The first album I’m sharing here has to be one with Jaco Pastorius. As I said in my short bio on him, “Jaco Pastorius isn’t just my favorite bass player, he’s my favorite musician, composer, and arranger. And because he was all three, that puts him in rare company.”
I’ve spoken with many younger bassists who say, “I don’t get the hype around Jaco.”
Here’s basically what I say: Before Jaco, it was rare for a bassist to get attention. The role of the bass was in the background – essential, but not obvious. The bass guitar (as a mass-produced instrument) was quite young when Jaco released his debut album, and he was on a mission to “make this non-instrument an instrument.”
Jaco did what was hard to imagine in 1976: He was a bassist and the featured musician and bandleader. (Stanley Clarke was doing that too, but outside of that, you’d be hard-pressed to name another bassist out in front at that time). If that wasn’t enough, his use of a fretless bass was also quite rare. And then you have his approach to an instrument that was often just in a supporting role, with Jaco playing it with a horn-like quality at times, laying down the groove on other tunes, playing chords, and everything in between.
Let’s get to this album…
When Jaco recorded his solo debut, he knew what he was doing. (Worth noting, he was just 24 years old at the time.) The opening track was like a knock-out punch at the start of round one. Jaco performed “Donna Lee” (attributed to saxophonist Charlie Parker, but Miles Davis claimed he wrote it). Whatever the case, this was a tune written for a horn player. He absolutely nailed it on fretless bass, joined only by Don Alias on congas.
Showing off his incredible versatility (and paying homage to the R&B music he loved), Jaco recruited legendary R&B duo Sam & Dave to sing on the funky tune he wrote with his friend Bob Herzog, “Come On, Come Over.”
Then there’s “Continuum,” which was Jaco’s first showcase for his lyrical playing.
The album is as diverse as the man behind it.
His approach to the bass guitar was as innovative as his approach to writing and arranging, and it knocked every bass player out. Many have taken the baton Jaco handed off, which is why some people “don’t see the big deal.” Jaco opened the door up wide for bassists to walk through into a whole new territory, and they did. But for those of us old enough to remember, we know the roots.
I still listen to Jaco’s music frequently, and I’m still knocked out by what he accomplished in his short but highly productive career.
Exhibit A: the song he wrote for his then-wife Tracy Lee, in which Jaco relied on harmonics in a solo bass performance he recorded for the album. It was (and is) a landmark performance in the world of bass.
There have been a lot of great discussions about this album on Facebook in response to this post. Check it out (and add your thoughts below).