Jaco Pastorius

Jaco Pastorius (1951–1987) was an American bassist renown for his fretless style. He exploded onto the scene in 1976 with a star-backed solo album and guest appearances on titles by Joni Mitchell (Hejira) and Pat Metheny (Bright Size Life). That year, he joined Weather Report for a six-album stint.


He was born John Francis “Jaco” Pastorius III on December 1, 1951, in Norristown, Pennsylvania; the first of three sons borne to Finnish–American Stephanie Catherine (née Haapala; 1925–2001) and German–American jazz drummer John Francis Pastorius Jr. (1922–2004). Their ancestor was Francis Daniel Pastorius (1651–1720), a German educator, poet, and statesman who founded Germantown, Pennsylvania, the first German settlement in the New World.

When John was eight, the family moved to the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. He learned drums in emulation of his father, who passed on the nickname “Jacko” (acquired in the Navy). John removed the “k” and used Jaco as his public name.

Jaco first played drums but struggled with sticks after a 1965 hand injury, sustained from a football game. Despite this, he drummed for a time in Las Olas Brass, a soul cover band. When they found a more capable drummer, they lost their bassist. Jaco filled the slot with a newly acquired Fender Jazz bass.

Early Career

In 1968, Jaco self-recorded an 80-second cover of “The Chicken,” a Pee Wee Ellis composition. He sent the tape to harpist Alice Coltrane (the widow of recently deceased jazz legend John Coltrane), who encouraged the young hopeful. Jaco acquired a contrabass but its wooden frame proved vulnerable in Florida’s humid weather. Though he traded in the standup, its deep tones influenced his future fretless sound.

Jaco left Las Olas Brass for Woodchuck, an R&B trio that showcased his budding bass skills. After a subsequent stint in a cruise band, he spent five months (circa 1972) in Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders, a perennial show-band led by the flamboyant Talvin Wayne Cochran, a platinum-pompadoured fixture of Southern television. During his short Riders stint, Jaco learned notation and doubled as the group’s arranger.

Around this time, Jaco acquired a 1962 Fender Jazz bass and removed the frets with a butter knife, then filled the slots with plastic wood and coated the neck with epoxy. He named this instrument the Bass of Doom.

After the Riders, Jaco played for a time with the Peter Graves Orchestra and befriended DC-born hornist Ira Sullivan. They formed a jazz-funk combo and performed a set of Jaco originals, including an early version of the showpiece “Continuum.”

In 1974, Jaco demonstrated his bass technique (electric-simulated upright sounds) during a guest presentation at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. For one semester, he taught as an adjunct instructor at the University of Miami’s jazz department, headed by Bill Lee, the father of fellow jazz-funk bassist Will Lee. At UoM, Jaco befriended faculty member Pat Metheny, an emerging ECM guitarist. That June, Jaco and Pat held a session with pianist Paul Bley and drummer Bruce Ditmas.

In September 1975, Jaco impressed Bobby Colomby, the former Blood Sweat & Tears drummer who now worked as a talent scout for the jazz division of Epic Records, which signed Pastorius to a solo deal. Meanwhile, Jaco pitched his talents to Weather Report keyboardist Joe Zawinul. Floored by his demo tape, Zawinul kept him on standby.


  • Jaco Pastorius / Pat Metheny / Bruce Ditmas / Paul Bley (1974)
  • Jaco Pastorius (1976)
  • Trilogue – Live! (1977 • Trilogue)
  • Word of Mouth (1981)
  • Invitation (1983)
  • Stuttgart Aria (1986 • Biréli Lagrène & Jaco Pastorius)
  • Jazz Street (1986 • Jaco Pastorius & Brian Melvin )
  • Heavy ‘n Jazz (1986)
  • Live in New York City, Volume One: Punk Jazz (1990)
  • Live in Italy (1986) (1991)
  • Live in New York City Volume Two: Trio (1991)


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