Ask any bass player to name his top 10 bassists and you’ll find that Jaco Pastorius almost always features in the top three. Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion but whether devotees or not all players agree that Jaco was unique, with an extraordinary ability to make his basslines fluid and significant no matter what he was playing or who he was playing for.
As with any genius – as he surely was – his destiny ran close to insanity and sadly much of what has been written about him centres on that element, yet all that really matters in the grand scheme of things is what he brought to the world of bass playing.
Jaco started out as a drummer but barely into his teens he broke his left arm, lost the ability to play properly and was kicked out of the band he’d originally formed! At 15 he was invited back if he could play bass so he bought one. “I didn’t know where the notes were or anything, I just started grooving and I’ve never been out of work since!” he said.
Interviews with Jaco were few and far between as he lived in an era when singers and lead guitarists commanded far more interest than mere bass players and it’s only now, years after the death of many a great bass player, that we are aware of the short-sightedness of this ‘frontman’ approach.
However, anyone taking centre stage is only as strong as his or her supporting team and Jaco was enormously strong. Yet it wasn’t always appreciated as Bob Bobbing, a bass playing friend from their teenage years, recalls:
“He really did impress people, even though band leaders at that time didn’t appreciate what he was doing that much, because if you were lead singer it would get in the way, interfere with the agenda of the band leader or possibly other players.”