September 21, 1987 – John Francis Anthony Pastorius III aka Jaco Pastorius changed the way the bass was played. Born in Pennsylvania on December 1, 1951, Jaco’s family moved south and he grew up in Fort Lauderdale, where he first took on the drums. Being a direct descendant of poet Francis Daniel Pastorius, who drafted the first protest against slavery in the US in 1688!, artistry ran in the family. His dad was a big band leader and singer.
During his formative years drums, like his dad, but a football injury made him move to bass. Upright bass at first but after his bass cracked because of the ocean front humidity in Florida he bought an electric bass.
He then played with visiting R&B and pop acts while still a teenager and built a reputation as a local legend, with his strutting, flamboyant performing style. His mastery of his fretless electric bass brought the rhythm section into the front line, demanding attention. His self titled debut solo album for Epic in 1976 is hailed by many to be the finest bass album ever recorded and his back up band included Herbie Hancock, Don Alias, Wayne Shorter, David Sanborn, Lenny White, and Michael Brecker among others, plus R&B singers Sam & Dave reunited to appear on the track “Come On, Come Over”.
Also by 1976, Jaco had been invited to join Weather Report, gradually becoming a third lead voice along with Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter. As well as all this he was in constant demand as a sessionman and producer, playing on Ian Hunter, Joni Mitchell, Blood Sweat and Tears, Paul Bley, Bireli Lagrene and Ira Sullivan albums.
After Weather Report parted ways in early 1981 he toured and recorded with his own band. Among many honours and tributes, Jaco had two Grammy Award nominations for his self-titled debut album and won the readers poll for induction into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988, one of only four bassists to be so honored, the others being Charles Mingus, Milt Hinton, and Ray Brown, and is the only electric bassist to receive this distinction.
Very tragically Jaco was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in late 1982 following his Word of Mouth tour of Japan, this along with alcohol abuse resulted in a deterioration in his health, leading to increasingly erratic and sometimes anti-social behavior
In the mid 1980s he was often living on the streets for weeks at a time. On Sept 11th 1987, after sneaking onstage at a Carlos Santana concert, he went to the Midnight Bottle Club in Wilton Manors, FL. After being refused entrance to the club, he was engaged in a violent confrontation with the club bouncer, Luc Havan. Jaco was hospitalized with multiple facial fractures, damage to his right eye, right arm, and had sustained irreversible brain damage. He fell into a coma and was put on life support; he died 10 days later on September 21, 1987. The club bouncer was arrested and sentenced to 22 months in jail with five years probation, but released after four months for good behavior.
Jaco Pastorius has been called “arguably the most important and ground-breaking electric bassist in history” and “perhaps the most influential electric bassist today”. William C Banfield, director of Africana Studies, Music and Society at Berklee College, describes Jaco as one of the few original American virtuosos who defined a musical movement, alongside Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Christian, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Bill Evans, Charles Mingus and Wes Montgomery.