on September 21, 2008

The tragedy of his circumstance was much like that of jazz guitar genius, Lenny Breau: each was a gifted player but music was all they knew how to do. Happiness otherwise eluded them.

Great post, mattoxic. Thank you for this.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 9:07 AM on September 21, 2008

Recently, the bass of doom wa found

Anyway, time for a new generation to come on down.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:13 AM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Man, Joni had herself quite a band there, didn't she? But it just makes what happened to her voice all that much worse.
posted by tommasz at 9:25 AM on September 21, 2008

Wow. His sound really catches inside my mind. I wish I had him in a box and could program him with MIDI.
posted by tehloki at 9:26 AM on September 21, 2008

ahh, love Jaco's sensual, cerebral, sexy sound. Nice to honor him.

So tragic his becoming homeless and then being beaten to death. Awful.

Essential Jaco: with Joni Mitchell from JacoPastorius.com, Essential Jaco Recordings

Of course, Joni Mitchell's Hejira, "the first of Joni's experiments into the jazz realm of music."

Somewhere I read that Joni Mitchell wanted the bass guitar to sound lyrical or be played melodically and that hadn't been done before? "Joni had been trying for years to find a certain sound on the bottom end of the bass, and Jaco's playing was a dream come true for her music. She overdubbed his bass parts on 4 of the songs on HEJIRA, and the album was readied for release in late November."

Jaco from 1980 with Joni

he felt frets were a hindrance, once calling them “speed bumps.”

Ah, so that's why his fluid sound reminds me of the veena.
posted by nickyskye at 9:53 AM on September 21, 2008

Jaco's influence on the art of the electric bass is impossible to overstate. It was one of those moments where a single genius provides a new way of doing something that is so perfect, so right, that everyone says "oh, yes, of course, that's how that thing is done". Even though nobody before him had done it. Even though nobody at the time was doing it. Even though nobody had imagined, in their most fevered dreams, of something, someone who sounded like that.

It was, purely and simply, in the same way as Jimi Hendrix, an immediate vision of what the instrument was capable of accomplishing, and of the future of music made with that instrument. Everyone knew that Jaco was going to redefine how bass was played, forever, but it was also apparent that he was the only one capable of doing it. He was, in the Mark Kac sense used to describe Richard Feynman, a magician.

An expanded version of the Mark Kac quote (taken from James Gleick's "Genius":
There are two kinds of geniuses, the "ordinary" and the "magicians". An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what they have done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it.

It is different with the magicians. They are, to use mathematical jargon, in the orthogonal complement of where we are, and the working of their minds is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible. Even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely dark."
Even now, after decades of people imitating and expanding Jaco, to listen to his work is to hear a primal and epochal force that only he himself could channel and perhaps could only barely understand. He was a modern-day Mozart, in every sense of the word, and modern music would be very different had he lived.
posted by scrump at 10:11 AM on September 21, 2008 [5 favorites]

ah, Just read the very good fifth link of the original post, the poignant essay in which Joni talks about her relationship with Jaco.

PS the veena is used to play classical music but here played more pop jazz style a la Jaco.
posted by nickyskye at 10:15 AM on September 21, 2008

Jaco smashed the Bass of Doom in the mid ’80s, apparently in an argument. Kaufman and fellow repairman Jim Hamilton painstakingly glued together 15 large chunks and several small pieces, inlaying wood where fragments were missing, and laminating a figured-maple veneer on the front and back of the body. They held together the splintered headstock with an ebony/maple veneer, refinished the instrument in a two-tone sunburst, and returned it to Jaco. How the instrument disappeared is the subject of some dispute. All that’s known for sure is that it was last seen with Jaco in Central Park sometime during 1986.

I have an eyewitness account from a good friend of Jaco walking through Central Park with his bass in this smashed, pre-repair condition, in the 80's. He said the headstock was hanging by the strings out of the top of a green army duffel bag that was slung over his shoulder, and that he looked like he hadn't bathed in weeks.

I didn't know until today that the bass had ben found and repaired. I'm not a big Weather Report fan (noodle, noodle, noodle) but Hejira has some of the most sublime moments of the electric bass ever put to tape. Jaco re-defined the possibilities. I've tried to learn those songs, and failed. My meagre mind does not grasp what it was that he understood about music. I'm awfully sorry he succumbed to his addiction -- he is missed, still. I think I'll go hug my '66 fretless, now.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:27 AM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Phish Jaco
posted by ericbop at 10:42 AM on September 21, 2008

Jaco's work with Joni took her to new dimensions. He was a genius.

posted by essexjan at 10:42 AM on September 21, 2008

In the immortal words of another one of those "magician geniuses":

Manic depression--it's a frustratin' mess

Jaco's demise was not that he became an alcoholic; it was because he fell victim to the manic side of the "mess:" his biography (ht: Bill Milkowski) clearly shows that his grandiosity increased as his self-destructive behavior spiraled towards destruction. Even his death-- beaten to death for insisting that The Famous Jaco be admitted to an after hours dive in Wilton Manors, FL--was a direct result of his mania.

A fucking tragedy that no one was able to intervene to help a poor demented genius.
posted by rdone at 10:58 AM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I remember going to see Weather Report at a nightclub in Cleveland in the late '70s. At the set break, I turned to my companion and said, "Whoever that guy is, he's the best electric bass player who ever lived, and tonight's set was the best bass playing I've ever heard."

I was right, of course, and when "Hejira" came out, Jaco's status as an immortal was confirmed. By the way, nickyskye, "Hejira" was not Joni's first foray into jazz. That would be somewhere back in Miles of Aisles days, with the much more middle-of-the-road L.A. Express backing her, and even "Twisted" on the great Court and Spark was arguably jazz. But "Hejira" with Jaco was not merely jazz, it was a kind of music that the world had never heard before, some hybrid of Joni's lyrical surgery and haunting chords, and Jaco's intimitable sense of swing and orchestration.
posted by digaman at 11:13 AM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for this post. Strangely enough the first time I heard much about Jaco (and heard his playing) was courtesy of a French guitar student I met this past year who was a pretty avid fan.
posted by nonmerci at 11:21 AM on September 21, 2008

Off-Jaco drift: For true Joni obsessives, it might interest you to know that the alcoholic "friend of spirit" who Joni meets in the song "Refuge of the Roads" on Hejira was none other than the Tibetan Buddhist lama Chögyam Trungpa, who was also Allen Ginsberg's teacher, and the founder of Naropa University in Colorado.
posted by digaman at 11:22 AM on September 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Of course "Twisted" is jazz, digaman, it's a song she covered written by and for jazz vocalists! (Lambert, Hendricks and Ross)

"Court and Spark" was Joni's jazz-pop or jazz-lite album, and afterward she released "Miles of Aisles" which saw her vocal interpretation of a lot of those songs change. I think working with Robben Ford and the rest of the L.A. Express brought out some good stuff in her, because that album is filled with some incredible performances. I think it would be silly to say that there isn't some serious jazz influence on that album ("Rainy Night House" stands out in particular) but I think the rockier elements of the backing band toned down some of Joni's more peculiar tendencies (which can be good and bad). "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" is one of those albums that's sort of hard to define musically, but I don't think the jazz influence is as pronounced. So yeah, "Hejira" wasn't her first foray into jazz, but it's when Joni got serious about the genre, and serves as a pretty good precursor to "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" and, of course, "Mingus".
posted by nonmerci at 11:27 AM on September 21, 2008

There will never be another Jaco. Not only a genius bassist, and -- unfairly overlooked in some quarters -- a brilliant composer. It is maybe even sadder that so many don't realize that Jaco suffered from bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder which was, unfortunately, left untreated. He basically "self-medicated" in the last part of his life as he spinned out of control. Some of the horrific things he went through, are detailed by family members and others at the official website.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 11:34 AM on September 21, 2008

I think it would be silly to say that there isn't some serious jazz influence on that album

Of course, that's why I cited it! Great comments, nonmerci. By the way, I think "Centerpiece" on Hissing is clearly jazz, and attractively snarkier than even "Twisted." Hissing is Elvis Costello's favorite Joni album. All it needs is Jaco!

If you want to hear the heaviest entrance by any bass player ever, on any album, check out Jaco's opening notes at 1:46 or so on the brilliant track "Overture/Cotton Avenue" on Don Juan's Reckless Daughter. Tie down any loose objects in the vicinity and turn it up!
posted by digaman at 11:43 AM on September 21, 2008

As long as we are derailing:

"Twisted" was not written for Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross. It was composed in 1949 by Wardell Gray, another tragic jazz man, a fine tenor saxophonist and one of the best of the West Coast bebop scene, known for his duets with Dexter Gordon. Like Jaco, Wardell met an untimely end, found dead in the desert under mysterious circumstances with his neck broken; he was 34.
posted by rdone at 11:52 AM on September 21, 2008

Fascinating, rdone.

Alas, by the time I saw Jaco play with Weather Report just a few years later -- after the magic Joni tour with Shorter, Metheny, et. al. -- I felt he had become a Day-Glo shell of his formerly soulful self. Oh sure, he could still play faster than any bass player alive, whipping off "Third Stone from the Sun" riffs in swirling clouds of dry ice, and hot-dogging across the stage in a bike messenger's sneakers and cap to standing ovations from the crowd.

But something crucial and elusive was missing from the machine-gun blasts of notes -- something like heart. While there are some supremely gorgeous Jaco tracks on some Weather Report albums -- notably "Havona" on Heavy Weather -- his recordings with Joni stand as his most emotionally engaging work. That's poignant: Imagine if John Coltrane's best sax playing, or Bill Evans' most exquisite piano, could be found on their crossover recordings with a female vocalist.
posted by digaman at 12:22 PM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Imagine if John Coltrane's best sax playing, or Bill Evans' most exquisite piano, could be found on their crossover recordings with a female vocalist.

Thanks digaman. A rather profound thought, really. Having almost all of the stuff Jaco's on, including the Joni Mitchell ones -- and all of Bill's (and plenty of Trane), I never thought about in that light. I wonder if the feminine presence/influence has anything to do with it. There IS some profoundly sensual and interesting Bill Evans comping behind the late Swedish vocalist Monica Zetterlund, for example.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 12:39 PM on September 21, 2008

This morning I got up and started reading through my feed reader and came across this post. I immediately talked to my Step-Father Rich, who is a jazz drummer and was a close friend of Jaco's.
Here is what he had to say after reading your comments:
Thank You for all the beautiful things you said about my friend Jaco. I was his first drummer on the very first day he played the bass. That was in 1966, we went to high school together and we would play together drums and bass everyday after school. We were also in a 12 piece band called The Las Olas Brass. I was there with him for the first 5 years of his playing the bass, then he left Florida to introduce himself to the world as " The Worlds Greatest Bass Player". We did not see each other for 7 years.. then one night he walked into a club I was playing with his bass and we started to play together again, the year was 1978 and it happened to be recorded. It was recently released in Japan and he was in top form. The album is called "Live At The Players Club."
I would like everyone to know a little about Jaco as he was so nice and kind and of course he was a genius. He was an honor student in school who excelled in everything he would do like art, music, and sports. But it was when he first picked up the bass that he realized his calling and I was blessed to have been there with him at that moment.
I remember being back stage at a Weather Report concert in Miami and Jaco introduced me to Wayne Shorter and he said " Rich Franks is the reason I played the bass." Originally I replaced him on the drums in the Las Olas Brass at the same time the bass player announced he would be leaving and Jaco went to the bass. Jaco's father and his grandfather were both drummers but Jaco loved this new instrument the electric bass and he soon would re create it and make it his own.
I was asked to play at his funeral and I remember that Pat Metheny was the last one to leave as he stood by Jaco in tears as we all did saying our last goodbye.
Thank You all again for remembering Jaco today. Please remember he was more than what he achieved, we all know of his incredable bass grooves, his time, ideas, and knowledge of harmony, melody, rhythm and composition, but it was really his heart and love for his family and friends that far out weighed all his success.
posted by goodwillstacy at 12:50 PM on September 21, 2008 [17 favorites]

At the risk of throwing salt on the meme of salutary feminine influence on Jaco, I would point to the fact that the entire "Shadows and Light" band--Joni, of course, included-- was arguably the best group Jaco ever got to play with for an extended period. Two great guitarists--Pat Metheny and Joni herself (folks do not give her unique style and killer execution enough credit); and two great percussionists (Jaco's long-time pals Lyle Mays and Don Alias), not to mention Michael Brecker , are enough to challenge and push any bass player--even the best. That they were playing great tunes with a great singer: icing on the cake.

IMHO, Weather Report became a victim of its own success, going to much into the 'arena rock" mode as time progressed; lyrical, not so much. I always thought that Joe Zawinul enjoyed his synthesizers too much for his own good. . . .
posted by rdone at 1:09 PM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks for that, goodwillstacy. I'm going to reexamine this artist.

He sure did wear his pants waist high. Old school.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:20 PM on September 21, 2008

...and two great percussionists (Jaco's long-time pals Lyle Mays and Don Alias)

rdone, perhaps you know by now you may have mistyped, or whatever. Lyle Mays is a keyboardist, (best known for his work with Metheny) not a percussionist.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 1:33 PM on September 21, 2008

Thanks very much for passing that along, goodwillstacy, and thanks to everyone for the great comments and links. A fine thread.
posted by languagehat at 2:40 PM on September 21, 2008

Ya got me. . .well, Lyle does hit the keyboard with his fingers, doesn't he?

The person responsible for the mooseburger has been sacked.
posted by rdone at 2:40 PM on September 21, 2008

People know that Jaco plays the utterly devastating drum part on the Weather Report tune "Teen Town", right? I mean, his bass playing alone is genius-level shit, but when you add to it THAT level of depth on his SECOND instrument? That's other-worldly talent, in my view.

posted by fingers_of_fire at 3:16 PM on September 21, 2008

As someone who just recently started trying to play bass (and, well, sucking), the first time I heard stuff by Pastorius, I felt both a kind of awe, as well as a profound sense of "what the hell am I trying to do?" I joked about playing bass for years, but somehow waited until 29 to actually start playing one. The lesson, folks, is start early.

Also, slight derail, but this thread is a pretty good example of why there are a couple things I never say outloud. "I like wine." "I like jazz." "I like techno." Anytime I say anyone of those three, there is always someone who immediately escalates the conversation well beyond the realm of my understanding, and to some extent, I (am made to) feel like an idiot. I'm pretty sure it's not intentional, but the encyclopedic knowledge of the field (and the full on expectation that anyone who likes the same thing must share it) held by many fans of jazz, wine, or techno music, and all of their varying genres, varieties, and parts, has got to be one of the highest barriers to entry applied to anything that should just be fun. It's as if it's not enough to enjoy something, but instead you must learn by rote all of the details (Seekerofsplendor/rdone, looking in your direction...), or be faced with scorn by "true fans."

This, of course, leads to my reaction of, "I might not know much about it, but I know what I like." That never goes over well.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:29 PM on September 21, 2008

Jaco wasn't so shabby on piano, either. Here he plays piano (and some synth) with Toots Thielemans. The sound is still recognizably his.
posted by ardgedee at 4:25 PM on September 21, 2008

I'm typing this with a 1962 three tone sunburst Fender fretless Jazz bass on the bed behind me.

Loved your work, man. Loved it to bits.

The greatest.
posted by Wolof at 4:58 PM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Anytime I say anyone of those three, there is always someone who immediately escalates the conversation well beyond the realm of my understanding, and to some extent, I (am made to) feel like an idiot.
That's a shame, and, to those of you who are inclined to indulge in it, it's a pretty profoundly un-Jaco kind of thing to do.

Jaco loved music. He loved it more than anything else in the universe, as far as anyone can tell, and his efforts to self-medicate, his self-destructive tendencies, his going-off-the-rails nature of being, was all in the service of getting him as close as possible as he could get to the music. I've been a bassist for twenty-four years, and I've read just about everything I could get my hands on about Jaco, and if there's one thing I can say, it's that he would have wanted to be music if he could. To go past merely playing it into existing as pure music.

Everyone who knew him says that he was a wonderful person. And then they talk about how he was tormented by demons. This isn't the kind of thing that you say about your basic asshole: this is the kind of thing you say about someone who touched your life by being a wonderful person, but drowned in their problems. People don't talk first about what an asshole Jaco was, or how full of himself he was, or his meltdowns. Overwhelmingly, they talk about what a beautiful person he was, when he wasn't strangling on his untreated mental illness.

Jaco would, I think, want everyone to love music like he did: any kind of music, from any perspective, for any reason at all. He wouldn't be sitting here splitting hairs about what is and what isn't "jazz" or whether it's "art" or just "commercial": it seems to me, although I never knew the man, that he'd probably be going "dude, that's awesome that you dig that music. It's all good, man."

I wish he had lived. He would have done us all so much good if he had.
posted by scrump at 5:14 PM on September 21, 2008

I dragged my turntable out of the garage today. Cleared a space on the messy desk, realised that my new amp doesn't have take a ground cable, dragged my old amp out of the garage, cleared more space. Found Joni Mitchell's Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, side 1, Overture- fucking genius. Spine shivering genius. That album features Wayne Shorter too- man she played with some amazing people.
posted by mattoxic at 6:25 PM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow. His sound really catches inside my mind. I wish I had him in a box and could program him with MIDI.
posted by tehloki

This is just so wrong, I can hardly comprehend it. I mean, to love his music, and then want to closet it and control it. I think this gets to the heart of my own disagreement with sampling.

I wish Jaco was still alive, free, and making music. I first heard him when "Birdland" came out, and he has been one of my musical heroes since.
posted by Eekacat at 6:54 PM on September 21, 2008

We're making a park down here in FL.

The twins are keeping the faith.
posted by bonefish at 10:57 PM on September 21, 2008

Mr Pastorius

Yeah, that would be Marcus Miller
posted by Wolof at 3:44 AM on September 22, 2008

This would be the same song with Miles Davis, Kenny Garrett, usw. Marcus on a Fodera and sounding great.
posted by Wolof at 5:30 AM on September 22, 2008

goodwillstacy, that was great - thanks!
Hejira and Bright Size Life are two of my absolute favorite albums, both due in large part to Jaco's bass playing.
I have that Shadows and Light DVD, having been very familiar with the album for many years, and woooooaaaah, except for Jaco's stellar showmanship (I especially love that little possessed dance he does during his bass solo), the visuals are pretty much unnecessary (mainly due to Joni's perm and pantsuit).
posted by ghastlyfop at 6:12 AM on September 22, 2008

More on the night he died and chicken grease.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:18 PM on September 22, 2008

Amazing and meaningful comment goodwillstacy. Thank you.

Great thread to an excellent post.
posted by nickyskye at 5:01 PM on September 22, 2008

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