the glorious life and inglorious death of jaco pastorius

Es­ti­mated reading time is 6 min­utes.

TO MANY MUSICIANS AND FANS, John Francis An­thony Pas­to­rius III—or Jaco to everyone who knew him—was ar­guably the most in­ven­tive and most in­flu­en­tial elec­tric jazz bass-player of the past forty years. His flair in both playing his in­stru­ment and in on­stage per­for­mance earned him the nick­name the ‘Jimi Hen­drix of the bass.’ He came to promi­nence for his solo work and for holding down the fu­sion flights of Weather Re­port from 1976 through 1981. 

My first jazz-rock fu­sion album was Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, which I bought new in 1970. It was ef­fec­tively the album that kicked off the fu­sion move­ment of the early ’70s, be­coming Davis’s first album to be awarded an RIAA Gold Record as it sold to hun­dreds of thou­sands of rock fans in search of new sounds. Like those rock fans, I bought other fu­sion albums:

Miles Davis: In A Silent Way (1969)
Tony Williams Life­time: Emer­gency from (1969)
Weather Re­port: Weather Re­port (1970)
Weather Re­port: I Sing The Body Elec­tric (1971)
Ma­hav­ishnu Or­chestra: The Inner Mounting Flame (1971)
Chick Corea: Re­turn To For­ever (1972)

Fu­sion be­came funkier (or be­came funk), which did not hold my at­ten­tion. By the time that Jaco joined Weather Re­port in 1976, I was no longer in­ter­ested in the form so I did not be­come fa­miliar with his work until many years later.

This piece here grew out of an ap­pendix that I was in­tending for a hu­morous ar­ticle that I posted on Neal Umphred Dot Com, “Jaco And The Gorram Frakking Parrot.” I had named the dog in the story Jaco and was in­spired to use an image of Pas­to­rius for the piece but de­cided against it. As I had col­lected most of the data here, I de­cided to turn it into this brief tribute to Jaco and pro­mote the re­cent doc­u­men­tary film on his life.


JacoPastorius first album 1976 800
Jaco Pastorius’s self-titled first album from 1976 es­tab­lished it­self in the soul market with its opening track, “Come On, Come On Over,” which fea­tured vo­cals by Sam Moore and Dave Prater.

Jaco Pastorius discography

The first album (Jaco Pas­to­rius, 1976) is con­sid­ered one of the finest bass album ever recorded. Con­tributing mu­si­cians in­cluded in­cluding Herbie Han­cock, Wayne Shorter, David San­born, Lenny White, Hu­bert Laws, Don Alias, Michael Brecker, and soul singers Sam Moore and David Prater, better known as Sam & Dave.

For this album, Pas­to­rius re­ceived two Grammy Award nom­i­na­tions: ‘Best Jazz Per­for­mance by a Group’ and ‘Best Jazz Per­for­mance by a Soloist.’ He re­leased two more solo al­bums in his life­time, Word Of Mouth in 1981 and In­vi­ta­tion in ’83.

He was with Weather Re­port for five studio al­bums and also worked on major projects with artists as di­verse as Paul Bley, Joni Mitchell, and Pat Metheny. Sev­eral Jaco solo al­bums of out­takes, live per­for­mances, and just plain com­pi­la­tions have been is­sued since his death

Jaco was di­ag­nosed with bipolar dis­order that led to a dis­in­te­grating per­son­ality and life, leading to his living his final months on the street. On Sep­tember 11, 1987, he was re­fused en­trance at the night­club in Florida. After re­port­edly kicking in a glass door, he got into a vi­o­lent fight with the club bouncer.

Jaco was hos­pi­tal­ized, fell into a coma, and died ten days later.

In 1988, he was in­ducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame, the only elec­tric bassist so far honored.

Here is as com­plete a discog­raphy as I could find. The al­bums are in order of re­lease with the year of recording in paren­theses when known. Each title has a link to ei­ther a Wikipedia or Discogs entry for your perusal.

1974  Paul Bley: Jaco

1976  Weather Re­port: Black Market

1976  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Jaco Pas­to­rius

1977  Weather Re­port: Heavy Weather

1978  Weather Re­port: Mr. Gone

1979  Weather Re­port: 8:30

1980  Weather Re­port: Night Pas­sage

1981  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Word of Mouth

1982  Weather Re­port: Weather Re­port

1983  Jaco Pas­to­rius: In­vi­ta­tion

1990  Jaco Pas­to­rius: “Hon­estly” Solo Live (1986)

1991  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Live In Italy (1974)

1991  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Live In New York City, Volume 1: Punk Jazz (1985)

1991  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Live In New York City, Volume 2: Trio (1985*)

1991  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Live In New York City, Volume 3: Promise Land (1985*)

1991  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Live In New York City, Volume 4: Trio 2 (1985*)

1991  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Live In New York City, Volume 5: Raça (1985*)

1991  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Live In New York City, Volume 6: Punk Jazz 2 (1985)

1991  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Live In New York City, Volume 7: His­tory (1985*)

1992  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Heavy’n Jazz (1974)

1995  Jaco Pas­to­rius: The Birthday Con­cert (1981)

1998  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Broadway Blues & Teresa (1985)

1999  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Jams – Rare Collection

1999  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Twins I & II – Live In Japan 1982

2002  Weather Re­port: Live and Unreleased

2003  Jaco Pas­to­rius: Punk Jazz – The Jaco Pas­to­rius Anthology

2006  Weather Re­port: Fore­cast: Tomorrow

2007  Jaco Pas­to­rius: The Es­sen­tial Jaco Pastorius

2007  Trio of Doom: Trio Of Doom
The trio was Jaco with John McLaughlin and Tony Williams, who were recorded live and in the studio in 1979.


JacoPastorius CriteriaSession 800
Omnivore’s MODERN AMERICAN MUSIC … PERIOD! fea­tures eleven tracks recorded by Pas­to­rius two years be­fore the ses­sions that led to his first album.

The Criteria sessions

In 2014, Om­ni­vore Records is­sued Modern Amer­ican Music . . . Pe­riod! – The Cri­teria Ses­sions. Here is an abridged ver­sion of the press re­lease for the album:

“When Jaco Pas­to­rius’ solo début ap­peared in 1976, a new stan­dard in both jazz and the elec­tric bass guitar was born. Many of the tracks on that epony­mous album had their gen­esis two years ear­lier when a 22-year-old Pas­to­rius and friends used after-hours time at Cri­teria Stu­dios to work out songs and jam.

Even­tu­ally, six of those ses­sion tracks were pulled to an ac­etate. Many of the songs would later find their way onto Jaco’s self-titled début, but some re­mained un­re­leased until now. All tracks ap­pear here in their full, unedited form for the first time.

Modern Amer­ican Music . . . Pe­riod! – The Cri­teria Ses­sions the CD and LP fea­ture 11 tracks from the Cri­teria ses­sions, es­says from Tru­jillo and Pas­to­rius bi­og­ra­pher Bill Milkowski, and un­seen photos from the family’s archives.

‘Raw and un­in­hib­ited, these Cri­teria demo ses­sions show­case a working band rev­eling in the en­ergy that they brought to the band­stand on any given night in 1974 while re­vealing a young, fully-formed Jaco Pas­to­rius standing on the verge of taking over the world.’ (Bill Milkowski)

‘Omnivore’s re­lease of Jaco Pas­to­rius’ Cri­teria Ses­sions is a raw unique state­ment — a state­ment that lets you know you are ex­pe­ri­encing a pow­erful his­tor­ical mu­sical mo­ment. Jaco’s sound, and fa­cility alone, take you on a trip that is to­tally new and fresh! This is punk at its best, and the at­ti­tude and edge is pure.’ (Tru­jillo)

While these tracks, recorded at the be­gin­ning of Pas­to­rius’ in­cred­ible ca­reer, may be from the past, they, like all of Jaco’s music, tran­scend time and space.” (Om­ni­vore)


“Jaco” the movie

Jaco is a 2014 Amer­ican doc­u­men­tary film di­rected by Paul Marc­hand and Stephen Kijak, that was co-produced by Metal­lica bassist Robert Tru­jillo along with John Battsek of Pas­sion Pic­tures. It fea­tures in­ter­views with such mu­si­cians as Sting, Joni Mitchell, Bootsy Collins, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Han­cock, and Carlos Santana.


JacoPastorius 1400

FEATURED IMAGE: I found this stun­ning image of Jaco on the NPR site with the ar­ticle “Metallica’s Robert Tru­jillo On His Hero, Jaco Pas­to­rius,” which also pro­vided me with some ot the data in this article.

“To see a person take com­mand of the stage and the au­di­ence, and specif­i­cally a bass player, was re­ally ex­citing. And just the fact that he looked like guys that I looked up to—he was doing back­flips on stage, you know? That’s usu­ally rock & rollers, and here’s Jaco Pas­to­rius. People tried to call him just a jazz cat, but he was be­yond that. He was rock & roll. He was jazz. He was every­thing.” (Tru­jillo)

Fi­nally, the glo­rious life in this article’s title refers to the joy that Jaco took in his life, his family, and his music when he was healthy. The in­glo­rious death of Jaco Pas­to­rius refers to the lack of at­ten­tion that we gave people suf­fering through bipolar dis­order back in the dim, dark ’80s. How we wrote them off as hope­less schiz­o­phrenics or worse, drug burn-outs and alcoholics . . .


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We shouldn’t have lost Jaco. Or so many others. Our in­hu­manity to each other is only ex­ceeded by our fear and ig­no­rance. We’ve all been the Heros or vil­lains at one level or another.

I’m thankful that Jaco re­mains im­moral be­cause of his recorded legacy. The list of others is too long. I re­joice for all, both known and unknown.

ty neal, i’ll watch for his lps and buy them.

Hey, no one is dising any bass player. The greats and not so greats, anyone who was recorded and bought and lis­tened too by the many, de­serves a place in the mu­sical lex­icon of great­ness. Some of us may even re­semble that!

After all, “It’s only rock and roll.” – And jazz, and clas­sical, and rock­a­billy, and punk, and all the rest!

Yada yoda blah bleh.

The above com­ment was a test for some new soft­ware for this site. I don’t usu­ally use such fowl language . . .

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x