John "Jaco" Francis Pastorius III (December 1st, 1951 — September 21st, 1987)

He is considered by many musicians to be the most influential, innovative, and technically proficient jazz bass player the world has ever heard. He recorded with many of the jazz greats during his professional career (1975-1987) and was a member of Weather Report and leader of his own band, Word of Mouth. Jaco used false harmonics and finger tapping along with an unprecedented melodic styling in a way that redefined the role of the bass guitar in modern music. He invented the fretless bass guitar one night by taking out a pair of pliers and some wood compound and removing the frets. Legend of his exploits is no doubt highly exagerrated, but enough stories (like the one where he was seen riding around the streets of Tokyo on a motorcycle, naked and screaming) exist that you have to believe that at least some of what you hear was true, if not most or all of it.

Jaco was born in Pennsylvania, but grew up in Fort Lauterdale. His first musical influence was his father, a jazz drummer. Under his father's tutelege, Jaco taught himself to play guitar, bass guitar, drums, and keyboards. He started backing visiting music acts and quickly gained both a reputation and a local following. His quick rise to stardom began in 1975 when Bobby Colomby, drummer with Blood, Sweat And Tears, was impressed enough to arrange the recording of Pastorius' first album, and a year later Pat Metheny asked him to play bass on his own debut album for ECM Records.

Soon after that Jaco was picked up by Weather Report. Legend has it that he walked up after the show, said he was a big fan, and announced himself as "Jaco Pastorius, The Greatest Bass Player in the World."

Weather Report discography:

Jaco also released a number of albums with Joni Mitchell:

and of course on his own or with Word of Mouth:

thanks to Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius, "The World's Greatest Bass Player", published by Miller Freeman Books, June 1995 for the Discography. Please excuse any broken hard links.

In the latter stages in his career Jaco started using cocaine heavily and drank alcohol to excess. His unstable mental state became more and more apparent and his self-destructive urges hindered both his social and his professional life. His friends turned their backs after trying to get him back on his feet time after time, and record companies could no longer deal with him on a professional level. During this period there were reports of him pawning his bass and panhandling for money to buy beer and drugs. He had been known to go into bars and pick fights with the toughest, meanest looking guy he could find, and then stand at attention with his hands behind his back as he was pummelled.

Like many of his musical idols, Jaco shot to stardom at a young age as a result of musical genius. Unfortunately he also followed their path to excess and an untimely demise. On September 11, 1987, at the age of 35, Jaco was beaten into a coma by a bouncer at the Midnight Club in his home town of Fort Lauderdale. He went into a coma and died ten days later, on September 21, 1987.

Jaco's influences are very noticeable in his music: Charlie Parker ("Donna Lee"), Duke Ellington ("Sophisticated Lady"), John Coltrane ("Giant Steps"), Johann Sebastian Bach ("Chromatic Fantasy"), Jimi Hendrix ("Amerika," "Purple Haze," "Third Stone from the Sun"), James Brown ("The Chicken"), Bob Marley ("I Shot the Sheriff"), and the Beatles ("Blackbird," "Dear Prudence").

Jaco went to my high school and was in the school band. Interestingly enough, our current band teacher was in band with Jaco during his high school years. The story goes that Jaco would be introduced to freshmen and other rookies with a simple "This is Jaco, he does everything". Jaco was a bit proud of himself, he liked to say stuff along the lines of "I'm John Francis Pastorious III, and I'm the greatest bass player in the world."

The story of Jaco's death, as it was relayed to us sometime in the middle of my freshman year (2000-2001), was something like this: Carlos Santana gave Jaco an open invite to come onstage with them and jam any time he wanted to. The bouncer in question saw Jaco (who was, by this time, not in the best of conditions owing to his excesses and drug use as detailed in numberoneson's write up) assumed that this was just some ordinary junky trying to get close to Carlos, not knowing that this junky was a musical genius. So Jaco got the shit beat out of him, went to the hospital, and gave up the ghost after lingering in a coma.

Our band teacher's drives within the faculty to get Jaco a plaque of some sort has been stonewalled; they seem to think that Jaco isn't an "appropriate role model" due to the end of his life, ignoring the music he created when he wasn't self-destructing. So Brent Jett, an astronaut who graduated from this same school, gets the street in front of the school named after him, and Jaco gets (as of the time of this writeup) nothing.

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