Warwick, NY-based Felix Pastorius was born, along with his twin brother Julius, in 1982, five years before the premature death of his father Jaco Pastorius, arguably the most influential electric bassist of all time alongside James Jamerson and Paul McCartney.
A superb bassist himself with a long list of recording and performance credits behind him, including a stint in the Yellowjackets from 2012 to 2015, Felix plays in a handful of elite bands and delivers clinics and bass guitar lessons.
He’s also the author of several books, including Hot Dog Dinners For 4 String Electric Bass, Just A.S.I.P. Of Coffee & The Chromatic Scale and Scales From Rhythm And Outer Space... Aka Tetra Cocktails.
Our questions for Felix are arguably aimed at his late father just as much as they aimed at him. Although Jaco didn’t live to see his son follow in his musical footsteps, the inevitable associations of that unique surname connect their creative mindset to a profound degree.
Consider the case of the late John Lennon and his sons Julian and Sean; it’s not too much of a stretch to consider the two father-son relationships as parallel.
To Felix’s immense credit, he responds to our questions with tolerance and good humor – exactly, we hope, as his dad might well have done.
You play live with a number of interesting projects, Felix.
”Yes, I’m very fortunate that way. I have a touring band called Hipster Assassins, and I’ve done a lot of tours over the last 11 years with the drummer Cindy Blackman-Santana, who is such a great person to play and work with.
”We’ve just recorded a live album with her band. I also play with Jazz Is Phish, which has a lot of musicians in it from bands such as Ghost Note and Snarky Puppy, and I’m a part of a group called Social Experiment.
”I really want to mention Venture, which is me, Mike Clark on drums, Mark Sherman on vibraphone and Chase Baird on saxophone: we’ve recorded an album and we’ll be touring when that becomes possible again. There’s also a collaboration with Keith Carlock, Nir Felder, and Jeff Coffin which I’m really enjoying.”
What’s your current gear setup?
”I’ve been with Aguilar for amplification, pedals and pickups for over 13 years, and I also want to put one of their preamps into one of my basses. I don’t have a very large collection of basses; they’re more of a ‘story line’ of who I am and where I’ve been.
”I don’t collect basses, but I’m very interested in the idea of having a relationship with an instrument, whether it be a boutique, multi-thousand dollar instrument, or a little scrapper that you find.
”My main instrument is a Fodera, who have been close friends of mine and my family for a long time. It’s wonderful to have those guys in my back yard for any needs that I might have.”
Sounds like a tried-and-tested setup.
”It is, yeah. When I practise, I use a Warwick Alien six-string, and I also use LK Straps, D’Addario strings and Dunlop gear. I’m also using a bass by Soame, an Argentinean company which makes me a five-string. It’s for gigs where a simpler visual aesthetic is required for the bass. I have it strung with a regular B string.”
How old were you when you got your first Fodera?
”My mom brought me to the shop for the first time when I was 14 or 15, along with my brother Julius. Vinny Fodera recalls it like it was yesterday. I just remember how sweet everybody was, and how excited they were to have us in the shop.
”I remember Vinny not letting us leave the shop until he ordered us a cab – he wouldn’t let us take the train. So I’ve known them for a long time, and I’ve played a few Foderas over the years, but my main bass for most of my clinics and gigs over the years has been a Fodera Emperor 2 six-string – 33” scale, rosewood fingerboard, box elder burl top. I put in Aguilar DCB ceramic bar pickups – I love those.”
What was your first bass?
”I started with a Fender Jazz four-string, that I still have parts of today. My second go-to bass in my collection has the body of that Jazz, because it’s one of the first four bodies of my father’s signature basses. When Fender started mass-producing it in 1999, they gave one to each of my dad’s four children. I guess the most important bass at my house at the moment is my father’s fretless, though.”
Did you study music?
”I never went to music school and never had a proper teacher – so I’ve always tried to approach my teaching as the way that I taught myself and I continue to teach myself. That can be detrimental to my profession as a teacher, because I tend to say way too much information straight off the bat, but that’s because I really do enjoy sharing information.
”I don’t think about music all the time: I like sports, and I have responsibilities, but I do it because I enjoy learning music and practising as well as it being my profession. Luckily, I’ve been able to survive in New York as a musician. I’ve done other gigs along the way but I’ve been very fortunate to play music for most of my life.”
How did you get into playing bass? Was it inevitable, given your heritage?
”No, I think bass is a by-product of the encouragement that my mother gave my brother and me to play music. I don’t think she specifically wanted us to play bass. We took up violin first, which didn’t last very long, and then we played piano.
”After that, my brother switched to guitar and then to drums, while I went to bass. As 11-year-olds, jamming on guitar and piano wasn’t half as much fun as jamming on bass and drums, especially with our lack of theory and music knowledge.”
What was it about bass that spoke to you?
”It was just an instrument that I gravitated towards. I knew that I had the bug when I started teaching myself music theory on the bass, and I loved the way the bass looked and sounded. I’m very visual.
”My brother and I were encouraged to be artistic all the time, and most of my stuff was fairly angular, whereas my brother’s art was free-flowing. We’re twins, but polar opposites – similar in many ways, but opposites too. I just remember having a lot more fun playing bass, although I loved figuring music out on piano.”
What kind of music did you play in the early days?
”There’s a cassette tape of my grandfather Jack, who was Jaco’s father, on drums, my older brother John on piano, and me on bass. That’s one of my very earliest memories of playing bass. I don’t think I’d ever had as much fun in my life before that.”
Who were your inspirations when you were growing up?
”We obviously listened to our father a lot, but also Stevie Wonder, and Earth, Wind & Fire, because R&B and soul were huge for us, growing up in our house. I’m an early- 80s kid, though, so I was introduced to post-punk, which then became alternative rock and then grunge.
”Primus was huge for me: the first two albums I bought with my own money, when I was 11 years old, were Sailing The Seas Of Cheese and Blood Sugar Sex Magik by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I listened to them over and over and over again. They were huge for me. I was constantly blown away by what both of those guys were doing.”
It was a great time to be learning bass.
”Definitely. The early 90s was also the progression of the ‘bass personality’. You had a whole slew of kids who were now creating new sounds and new ideas – the Michael Manrings and Victor Wootens of this world.
”I started getting introduced to these guys through other musicians who said I should check them out. That was a rabbit hole that I definitely fell into, getting Bass Player magazines for the first time, and checking out what was going on out there.”
Do you find there is a weight of expectation from people when they meet you, because of who your father was?
”If there’s ever pressure on me to be a musician, I don’t think anyone could put more on me than I do myself. It’s not even based on who my father was. Even if he wasn’t my father, I’d still be comparing myself to other bassists. I think it’s more difficult for the person who is expecting something than it is for me; my role as a musician is to fulfil my obligations as a bassist in the band I’m in.
”The last thing I want to do is to fuck up a tune: I’m way more concerned with who I’m playing with in the band. That’s what I love about live performance and live music, being in that moment and having that opportunity to step up and do what is necessary.”
Your father’s legacy is huge – perhaps the biggest legacy of any bass player.
”I get that. My father wasn’t around for a very long time, so a lot of people didn’t get the opportunity to see him live. Maybe people think it’s their chance to see a ‘Pastorius’ when they come to see me, but maybe they’re robbing themselves of the opportunity to experience new things.
”I’m not going to be my father. I don’t pretend to be my father, and I don’t intend to be him. There are other bassists that would like to be in my position – not necessarily to play like him, although there are a lot that try to – but because they want to carry on what he was doing. I don’t know if they grasp the importance of being an individual.”
How do you pursue that goal?
”I just do my best to have a good time and put on a great show and play great music. To me, my father could have been an astronaut or a basketball player, and he would have had the same impact – because he was a unique individual and carried himself in a unique way.
”He ‘felt’ in ways that were different to how people normally do – so if you’re coming to my show, I hope you don’t expect to see my dad, because he’s not here any more. But I don’t hold that against anybody. He was ‘The One’. You love him, and I love him.”