Jaco Pastorius Fretted Bass

Firstly this DVD confirms Jaco’s breathtaking virtuosity on the bass guitar – it’s there for all to see and hear. Secondly however, the mental/behavioural problems which led to his untimely and violent death are also there if you look.As a ‘how-to’ DVD this is pretty average: it’s not structured at all, it’s mainly just Jeremy Jemmott interviewing Jaco and, throughout the interview, Jaco uses his bass to illustrate some of his techniques (there’s a booklet of exercises and tabs included). The chat sometimes explores Jaco’s life, his influences and his kit setup, but the DVD is not realy ‘instructional’, it’s less formal and more philosophical than that. This is fine, it is still very informative for bassists as far as technique is concerned and Jaco makes some really interesting points. For example, Jeremy asks him how he produces his unique ‘Jaco’ sound, and most bass players would assume it’s in the fingering technique combined with that fretless neck…but Jaco says it’s more to do with using familiar note combinations and licks that people recognise as ‘yours’. Obviously the fretless neck is mentioned a lot in the conversation…but Jaco plays a fretted Bass of Doom for most of the DVD and so can’t really illustrate properly the points he’s making.There are a couple of problems with the interviewing style for me that combine to take the egde of it. Firstly Jeremy Jemmott isn’t a great interviewer – he doesn’t get the most out of Jaco, asks some vague questions which elicit vague and unhelpful responses. The quality of responses however are further reduced (and Jemmott’s job made harder) by Jaco’s state of mind.I think this DVD was made pretty late in Jaco’s life – when he was bumming around living in friends’ apartments or living rough on the streets. He was broke, alcoholic, using drugs and was pretty severely mentally ill. Right from the off he appears the worse for drink/drugs at the start of the interview and, though his playing is of course great, you start to detect that it too is not 100% – especially at the end of the DVD when he’s jamming with John Scofield and Kenwood Dennard….you get the feeling he’s on the verge of going nuts…there was an aggressive, belligerant and contrary side to Jaco’s mental state – he would play inappropriate basslines, or just make noise to annoy the other musicians. Now I might be reading too much into this having read his biography…but you can see flashes of that side of Jaco when he’s jamming. I’ll also bet that the video producers were pleasantly surprised when Jaco actually showed up for the gig, but then ticked off when they saw he’d put a fretted neck on his bass.All in all the DVD is a superb document of Jaco’s playing, and is in that sense essential viewing for any bassist/musician, but I think it was probably made 10 years too late and I watch Jaco’s performance with a tinge of sadness.

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