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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