“The phone rings and it's Jaco Pastorius. He says, 'I’m in room 265, come up here and get your lesson!'” Marcus Miller on an encounter with the self-proclaimed ‘greatest bass player in the world’

Marcus Miller performs live at Alcatraz in Milan, Italy
(Image credit: Photo by Mairo Cinquetti/NurPhoto via Getty Images & Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

A prolific career as both a sideman and a Grammy-winning solo artist has established Marcus Miller as one of the most important players to pick up the bass guitar since Jaco. Having performed alongside the likes of Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross, David Sanborn and Miles Davis, his credentials have remained unrivalled since he first broke into the New York session scene in the late 70s, just as Jaco was sealing his own reputation with Weather Report as the self-proclaimed ‘greatest bass player in the world.’

Speaking with Scott'sBassLessons founder Scott Devine, Miller recalled running into Jaco at the Sunset Marquis Hotel while on tour with Roberta Flack. “The phone rings in my hotel room and it’s Jaco,” says Miller. “He said, ‘Marcus Miller, it’s Jaco Pastorius. I’m in room 265, come up here and get your lesson!’”

“I was feeling like I was a pretty good player in my own right,” Marcus later wrote. "I thought to myself, ‘Man, I don’t need no lesson from Jaco!’ …..then I got my butt to room 265! Jaco played for me. Then he had me play for him. He showed me a whole tone lick that I still use as my warm up today. He was a pretty competitive guy, but it was cool because, without saying it, he let me know that I was cool with him.”

It’s fair to say many have wrongly assumed Marcus and Jaco were rivals and not on good terms. Yet nothing could be further from the truth: they not only had a great relationship, but also played together on several occasions. “Jaco would come sit in with my group when I did gigs in NY,” said Marcus. “One time we jammed all night and played Continuum together.”

Anyone who heard or saw Jaco on tour with Weather Report was instantly spellbound by his virtuosity. And yet the group’s founder, Joe Zawinul, was seemingly not an easy man to impress, even if you were Jaco Pastorius.

“Jaco and Joe Zawinul had a love-hate relationship,” recalls Miller. “Apparently they had a blow up and Jaco quit the band. Michal Urbaniak, who’s a Polish violinist who had a good relationship with Joe, calls me and says, ‘stay by your phone because Joe Zawinul’s going to ask you to play bass in Weather Report.’ I told him he must be out of his mind, and that replacing Jaco in Weather Report was a beat down waiting to happen! So I just stayed away from my phone until Jaco and Zawinul got things back together.”

On October 18th, 1989 at Chelsea Studios in New York City, Marcus recorded a song with Miles Davis that he dedicated to Jaco, who had died two years earlier. Titled Mr. Pastorius, it was released as the final track from the album, Amandla, and also featured Kenny Garret on alto sax.

“When I wrote that song I had two titles,” said Marcus. “One was Mr. Pastorius and the other was Rain, in case Miles wasn’t feeling like making a dedication to Jaco that was really from me. I wasn’t sure how Miles felt about Jaco at the time. We didn’t discuss him much. I told Miles that I named it Mr. Pastorius, but I could come up with another title if he wasn’t cool with it. Miles said, ‘No, I think that’s really nice to name this for Jaco.’ I felt great about that because now I could honestly feel like the tune came from me and from Miles too.” 

Amandla is available to buy on Amazon. To find out more about Marcus Miller visit marcusmiller.com.

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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.