Jeff Berlin: “Look at Jaco Pastorius: clearly a genius, but misunderstood”

Jeff Berlin and Jaco Pastorius
(Image credit: Photo by Richard Ecclestone/Redferns & Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

There is no other bass guitar player like Jeff Berlin. Educated, passionate, uncompromising and someone who has accompanied a stellar cast of artists throughout his career. “I’ve always played with guys who never sat still, it was all around me,” he says. "Michael Brecker never stopped practicing. I was in New York with Steve Gadd and he played and practiced, they all did."

And the importance of practice and study is where some people go wrong when they think about Jaco Pastorius. The myth is that Jaco was self-taught, a natural. The reality is a little more complicated. “Look at Jaco Pastorius," says Jeff. "Clearly a genius, but misunderstood about where his musical ability was developed. He was self-taught, but he also studied with a hundred different guys, and studied composition and different principles of playing. The myth that Jaco burst forth playing like that never happened. He worked hard to become what he became.”

It’s a sentiment that hints at the highly competitive musical environment of the time. “I never had a good groove, because I always wanted to play fast and play a lot of notes – which instantly turned off most people from using me,” he says.

Here’s a great clip of Jeff Berlin and Jaco Pastorius onstage in 1985 at Musician's Institute in Hollywood.

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.