Happy Birthday, Jaco Pastorius!

Categories: Birthday
Jaco_Pastorius.jpg
It seems inevitable that no matter how brilliant an artist, the specter of an untimely death always hangs heavy over any and all accomplishments. Take Janis, Jimi, and Kurt, for example -- each was an innovator, but any discussion of their careers often veers to the subject of their early tragic demise. Sadly, such is the case with Jaco Pastorius, the infinitely gifted bassist whose imaginative technique and melodic innovation are still admired and emulated nearly a quarter century after his passing.

Read our tribute to his late ex-wife, Ingrid Pastorius, here.

Born John Francis Anthony Pastorius III on December 1, 1951, in Norristown, Pennsylvania, Pastorius earned his honorary South Florida pedigree after he and his family relocated to Oakland Park shortly after he was born. He later attended St. Clement's Catholic School in Wilton Manors and Northeast High in Oakland Park and eventually ended up teaching music at the University of Miami.

While still in his teens, Pastorius performed alongside several of the area's better-known artists, including the flamboyant rocker-turned-preacher Wayne Cochran and the popular show ensemble the Peter Graves Orchestra. After a stint as a solo artist, he joined the celebrated fusion outfit Weather Report, which brought him national and international recognition. In addition, he famously contributed his fluid fretless bass to several Joni Mitchell albums in the mid- to late '70s -- Hejira, Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, Mingus, and the live Shadows and Light. Other outings included sessions with jazz vocalist Flora Purin, former Mott the Hoople lynchpin Ian Hunter, guitarist Pat Metheny, and percussionist Airto Moreira. He received further critical kudos when he launched his own big-band project, an all-star outfit he dubbed the Word of Mouth orchestra. 

"It's amazing to see the reaction people still have to Jaco's music after all this time," Graves told New Times in 2007. "His music is timeless and keeps reinventing itself to new generations of listeners long after his passing. Those of us blessed to know him can take solace in knowing that his music will live on." 

Still, despite the accolades he earned from critics, fans, and fellow musicians, misfortune plagued Pastorius throughout his life. An avid sports fan -- he co-opted his nickname "Jaco" from a baseball umpire he admired named Jocko Conlan -- he suffered a football injury that forced him to abandon the drums, his original instrument of choice. Luckily, when the bass player of his early band, the Las Olas Brass, left, he volunteered to take his place, quickly advancing from stand-up bass to electric bass and then beyond. 

In the mid-'80s Jaco was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder after a tumultuous 1982 tour of Japan, during which he shaved his head, painted his face black, and threw his bass into a bay. His wife, Ingrid, had him committed at Holy Cross Hospital, where he was given lithium to control his mood swings. Still, his increasing involvement with drugs and alcohol -- habits picked up during his tenure with Weather Report -- only exacerbated his condition. He and Ingrid divorced in 1985 after six years of marriage. 

Jaco subsequently moved to New York and ended up homeless after being evicted from his apartment. After wandering the streets, Ingrid and his brother Gregory had him committed to Bellevue. He eventually ended up back in Fort Lauderdale, once again living on the street while indulging in some increasingly bizarre behavior. On September 11, 1987, he managed to sneak onstage at a Carlos Santana concert only to be unceremoniously ejected. He then wandered over to a local bar, the Midnight Bottle Club, where the security personnel denied him admission. That led to a violent altercation. Pastorius sustained facial fractures, an injury to his right eye, and contusions on his left arm. Admitted to Broward General Medical Center, he lapsed into a coma and was put on life support. Ten days later, he died. He was buried at Our Lady Queen of Heaven cemetery in North Fort Lauderdale. 

(The club's bouncer, Luc Havan, was charged with second-degree murder but later pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He was sentenced to 22 months in jail and five years' probation, which took into account time already served. Four months later, he was released for good behavior.) 

Sadly, the tragedy to that trajectory didn't end with Pastorius' passing. This past Monday, as she was preparing for a celebration of what would have been her ex-husband's 60th birthday, scheduled to take place this Sunday at the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, Ingrid Pastorius died suddenly of an aortic aneurism. Despite their divorce, she remained a tenacious guardian of his legacy in the years since his passing, the person largely responsible for the naming of Pastorius Park in Oakland Park and a campaign to create a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. She was also a voracious critic of a 1995 biography authored by jazz pundit Bill Milkowski titled Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius. It described in depth his personal decline, eliciting her wrath for what she viewed as an unsympathetic perspective bloated by a host of factual errors. 

Fortunately, the final postscript on the Pastorius saga ends on an upbeat note. In 1988, Jaco was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame, one of only four bassists to ever be given that honor. The two Grammy nominations accorded his eponymous solo debut also provide testimony to his talents. His colleagues and contemporaries have heaped on him their own accolades as well. Marcus Miller wrote "Mr. Pastorious" in his honor, leading Miles Davis to record the track on one of his final albums. Bassist Victor Wooten penned the song "Bass Tribute" for his album Soul Circus and later collaborated on Bass Extremes, which includes the pointedly titled "Glorius Pastorius." The Pat Metheny Group chose to include the song "Jaco" on its self-titled effort, while bass player Brian Bromberg recorded an entire Pastorius tribute album simply titled Jaco. English guitarist John McLaughlin penned the song "For Jaco" for his album Industrial Zen, and Rod Argent, the former keyboard player for the British band the Zombies, chose a tune titled "Pastorius Mentioned" for his effort Moving Home.

"There's hardly a bass player alive that doesn't owe gratitude to Jaco for how he changed the role of the bass," fellow bassist and bandmate Gerald Veasley told New Times during an interview for that earlier article. "Jaco left an indelible mark on the music world."


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3 comments
I.M.
I.M.

I know what its like to lose someone in a tragic way,especially dealing with bipolar disorder or any form of depression really. Youget to a point where they are destroying themselves in front of you andconsequentially destroying your own life and you waiver back and forth as towhether or not you are truly helping them by supporting their illness oralcoholism or other side effects or enabling their behavior. If you have notdirectly experienced bipolar disorder you cannot understand. You cannotunderstand the complexities or the weighted feeling, the isolation,restlessness, the uneasiness. Jaco was so filled with passion he wasextraterrestial, he was out of this earth, he was of the universe. You don’tcreate the type of music that he created -the only way for it to manifest isdirect communion with the divine. The thing is, when you make a consciouschoice to sacrifice that restless passionate immediacy of unending love, it isnot a choice at all. For your two sons it is not a choice. It is not even aquestion. It is something only a mother knows, protection of her cubs. She hadto let him go. But the second she lost him,  I tell ya, when you are shattered and gutted by death yourealize how inconsequential everything else is. Their love was so unique and sounearthly and I cant imagine a day didn’t go by, a moment didn’t go by whereshe didn’t carry the weight of her decision or indecision. They shared a bondso unique that it surpassed the human form. If she could go back she would havenever left him for a minute, despite the wrath it may have inflicted upon J orF. And every day for 25 years she had to live thinking that in some way shecould have changed something. If she had just called him one more time. If shehad just followed him there. If she could just shake him out of the black hole,but unfortunately there was nothing she could have done. It was unavoidable.This is what happens when the universe speaks through you. You don’t have timefor trite imperfections. You don’t have time for societal norms orconfinements. You are so present, you are just molecules, be it sound, light,its all the same frequencies of energy. Death comes at such a sudden moment,completely unanticipated yet perfectly designed. You don’t know someone else’ssuffering. Everyone suffers but you truly do not know their suffering.Everything is illusion. Everything. I know the burden of trying to save someonefrom the self and the other but there was nothing in her to do except be on herindividual path, which noone knows except for her. You put up a persona foreverything, noone really knew Ingrid, in her entirety. No individual person did. Clearly, she was loved by so many. Shehad 2 sons, and took on 2 more (M&C) or maybe 3. I don’t really know any ofthem but I imagine. And daughters, and that extension of the universal divinealways radiated through her in every step of the way.

Im sorry but 25 years of suffering a loss of a universallove is too much to bare, the only thing that could surpass that was staying onthis planet for 25 years to watch her sons grow into the extraordinary humansthey are. They have had to play under the pretense of their father (obviously agreat task) however, now they will not only be playing for their father butthey will be playing with the unending love of their mother, the love that isinfinite, will be playing through them, the love that sacrificed 25 years tosee them grow and bestow upon them the wisdom, kindness, generosity and lovethat radiated through every cell of her. Im sure the healing process will be the most challenging thing for them. Losing a parent at 5 years old is muchdifferent than at 30. At 5, it helps you escape into a delusional fantasy, analter reality and live with a foundational history and support, out of thisrealm. But at 30, when you are at the point when you finally learn not to carewhat others think and you might have some stuff figured out,  leaves you completely exposed. Thepotential of her sons and daughters to create sound, to create vibration, tocreate energy will be limitless. Could the universe have created a more perfectdesign then for her to be reunited with the love of the divine and hercounterpart just hours before the 60th birthday anniversary leavingan open road for them into eternity. Its as if they came into this world as a singleentity to usher in the next wave, the new wave, the formless wave. As gutted asher sons and daughters and brothers and sisters might be right now, they willrise again. If this is a realization of how ephemeral our existence is, howimpermanent a molecular form is so be it. When they find the strength to take tothe instrument, instead of to the mind dullers (booze, drugs, uncannyindulgence) they as a unit will create the next level of sound. I just hope itsmore in the genres of country, blues, folk, old time – true and ratherheartfelt music that they can perform without the constrictions of their predecessors.Jazz or stretch or whatever the kids call it was cool in the 70s when peoplewere still free and bohemian and open and receiving and cultured and styled, but alas, it has become outdated. now a daysits only about the ego – far too egoic. Its lost its individuality and becomesomething of pretense, fueled with insecurity and competition. When Joni andJaco wailed “there’s no comprehending just how close to the bone and the skinand the eyes and the lips you can get, and still feel so alone” they wereeminating raw human emotion and it was original. But it is time to drain theirhearts and dissipate their souls with the music they are passionate aboutrather than trite egoic jazz, a new sound that will rise above all otherbecause it will be experiential and like no other, void of certainty or form,but of the earth. Someone get them a boxset of the dead(grateful d, the band,neil young, whatever). im sure their father and mother would approve all theway to dissolution of human form as they usher humanity and the next wave ofconsciousness through this human form. Rejoice in the all-pervading omnipotent illusionof life. We are all cylons after all. Not to be nihilistic but there is nosorrow, this is almost over, this comment, and your life. “It’s all a dream wedreamed one afternoon, long ago.”

I.M.
I.M.

I know what its like to lose someone in a tragic way,especially dealing with bipolar disorder or any form of depression really. Youget to a point where they are destroying themselves in front of you andconsequentially destroying your own life and you waiver back and forth as towhether or not you are truly helping them by supporting their illness oralcoholism or other side effects or enabling their behavior. If you have notdirectly experienced bipolar disorder you cannot understand. You cannotunderstand the complexities or the weighted feeling, the isolation,restlessness, the uneasiness. Jaco was so filled with passion he wasextraterrestial, he was out of this earth, he was of the universe. You don’tcreate the type of music that he created -the only way for it to manifest isdirect communion with the divine. The thing is, when you make a consciouschoice to sacrifice that restless passionate immediacy of unending love, it isnot a choice at all. For your two sons it is not a choice. It is not even aquestion. It is something only a mother knows, protection of her cubs. She hadto let him go. But the second she lost him,  I tell ya, when you are shattered and gutted by death yourealize how inconsequential everything else is. Their love was so unique and sounearthly and I cant imagine a day didn’t go by, a moment didn’t go by whereshe didn’t carry the weight of her decision or indecision. They shared a bondso unique that it surpassed the human form. If she could go back she would havenever left him for a minute, despite the wrath it may have inflicted upon J orF. And every day for 25 years she had to live thinking that in some way shecould have changed something. If she had just called him one more time. If shehad just followed him there. If she could just shake him out of the black hole,but unfortunately there was nothing she could have done. It was unavoidable.This is what happens when the universe speaks through you. You don’t have timefor trite imperfections. You don’t have time for societal norms orconfinements. You are so present, you are just molecules, be it sound, light,its all the same frequencies of energy. Death comes at such a sudden moment,completely unanticipated yet perfectly designed. You don’t know someone else’ssuffering. Everyone suffers but you truly do not know their suffering.Everything is illusion. Everything. I know the burden of trying to save someonefrom the self and the other but there was nothing in her to do except be on herindividual path, which noone knows except for her. You put up a persona foreverything, noone really knew Ingrid, in her entirety. No individual person did. Clearly, she was loved by so many. Shehad 2 sons, and took on 2 more (M&C) or maybe 3. I don’t really know any ofthem but I imagine. And daughters, and that extension of the universal divinealways radiated through her in every step of the way.

Im sorry but 25 years of suffering a loss of a universallove is too much to bare, the only thing that could surpass that was staying onthis planet for 25 years to watch her sons grow into the extraordinary humansthey are. They have had to play under the pretense of their father (obviously agreat task) however, now they will not only be playing for their father butthey will be playing with the unending love of their mother, the love that isinfinite, will be playing through them, the love that sacrificed 25 years tosee them grow and bestow upon them the wisdom, kindness, generosity and lovethat radiated through every cell of her. Im sure the healing process will be the most challenging thing for them. Losing a parent at 5 years old is muchdifferent than at 30. At 5, it helps you escape into a delusional fantasy, analter reality and live with a foundational history and support, out of thisrealm. But at 30, when you are at the point when you finally learn not to carewhat others think and you might have some stuff figured out,  leaves you completely exposed. Thepotential of her sons and daughters to create sound, to create vibration, tocreate energy will be limitless. Could the universe have created a more perfectdesign then for her to be reunited with the love of the divine and hercounterpart just hours before the 60th birthday anniversary leavingan open road for them into eternity. Its as if they came into this world as a singleentity to usher in the next wave, the new wave, the formless wave. As gutted asher sons and daughters and brothers and sisters might be right now, they willrise again. If this is a realization of how ephemeral our existence is, howimpermanent a molecular form is so be it. When they find the strength to take tothe instrument, instead of to the mind dullers (booze, drugs, uncannyindulgence) they as a unit will create the next level of sound. I just hope itsmore in the genres of country, blues, folk, old time – true and ratherheartfelt music that they can perform without the constrictions of their predecessors.Jazz or stretch or whatever the kids call it was cool in the 70s when peoplewere still free and bohemian and open and receiving and cultured and styled, but alas, it has become outdated. now a daysits only about the ego – far too egoic. Its lost its individuality and becomesomething of pretense, fueled with insecurity and competition. When Joni andJaco wailed “there’s no comprehending just how close to the bone and the skinand the eyes and the lips you can get, and still feel so alone” they wereeminating raw human emotion and it was original. But it is time to drain theirhearts and dissipate their souls with the music they are passionate aboutrather than trite egoic jazz, a new sound that will rise above all otherbecause it will be experiential and like no other, void of certainty or form,but of the earth. Someone get them a boxset of the dead(grateful d, the band,neil young, whatever). im sure their father and mother would approve all theway to dissolution of human form as they usher humanity and the next wave ofconsciousness through this human form. Rejoice in the all-pervading omnipotent illusionof life. We are all cylons after all. Not to be nihilistic but there is nosorrow, this is almost over, this comment, and your life. “It’s all a dream wedreamed one afternoon, long ago.”

Chuck
Chuck

that would be 'Flora Purim'. Thanks for this excellent submission!

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