Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report, Joni Mitchell, Ian Hunter)


By Thomas Semioli


“I’m not a star. I’ll never be a Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley or a Ray Charles. I’m just an imitator, man. I’m doing a very bad imitation on the bass of Jerry Jemmott, Bernard Odum, Jim Fielder, Jimmy Blanton, Igor Stravinsky, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, James Brown, Charlie Parker… the cats, man. I’m just backing up the cats…” Jaco Pastorius


You can divide the history of the bass into two categories: Before Jaco. After Jaco. As a student at the University of Miami in the late 1970s – a time when the electric bass was not considered a legitimate instrument by the jazz establishment (aka “the jazz police”), in the many instances when we were confronted by such ignorance –  we simple responded to the misbegotten taunts with one word, one name: Jaco!  


Jaco’s influence is, in a word, incalculable. Drawing on his deep reference for Cuban music (especially percussionists), jazz, rhythm & blues, Frank Sinatra, big-band, funk, rock, pop, soul, and every permutation thereof, Jaco brought an exciting, fresh voice to the instrument akin to his artistic peers Jimi Hendrix and Charlie Parker, to reference two.


On the technical side, Jaco’s virtuoso application of harmonics, chords, advanced harmonies, and lyrical improvisations all coaxed from a battered fretless Fender Jazz – known as the “Bass of Doom,” shook the foundation of popular music. His unique tone shattered the long-held tenets of what a bass should sound like. The full possibilities of the electric bass which Jaco pioneered are still being explored today by players of all generations. On stage, he was a master showman.


Jaco’s work with Weather Report, Joni Mitchell, Ian Hunter, and as a solo artist and collaborator  remains watershed, and continues to inspire scores of players.   


Kudos to film makers Paul Marchand, Stephen Kijak and Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo for telling Jaco’s story with the grace, dignity, and respect he so richly deserves: Jaco  – Passion Pictures / 2014.    


Jaco Pastorius Sound & Vision…


Jaco and Joni: “Shadows & Light”  https://youtu.be/bLKb9Ms68ME


Ian Hunter “All American Alien Boy” https://youtu.be/i9y7IIjS3Kk


From Rock ‘n’ Roll Sweepstakes: Ian Hunter – The Authorized Biography Volume Two by Campbell Devine (Omnibus Press). Tom Semioli, who runs the US website KNOW YOUR BASS PLAYER describes the record that introduced (Jaco) Pastorius to rock audiences as “…an overlooked masterpiece. Jaco’s bold motifs beautified Hunter’s intense, introspective, observational verses and melodies. Unlike his time with Joni, Jaco didn’t dare outmaneuver Hunter. An undeniably captivating marriage of jazz, rock and poetry, no album (All American Alien Boy / 1976 / Columbia Records) sounded like this before, and no album has sounded like it since….”



Weather Report:


“Teen Town” https://youtu.be/a3113eNj4IA


“Birdland”  https://youtu.be/SvhmaNlLgRM




“Donna Lee”  https://youtu.be/dGbCxcuNjBU


“Portrait of Tracy” https://youtu.be/IqndXUPBjIo