Jaco

Music to My Ears

When I started out playing bass, like all novices I was pretty lousy. Luckily, you always played in the back behind loud guitar players, best friends who talked you into playing bass in the first place so they could whack a doodle or two.

I eventually ran across bass friends who pointed out what I was doing wrong and drummers who didn’t know what I was doing wrong but knew something sucked and who was responsible. These guys taught me to listen and learn from real bass players. After decades of listening, study and practice I became a lousy bass player. Not pretty lousy, just that. Hey, you have to appreciate Life’s simple gratifications. I didn’t get worse.

Early on I got lucky. A real bass player and mellow Bridgeport machinist I worked with in South Windsor came out to see me play with a country folk band. Because of the dumb shit noodling I was doing between songs (the frustrated guitar player, and it was obvious) he talked to me between sets. He had to be quick. We had a 15 minute break with a free bar tab.

In 3.5 minutes, and subsequently at work, Jerry talked and taught about listening to the bass, and great bass players. He loaned me the first Jaco Pastorius solo album, incongruously called Jaco Pastorius. Jerry had to know he’d never get it back. I still have it. I think if he thought I would give it back he wouldn’t have loaned it in the first place. Love you Jerr.

Alright, reading that diatribe I have to dig out that disc. Be back.

Sorry, that took longer than I thought. Looking for Jaco I came across Johnny Winter And Live.

That Jaco solo album truly blew me away, still does. You do not have to be a bass player to get this. Just do it.

Sometime later I went up to Jerry at the shop. Jerry, as I said, was a machinist. I was an inspector doing first articles, random piece inspections and generally pissing the machinists off.

“Hey Jerr! I loved that album!”

“What album?” Jerry was a great guy and a pretty good machinist, but after all, a bass player.

“The Jaco. Damn, man I might owe you my life. Who does he play with?”

“YOU have that album? I’ve been looking for..son a bitch when did I loan that to you?” He said loan. I thought fast.

“It was at my birthday party right after my gramma died.” Double whammy. I was counting on two things. That Jerry would not remember being at a birthday party that never happened and that Gra was still alive.

Instead he turned me onto Weather Report.

In 1976 Jaco joined an interesting jazz fusion band with guys from the Miles Davis bands, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter. What was interesting became sublime, insane. The rhythms and blasted brilliance in the first albums I bought, Black Market and Heavy Weather, put a place mark in the jazz fusion book with their name being unique.

Side note: Just noticed that “i before e except after c” isn’t really a rule. It’s more of a guideline.

I had always assumed two things that amazingly were untrue:

1. Jaco Pastorius, as crazy pure and innovative as he was, had to be classically trained or at least exposed. Truth was he grew up in Florida playing around the club circuit. There is a story that when he had his first child, in the hospital through glass peering into the baby room, he turned to a friend and said, “I’m going to be the greatest bass player in the world. Gotta take care of a family.”

He did become the greatest electric bassist in the world. Last I counted there were 10 bass players on the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame list, and only one played electric, our boy.

Pssst. Downbeat. Really? Vic Wooten, Stanley Clarke, and John Patitucci aren’t on that list?

Anyway, Jaco pulled shit out of that thing no one had ever heard before. A large part of it was his amazing soul, but it was helped by innovation. Jaco at some point pulled the frets out of his Fender Jazz himself, or he bought an FJ with the frets already removed (I like the first story) and a sound was born.

2. I got the order of the albums wrong. That first solo album took place before Weather Report. The dude was playing club dates around Florida and moonlighting giving bass lessons at U of Miami. In 1974 he started playing with a young Pat Metheny, and people started listening.

In 1975 he met the drummer from Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and that bright guy named Bobby Colomby thought recording this guy in a solo effort was a good idea. Now. I said people were listening. But Jaco was a bass player, doing a solo album, a first solo album in Florida. I never did a solo album, but I would have been grateful to be accompanied by goats.

The people on that first album. He opened with a Charlie Parker tune called Donna Lee, just bass and congas. On the second song, an upbeat R&B funk deal called Come On Come Over, he had the Brecker Brothers, Howard Johnson and David Sanborn on horns, Herbie Hancock on keys, and Sam and Dave on vocals. Sam and Dave. Yeah, musicians were listening. Maybe not actual people, but the cream of that world. Herbie played on 5 more cuts, and guys like Lenny White, Wayne Shorter and Hubie Laws threw in.

For a guy bumming around the Gator circuit this is amazing. I had always thought these guys jumped in because of Jaco’s work in Weather Report. Nope, turns out that album GOT him the Weather Report gig.

At the time I was playing a blonde Fender Jazz that I bought from a guy who got it in a drug deal. Brand new in the case. Paid a hundred bucks gladly. After moving to Colorado Springs from the east coast in 1980 I took the girl to Chris at Rocky Mountain Music and asked him to pull the frets.

Chris thought I was deranged but did a great job. Finished that maple neck and filled the fret slots with real rosewood dust.

Rosewood dust. Those were the days.

W L Woodward is the Director of Operations at PS Audio. He has been married since 1974 to his high school sweetheart and should practice his guitar more.