Jaco Pastorius Biography
Jaco Pastorius (December 1, 1951 – September 21, 1987) was a jazz bassist and composer, notable for his virtuoso technique and fretless bass playing style. His influence on modern electric bass playing is widely recognized and he is considered by many to be the most innovative electric bassist ever. He popularized the fretless electric bass and introduced a textural approach and harmonic sense. Although he was acclaimed as a virtuoso and a musical genius, he also suffered from mental health problems and substance abuse issues that were eventually to be contributory factors to his untimely death.
"Jaco" was born John Francis Pastorius III, the first of three sons born to John Francis Pastorius II and Stephanie Katherine Haapala Pastorius. He had Finnish, German, Swedish, and Irish ancestry . Although "Jaco" was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, the family subsequently moved to Fort Lauderdale. Jaco went to elementary and middle school at St. Clement's Catholic School in Wilton Manors, and he was an altar boy at the adjoining church. He went to high school at Northeast High in Oakland Park. He was a talented athlete with skills in football, basketball, and baseball, and he picked up music at an early age. He took the name "Anthony" at his confirmation.
He loved basketball, and often watched basketball with his father, whose nickname was "Jack". Jaco's nickname was influenced by his love of sports and also by the umpire Jocko Conlan. He changed the spelling from "Jocko" to "Jaco" after the pianist Alex Darqui sent him a note. Darqui, who was French, assumed the name was spelled "Jaco"; "Jaco" liked the new spelling.
Originally a drummer, following in the footsteps of his father, stand-up drummer Jack Pastorius, "Jaco" switched to bass at age 15, after suffering an injury to his wrist. In about 1970, he began playing in a nine-piece horn band at the time called Las Olas Brass, which covered popular material of the day by Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown and the Tijuana Brass.
Pastorius was most identified by his use of two well-worn Fender Jazz Bass from the early 1960's: A 1960 Fretted, and a 1962 Fretless. The fretless was originally a fretted bass, from which he removed the frets and used wood filler to fill in the grooves where the frets had been, along with the holes created where chunks of the fretboard had been taken out. Jaco then sanded down the fingerboard, and applied several coats of marine epoxy (Petit's Poly-poxy) to prevent the rough Rotosound RS-66 roundwound bass strings he used from eating into the bare wood. Even though he played both the fretted and the fretless basses frequently, he preferred the fretless, because he felt frets were a hindrance, once calling them "speed bumps."
The "Jaco growl" is obtained by using the bridge pickup exclusively and plucking the strings close to it. Additionally, Jaco used the "Variamp" EQ (equalization) controls on his two Acoustic 361 amplifiers (made by the Acoustic Control Corporation of Van Nuys, California) to boost the midrange frequencies, thus accentuating the natural growling tone of his fretless passive Fender Jazz Bass and roundwound string combination. His tone was also colored by the use of a rackmount chorus effect (an offboard sound modification device similar to a phase shifter) which gave a slight doubling effect, and his use of the original Acoustic brand bass amplifier. He would often use the fuzz control built in on the Acoustic 361. Other effects he used live were his octaver (an offboard effect pedal which provides a 2nd tone an octave lower) and his MXR sampler pedal which can be heard on his live solo spot with Weather Report, 'Slang' (Jaco loops a short extract of playing, and then solos over it).
Pastorius used natural and artificial/false harmonics to extend the range of the bass (exemplified in the bass solo Portrait of Tracy off of his eponymous album) and could achieve a horn-like tone through his playing technique. Both of his Fender basses were stolen shortly before he entered Bellevue hospital in 1986; they were never recovered. Jaco also had two Jaydee Basses made for him shortly before he died; a fretted and a fretless.
In the early to mid-1980s, Pastorius began to experience mental health problems, including symptoms of manic depression. These were worsened by heavy drug and alcohol use. Although his on-stage and off-stage antics were already well-documented, his mental health and addiction problems exacerbated his unusual and often bizarre behavior and his musical performances also suffered.
During this time he played in various solo acts and many nightclubs in Fort Lauderdale and New York City. He became an outcast in the music business. His final address while alive was Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale. After sneaking onstage at a Carlos Santana concert September 11, 1987, he was ejected from the premises and made his way to the Midnight Bottle Club in Wilton Manors, Florida. What then happened was clouded with discrepancy. Some say he tried to kick in the glass door after being refused entrance, others say he did absolutely nothing and did nothing to deserve his fate. Whatever the case, he ended up in a violent confrontation with the club bouncer, Luc Havan, who was trained in martial arts. Pastorius was hospitalized with multiple facial fractures and gruesome disfigurement to his face, including the probable loss of his right eye and sustained irreversible brain damage. He slipped into a coma and was put on life support. Increasing signs pointed to brain death and his family decided pull the plug. After life support was removed, his heart continued to beat for three hours. Pastorius died on September 21, 1987, aged 35, at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale.
In wake of his death, Havan was charged with second degree murder and went to trial. However, Havan only ended up serving 4 months for this crime.
Jaco is buried at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery in North Lauderdale.