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.


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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.


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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 . . .


8 thoughts on “the glorious life and inglorious death of jaco pastorius”

  1. 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.

    • The easiest thing to do is give a few listens to his first album above (JACO PASTORIUS) via YouTube, which is far and away his most popular and accessible tp non-jazz/funk fans. (It’s got Sam & Dave!)

      If you dig that, give THE CRITERIA SESSIONS a few spins.

      After that, I’d suggest the first cuppla Weather Report albums.

      He was astounding . . .

  2. Jaco’s astoundingness agreed upon, I prefer Paul McCartney and Chris Hillman along with Bill Wyman and Jack Casady and Carol Kaye and James Jamerson and Tommy Cogbill and a host of others ’cause I dig rock & roll music!

    The message may not move me, or mean a great deal to me, but hey!, it feels so groovy to say ‘I dig rock & roll music’ . . .

    • 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!


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