Jaco Pastorius Opens Up in His First Guitar World Interview From 1983
Victor: "But when you listen to someone like a Jaco, and you're a musician, you hear the music. I think his objective was to learn the piece, not 'I'm gonna play this fast.'"
Jaco: "I practiced 'Donna Lee' [his version of Charlie Parker's chop-busting bebop standard is on his eponymous first lp] and the 'Chromatic Fantasy' for eight years before I would play them in front of anybody. When I first did the 'Chromatic Fantasy' originally, I did not use an open string. It was so hard, but I did it because I was such a purist and people were always putting me down for being an 'electric bass player,' though I was so pure. I'm an acoustic musician. Mister V. said it earlier: Nobody understands how much we are correcting the music world. Look at Sting [he pointed to the cover of an old issue of Guitar World], Sting is a playing mother! 'Cause he and I know how to treat the bass. The bass is the number one instrument in the world, because it hits the sound right where it belongs.
"Hey, man, " he grinned, "all the greatest bass players come from Philadelphia: Alphonso, Stanley, Victor, me — we're all from Philly. It's the City of Brotherly Love! "
SINCE WE WERE TALKING ABOUT bassists, I asked him about the famous Fender he uses, sunburst with the frets pulled out. That bass, although looking rather abused, sounds like no electric bass before it. Even other bassists had thought it was an acoustic bass, when their backs were turned away from the stage or recording booth. Jaco played it during the photo session ("You never know, one of these shots might work!” he joked), and when I put my ear near it, there was the sound! I tried to get him to discuss his instrument - it's almost a Jaco trademark.
"Ninety dollars with a case! The most I've been offered for this bass is $80,000! That was in Europe. When I got this bass, I'll show you right here, these are the only scars I put on, just my thumbs. Everything else was exactly like this, just like I got it. I throw this thing around, I do flips on it, but I've never, ever, hurt this bass, ever! It looks like I demolish it every night, but I've never touched it; I've had it now for eleven years.
"I own two hundred and forty-five basses. In performance I have three or four basses on stage nobody knows about - not even Zawinul knows it sometimes. I'll take a bass I bought for fifteen bucks that day (and nobody knows it) and do a Pete Townshend or Jimi Hendrix routine, lighter fluid it and all that. Man, that's the easiest thing in the world!"
I asked him if there were any special tricks to the bass that made it sound that way — acoustic — since live he uses an effects rack - basically a compressor, a fuzz tone and a digital delay, put on infinite repeat for his climactic renditions of "Purple Haze."
"The secret to the sound is to drop it on the floor!" he answered. "As I told you, ninety bucks with a case, and the frets were out. See this shit that looks like somebody chewed it up? That's the way it was when I got it. Petit's Poly-Poxy, that's what I put on the neck, but that shit won't go away."
Jaco hasn't put out a solo album since Word of Mouth and the last Weather Report album with him on it was released over a year ago. He has recorded much more than he has released, so he does have a backlog of tapes, some of which must be interesting, indeed.
I HAVE A RECORD YOU WILL NOT believe," he claimed, "'Holiday for Pans:’ which I adapted from David Rose's 'Holiday for Strings' and arranged for Othello Molineaux, the steel drum player who's with me on Word of Mouth. And I have about twenty-four master tapes that I paid for myself. You don't understand; everybody gotta give respect to the music industry, but you have to know how to deal with the mothers, 'cause they're just like us: they care about music, they're good people, but you've got to be ready to deal on their terms. I am commercial. I don't complain anymore 'cause I can deal with it."
Then, a turnabout: "The reason I don't record enough is because I don't record enough, I'm an American Indian; I don't believe in photography or recording, I like to play everyday live!" Again, a switcheroo: "Sometimes I have a very bad point of being too obnoxious. I am not too obnoxious. I mean, I just try to make things more peaceful. Me being obnoxious makes a lot of things more peaceful.” Snap, snap, goes the camera shutter.
Jaco may be the greatest living electric bassist, but he certainly isn't the richest. He explained the reality and the reasons for this situation: "People do not understand how hard a jazz musician works for a living. I'm not putting nobody down, but I'm telling you nobody understands how hard jazz musicians work. Jazz is not big in the US, because the States are too worried about Pac-Man and The Police."
Victor affirmed Jaco's point of contention: "And the record companies, most of them, want to sell us a million records, instead of selling us significant music."
Jaco: "I don't want to sell shit. I want to do what has to be done. I'm a musician. And musicians are the peacemakers."
Is there a chance for a solo electric bass lp anytime soon? Jaco said no, for several reasons: "Because the timing ain't right and Victor hasn't learned how to play it yet and Jimmy Blanton's dead!" Blanton was the Duke Ellington Orchestra bassist largely credited with turning the acoustic bass into a soloing instrument.
So I asked Jaco how he sees himself as a musician. He's been considered one of the most creative players to emerge in the seventies, and has been heralded as an innovator, but when confronted with those opinions he takes an evasive maneuver, one outrageous statement after another, leading to a truth:
"I am not an original musician; I am a thief. Like Igor Stravinsky said, man, 'No good composers borrow - they steal!' I told the French press I want to be the Charles Azrlavour of the bass - I am a very bad imitation of Gerald Jemmot [Motown's masterful bassman]!
"You see, I rip off everything. I have no originals. Only animals and children can understand my music; I love women, children, music, I love everything that's going in the right direction, everything that flows ... I just love music. I don't know what I'm doing! If I practiced reading for one week, I could sight-read anything, but that's not my thing. I'd rather go in and just be Jaco. I improvise all the time; hopefully, I think, I never play the same thing twice. I'm not a magician, I'm not a politician, I'm a musician. I have no goal. You don't get better, you grow. I am a musician, and I finally realized it!"