Jaco Pastorius is a household name in jazz music, fusion, funk and bass guitar. Few people can be attributed to re-defining an entire instrument and the musical possibilities that comes with it.
Jaco was one of those few.
Thoughout Jaco’s lifetime, he touched as many lives with his music and inspired an entire generation to come to pick up the bass guitar and try something new with it.
His influence is still felt today. Players including Richard Bona, Robert Trujillo, Billy Sheehan, Will Lee, Nathan East and countless others have cited Jaco’s first solo release and Jaco’s work as a collective body as a major musical influence to their own playing.
Jaco’s discography is also an anomaly in it’s completeness, vastness and how just about every contribution to it can be cited as a masterpiece in some way. The bulk of his body of musical work and achievements stays within his work with Weather Report and Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter and his solo work but work with Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock and Brazilian singer, Flora Purim were also among the more noteworthy selections from his work.
While his life could be compared to a bottle rocket, short but damn entertaining from start to finish, there are a handful of documented interviews that provide a candid look into the mind of one of music’s great treasures.
Below is a short collection of seven, well documented, high quality interviews with Jaco Pastorius. There is a short list of other interviews that Jaco did, but a lengthy search of the Internet didn’t reveal too much for this bass player’s blog.
“Jaco Pastorius” by L. Goddet, Jazz Hot, May 29 1976 n330 p32 (in French)
“Pastorius reporting” (interview) Steve Lake, Melody Maker (Aug 14 1976)
“Portrait of Jaco” by Steve Rosen, International Musician and Recording World(August 1978)
“Jaco Pastorius” by Julie Coryell, Jazz-Rock Fusion (1978)
“Jaco Pastorius – The Bassist Interviewed” by Damon Roerich, Musician (1980)
“The New Jaco” (interview) Samuel Graham, High Fidelity (March 1984)
“Jaco Pastorius: Win, Bass and Show” Chuck Jacobs, Guitar For The Practicing Musician (July 1984)
But in the mean time, here are 7 interviews we do have with Jaco Pastorius:
1. “Bass Revolutionary” by Bill Milkowski – Guitar Player (1983)
“If I may interject, the thing that happened was: Stanley Clarke says, ‘I don’t want to be in the background and be a bass player; I want to play some music.’ Then Alphonso Johnson says, ‘Okay, but I can do more with the bass.’ And then Jaco says, ‘Hell with being a bass – let it be whatever I want it to be!'”
If ever there was a more perfect paragraph to describe Jaco and the history of bass guitar, I can’t find it.
The interview has earned it’s place as one of the most satisfying, insightful reads into the mind of Jaco Pastorius. Milkowski draws out small but significant quotables from Jaco throughout this interview. Each section seems to shine even more light on the mindset of Jaco. Some of the noteworthy quotes included:
“I have never tried to play fast in my life.”
This quote came in the context of an exchange between Jaco and Victor:
“The bass is the number one instrument in the world, because it hits the sound right where it belongs.”
An apt ending to this piece was Jaco and Victor expressing their views on the current state of music for them (circa 1983).
Both bassists shared a common understanding that the music business focuses more on record sales and meeting numbers then providing music that speaks and conveys from the artist to the listener.
“People do not understand how hard a jazz musician works for a living. I’m not putting nobody down, but I’m telling you nobody understands how hard jazz musicians work. Jazz is not big in the US, because the States are too worried about Pac-Man and The Police.”
Victor affirmed Jaco’s point of contention: “And the record companies, most of them, want to sell us a million records, instead of selling us significant music.”
Jaco: “I don’t want to sell shit. I want to do what has to be done. I’m a musician. And musicians are the peacemakers.”
Certainly an interview well worth it’s place in the history books as one of Jaco’s most revealing and insightful interviews.
What’s more interesting is learning how Jaco claims to not have a single original piece of music:
Right around the time Weather Report was releasing Mr. Gone, Clive Williams from the BBC caught up with Jaco for an interview discussing the Weather Report project, meeting Joe Zawinul and the prospects of a second Jaco album happening in the future.
Unlike the Guitar World interview where there were personal philosophies touched more than playing technique and recording work, this interview focuses more on the latest Weather Report work. Williamson addresses the latest incorporation of Zawinul’s Oberheim synthesizers and the incorporation of an 18-year old Peter Erskine on drums.
Fun fact: Jaco performed drums, timpani, voice and bass on the track, River People off Weather Report’s, “Mr. Gone”:
3. “Jaco Pastorius: The Florida Flash” by Neil Tesser – Downbeat (1977)
This interview took some time to find – but it was well worth it.
The interview is full of rich excerpts, that provide a rare glimpse into the performances successes of Jaco, as well as the struggle behind the scenes that molded him and helped to drive him to achieve staggering levels of fame and reccognition in his short career.
The excerpt below came from the context of Jaco explaining how he wound up on bass guitar versus one of the 5 other instruments that he was experimenting with through most of his early musical career:
“I was playing like five instruments, and I was pretty good on all of them, but I wasn’t realIy good on any of them. I mean, there’s no way you can play that many instruments at a time. I had to concentrate on just one. “That’s not to say I was wasting time,” he quickly continues. “I mean, I’m glad I fooled around with all of them, like for writing and stuff; I can write as fast as I can think for all those instruments. I’m not hung up on different keys or anything like that,” a situation that facilitated his early big band charts for the University of Miami stage band and Ira Sullivan’s Baker’s Dozen. The precocious youngster was still in his teens. “But I finally realized that in order to do something really well, I’d have to settle on one instrument.”
Jaco also shares how his marriage to Tracy Pastorius (nee Sexton) and the birth of his first child put him in a bind between his music and sprouting family at the age of 18:
“When my daughter was born, I had about $700 saved up to pay for all the hospital bills and all. This was about a month before she was born. And I went out and spent it on an amplifier instead. I needed it; we needed it. Playing was my life, and if I didn’t have a good amp, I realized no one was going to hear me. And by the time she was born, I had already earned about $500 back, working with that amp. It was a decision forced on me by the realities of the situation. “And something happened to me when my daughter was born. I stopped listening to records, reading Down Beat, things like that, because I didn’t have the time anymore. That wasn’t bad that’s why my sound is different. But there was something else. A new personality being born made me see that it was time for my musical personality to be born; there was no need for me to listen to records. I knew music, I had the makings of a musician; now I had to become one. My daughter made me see all this, because she was depending on me. I wasn’t going to let her down.”
How do you get that woody, resonant, rich tone out of the bass guitar, Tesser asks. Jaco response was:
“It sings,” says Jaco in explaining the preference for the fretless instrument. “I’ve been playing it for about six years. It’s all in the hands; in order to get that sound, you have to know exactly where to touch the strings, exactly how much pressure to apply. You have to learn to feel it. And then it just sings.”
4. British Radio – 1978
In this 1978 British radio interview with an unnamed interviewer, the discussion encompasses 2 primary topics: Jaco’s relationship with Joe Zawinul (pronounced zah-vin-ool), how Jaco earned his place within Weather Report, fitting into the dynamic that has already been established with Wayne Shorter and Joe and Jaco’s musical origins.
Jaco recalls it took some time before he was able to mesh with the relationship that Wayne and Joe had already established as the core of Weather Report. At the time of this interview, however, Jaco claims that he feels that the relationship that has been cultivated between himself and Joe is one that is now driving the band.
The two, he claims, work hand in hand in the studio and have been major decision makers when it comes to the band’s latest releases, as well as for the inclusion of Teen Town and Havona on “Heavy Weather”.
The interviewer also addresses the idea of the bass being a “solo instrument”. As Jaco sees it, it’s just him playing as he normally would. More over, he discusses the origin of the electric fretless bass. Jaco recalls that at the time, he had an upright bass and an electric bass. The upright was fretless and the electric was fretted, but he wanted to get the qualities of the upright with the “power” of the electric.
As a result, he removed the frets from his fretted electric bass and gave birth to, arguably, one of the world’s first electric fretless basses.
“I never listened to bass players. I listened to music.”
One of the stand-out quotes from this interview with British radio in 1978 that made me personally rewind the interview to hear that section all over again when discussing his influences.
TV, Jaco says, was his biggest influence. He praises the score composers and sound engineers who write for television shows and commercials as some of the earliest, most consistent influences.
After moving to Florida, he cites the Beatles, Stravinsky, James Brown, RnB groups as additional influences that helped to supplement his foundation in music gained through television scores.
Another powerful moment in the interview is when Jaco proudly proclaims that he is “formally self taught” and “never had a music lesson in his life”.
His musical foundation came from writing music and learning to express his musical ideas on paper. By writing music, he claims, he was able to teach himself how to read music in both treble and bass clef, “read better than any of his peers” and earned himself teaching spots at 3 universities’ music departments.
Though short, the interview covers the latest compositional process of Jaco’s pieces for “Word of Mouth” and the increased inclusion of steel pans into the mix. Jaco remarks that the pans are a tremendous asset to the band’s sound because the pans tend to be arranged one octave higher than his bass parts, and because of this, Jaco is able to “rock out a little bit more on [his] bass guitar”.
“I was always writing before I even played bass”
6. “Modern Electric Bass” (1985)
Less of a “traditional one-on-one interview” and more of an exploration of music and technique.
Session bassist, Jerry Jemmott, interviews, discusses and shares some laughs, technique and insights with Jaco as this video probes deep inside the coveted technique of one of bass guitar’s most beloved figures.
The whole video is almost an hour and a half long, but it’s worth every second.
7. “S. Florida’s Pastorius Breaks the Bass Barrier” by Ray Recchi – Ft. Lauderdale News and Sun Sentinel (1981)
By 1981, Jaco was a household name in the world of jazz fusion, his technique was igniting bass players all around the world, publications were clamoring for interviews, his solo album was being accpeted as the new gold standard for solo bass performance and his second album, “Word of Mouth” had dropped just a few months earlier.
Things appeared to be looking up for Jaco. But the tone of this interview from the Ft. Lauderdale News and Sun Sentinel seems to display a more fatigued Jaco. Someone who is tired of playing around the world and still having little to show for it. Someone who just want to have a steady gig in South Florida and leave it at that.
This quote neatly summarized this interview with Jaco during the height of his performing career.
“I come home and my friends think I’m rich,” he said. “I’m poorer than they are. At least they’ve got a steady gig. That’s what I think I’d like now. To stay in my home town with a steady gig.”
Like the other 6 interviews, this one is certainly worth a read simply because the tone of Jaco seems less braggadocios and more subdued and lamenting.
Jaco’s Last Days
Deep in the catacombs of YouTube, one user uploaded some home movies (10 to be exact) of Jaco in a more candid light: drunk and confident.
These videos show Jaco as he was remembered by some of his friends and family throughout his life. Often drunk, aggressive with a strong with a strong in-your-face aspect that only he could wear so honestly on his sleeve.
These videos are a very rare glimpse into who Jaco was (at times) behind closed doors: