Jaco Pastorius Biography

The self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Bass Player" lived up to his hype by redefining the role of the fretless electric bass in jazz and rock. With fellow-bassist Stanley Clarke, "Jaco" is considered by many jazz historians to be one of the most influential players of the 1970s based largely on three solo albums, his ground-breaking work with Weather Report, and collaborations with Joni Mitchell (Hejira, 1976), Ian Hunter (All-American Alien Boy, 1976), Al DiMeola (Land of the Midnight Sun, 1976), and many others. Born John Francis Anthony Pastorius, III in Norristown, Pennsylvania on December 1, 1951, he was greatly influenced by his father, Jack, a jazz drummer. Nicknamed "Jocko" (he later changed it to "Jaco"), the seven year old was already playing drums when his family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 1958. A football injury to his wrist forced Pastorius to shift to bass guitar, and by the time he graduated high school in 1969 he was making a name for himself playing with various groups in nightclubs around South Florida. In the summer of 1972, the 20-year-old bassist joined Wayne Cochran and the C.C. ("Chittlin' Circuit") Riders for a ten month series of grueling one-nighters throughout the South. Quitting the group in early 1973, Pastorius returned to Fort Lauderdale and became involved with a 13 piece band called Bakers Dozen prior to joining the Peter Graves Orchestra in 1974. The Peter Graves Orchestra was the house band at the Bachelors III nightclub in Fort Lauderdale and backed such visiting headliners as The Temptations, Mel Torme, Bobby Rydell, and Charo. Through his wife Tracy, a waitress at the club, Pastorius was introduced to Bobby Colomby, drummer for the popular band Blood, Sweat & Tears. Colomby, impressed with Jaco's virtuosity, introduced the bassist to Epic Records executives in New York City. Pastorious signed with Epic on September 15, 1975, and his first solo album, Jaco Pastorius, featuring friends and favorite musicians like David Sanborn, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock was released to strong reviews in August 1976. Jaco, however, attained superstar status only after replacing Alphonso Johnson as bassist for the jazz fusion group Weather Report on April 1, 1976. A dynamic stage performer who treated the bass as a solo instrument, Pastorius' inspired musical interplay with the band's other musicians earned him the nickname "the Catalyst." On his first record with the group, Heavy Weather (1977), he co-produced, and wrote the standout tunes "Teen Town" and "Havona." Pastorius re-energized Weather Report and before leaving the band near the end of 1981 had recorded three other influ - ential studio albums-Mr. Gone (1978), Night Passage (1980), and Weather Report (1982). A mercurial personality, Pastorius began drinking heavily and binging on coke while on tour with Weather Report in Japan in 1981. Venerated as a guitar god in that country, the jazz bassist was honored with Japan's Golden Disc Award for Word of Mouth (1982), his second solo album. During the tour, he stunned bandmates by intentionally misplaying his bass parts. After leaving Weather Report at the end of 1981 to form his own band, Word of Mouth, Pastorius exhibited a downward spiral of bizarre behavior that alienated fellow-musicians, audiences, and record executives alike. While touring with his new 20 piece band in Japan during the summer of 1982, he painted his face, stripped off his clothes, and appeared naked onstage. Once, he drove a motorcycle into a hotel lobby, passed out, and when hotel employees attempted to revive him they found a dead squid under his shirt. Wild mood swings became commonplace with band members finding their leader either laughing hysterically or weeping uncontrollably. In 1983, Word of Mouth played the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl emceed by comedy great Bill Cosby. The perform - ance began well, but quickly deteriorated after Pastorius turned up his amp and purposely began to play out of time. Amid raucous boos from the crowd, disgusted band members exited the stage one-by-one leaving Jaco alone to play and knock over equipment. A clearly embarrassed Cosby got stagehands to remove Pastorius then apologized to the disgruntled crowd. That same year, Warner Bros. dumped Pastorius after he harassed a receptionist and intimidated employees at its East Coast corporate offices. "The World's Greatest Bass Player" spent most of 1984 living on the streets of New York City often hanging out at the basketball courts in Washington Square Park. Though performing the occasional gig, Pastorius was essentially a street person by 1985, and it was common to witness him spitting and screaming obscenities at pedestrians. Arrested in September 1985 on a breaking and entering charge while visiting his father in Philadelphia, Jaco agreed to enter a hospital. Prescribed lithium to counteract his violent mood swings, Jaco went off the drug after it left him impotent and with shaking hands. In the summer of 1986, his brother convinced the musician to check into the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital. During his 17 week stay in the facility, Jaco was diagnosed as a manic-depressive whose condition was exacerbated by alcohol and drugs. "Clean" when released, Pastorius soon began binging on alcohol and cocaine. Back in the Fort Lauderdale area ostensibly to get his "sound back," he logged a series of arrests for traffic violations, vagrancy, breaking and entering, and generally bizarre behavior. Untouchable by any major record label and all but unemployable, the ill-kempt bassist had been banned from several area bars and nightclubs. On September 11, 1987, Pastorius, 35, attended a Carlos Santana concert at the Sunrise Music Theatre near Fort Lauderdale. During a solo by Santana bassist Alphonso Johnson (the musician he replaced in Weather Report in 1975) Jaco jumped up onstage, but was quickly and roughly tossed from the venue by stagehands failing to recognize him as "The World's Greatest Bass Player." Around 4:10 A.M. the next day, September 12, Pastorius attempted to enter the Midnight Bottle Club, a members-only bar located in a shopping center complex in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Wilton Manors. The Midnight was one of the many area clubs from which he was banned because of past disruptive behavior. Refused entrance, Pastorius started kicking the door, and was confronted by Luc Havan, the club's 25-year-old bouncer. Havan, a Vietnamese immigrant whose parents owned the club, was also known as an expert in the martial arts. According to Havan, Jaco swung at him, but missed causing the bassist to swing around from the force of his own blow. The bouncer claimed he shoved the drunken bassist causing him to fall backwards and strike his head on the sidewalk. When paramedics arrived, Pastorius was lying face-down on the pavement in a deep pool of his own blood. Unconscious when admitted to the IC unit of Broward County General Medical Center, Jaco remained comatose and suffered a stroke on September 19. In the absence of brain activity, his parents gave the order to remove him from life support two days later, September 21, 1987. A subsequent medical examiner's report strongly suggested Jaco's injuries could not all have been sustained in the manner described by Luc Havan. His skull had been fractured as were numerous facial bones, and his right eye had been ruptured and knocked out of its socket. Given the extent of Jaco's injuries and his massive internal bleeding, doctors advised the bassist's family that had Pastorius survived he would most likely have been blind in his right eye and unable to use his left arm. Following a funeral service conducted at St. Clement's Catholic Church in Wilton Manors on September 25, 1987, Pastorius was buried in Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery in North Lauderdale. The death of Jaco Pastorius upgraded the initial aggravated battery charge filed against Havan to one of second-degree murder. On November 7, 1988, just days before the start of his trial on the more serious felony charge, Havan accepted the prosecution offer of manslaughter. Admitting he had repeatedly struck Jaco, the bouncer was sentenced to 21 months in prison and placed on 5 years probation. He was released on "good behavior" time after serving only 4 months. Pastorius is destined to be remembered as an influential player, composer, and arranger in jazz fusion. Perhaps, however, a graveside mourner more accurately characterized Jaco as "brilliant goods in a damaged package."