Mister Bass Man

In his short life, bassist Jaco Pastorius forged an international reputation as a composer, teacher, and shit-hot player. He helped to establish Weather Report as the world’s most popular jazz-fusion band and later toured with Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell. Although definitely a jazz man, he played with a frenetic, consuming energy that would have been right at home in Cream or on Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland sessions.

 

Pastorius started out on the drums, following in the footsteps of his father, Jack, a professional jazz drummer. Last month he ended up dead at age 35, the victim of a September 12 beating at the hands of a club manager in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Pastorius was homeless.

 

His rapid fall into oblivion is both mysterious and obvious. By all accounts an extremely difficult person to work with, Pastorius was subject to wild mood swings and erratic behavior as early as high school when he sought to escape his status as class nerd by throwing himself into marathon practice sessions. After leaving Weather Report for a solo career, Pastorius would often confound audiences and band members alike by playing the wrong music or by walking off stage in midset. At a June memorial service for Blue Riddim leader Bob Zahn, Pastorius got up and, unannounced, began to play a boogie woogie piano solo that disrupted the proceedings. Although he was militantly anti-drug early in his career, he eventually became a heavy user of cocaine and booze.

 

But Jaco Pastorius didn’t just fall. He was pushed. Demons aside, he lived in a society that regards creative artists as freaks for whom early death from self-abuse is regarded as glamorous if not downright inevitable. If our schools and our government taught respect for those who make millions happy with their art, maybe Jaco Pastorius would be alive today. According to musicians who played with him, he was so disturbed by the lack of recognition he received in the United States that it contributed to his mental problems.

 

But however blame is parceled out, the fact remains that a three-time Grammy nominee wound up living in a city park and, halfway through life, was beaten to death in a Florida parking lot. We can do better than that.

 

 

Rock & Rap Confidential / 1987