Missing Jaco

Jaco Pastorius died 31 years ago today. He and Stanley Clarke were the two bassists who had the greatest influence on how I thought about approaching the bass guitar, particularly during my college years.

Here he is, below, turning in a typically brilliant performance on a 1976 trio date in Berlin with trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff and drummer Alphonse Mouzon (all three have passed away).

I always like to remind folks: Jaco didn’t die because of a fight, or because he was a “tragically doomed artist.” He was murdered by a beefed-up nightclub manager who pounded Jaco’s head on the pavement (as Pat Metheny reminded me once during an interview, and as recounted in Bill Milkowski‘s authoritative bio).

Jaco went into a coma for several days, and then died of a brain hemorrhage. Luc Havan, the man who killed the world’s greatest bass guitarist, was convicted of manslaughter and served only a few months in jail

I well remember when I heard about Jaco’s death — it really shook me up. I was in the newsroom at the Lakeland Ledger, where I worked as an arts/entertainment reporter, and I read it on (I think) the AP wire. I regret that I didn’t attend his funeral.

Sadly, I never got to see Jaco in person. I came close, in the summer of 1985, when I went to a Paul Butterfield show in NYC that was to feature Jaco. He didn’t make it to the concert. I recall that the concert promoter announced that he wouldn’t make it and offered to refund tickets for those who didn’t want to stay for the show (they got a sub, apparently). I was annoyed at Jaco’s no-show so I took the refund and left. I was living in Manhattan at the time, during my one-semester stint in grad school at NYU.

Want to understand more about who Jaco was, and why he mattered? Read the above mentioned bio, and check out “Jaco: The Movie,” the 2014 documentary produced by Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo.

Long live Jaco!



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