Jazz Legend Jaco Pastorius Gives a 90 Minute Bass Lesson and Plays Live in Montreal (1982)


Image by Pino Alpino, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Of this video—an hour and a half long bass les­son and inter­view with the late, great jazz bassist Jaco Pas­to­rius—one youtube com­menter writes, “this isn’t a bass les­son… this is a bass humil­i­a­tion!” It’s an apt description—for the aspir­ing play­er of any instru­ment, watch­ing Pas­to­rius at work is a hum­bling expe­ri­ence. Even Jer­ry Jem­mott, no slouch on the instru­ment, seems a lit­tle over­whelmed as he inter­views Jaco. But the articulate—and per­son­al­ly troubled—bassist was a hum­ble guy, more than will­ing to share his skills and knowl­edge. As a play­er, com­pos­er, and pro­duc­er, Pas­to­rius tow­ered over oth­er pro­gres­sive jazz play­ers in the 70s and 80s, accom­pa­ny­ing names like Pat Methe­ny and Wayne Short­er. He was also a mem­ber of fusion pow­er­house Weath­er Report, a solo artist, and one of the most in-demand ses­sion play­ers and pro­duc­ers of his time.

While bass play­ers get too lit­tle recog­ni­tion in rock, in jazz, the instru­ment has always com­mand­ed a degree of respect. But Pas­to­rius took elec­tric jazz bass to a place that belongs entire­ly to him, play­ing bass and melody parts at once on the instru­ment and incor­po­rat­ing mind-blow­ing­ly nim­ble solos and high runs into orig­i­nal com­po­si­tions and stan­dards alike. I came to Pas­to­rius late in my musi­cal edu­ca­tion thanks to his influ­ence on Eng­lish bassist and elec­tron­ic pro­duc­er Square­push­er (Tom Jenk­in­son), who, since the mid-nineties, has fused his own fre­net­ic Pas­to­rius-like bass licks with the stut­ter and clat­ter of drum-and-bass. In 2009, Square­push­er had the effron­tery to release a live solo album con­sist­ing only of elec­tric bass com­po­si­tions, a move that would have been impos­si­ble with­out Pas­to­rius’ prece­dent-set­ting solo work. Pas­to­rius turned the elec­tric bass into a lead instru­ment. His first solo album, the self-titled Jaco Pas­to­rius (1976), broke ground with orig­i­nal com­po­si­tions for bass gui­tar and bass tran­scrip­tions of songs like Char­lie Parker’s “Don­na Lee.” At that time, no one had heard any­thing like it.

Pas­to­rius, who suf­fered from bipo­lar dis­or­der, died of wounds sus­tained in a bar fight on Sep­tem­ber 21st, 1987. In hon­or of the 25th anniver­sary of his death, revis­it the man and his method in the video above, and geek out to Jaco’s live per­for­mance at the 1982 Mon­tre­al Jazz Fes­ti­val.

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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Comments (4)
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  • Fabrizio says:

    I have that method on VHS and Audio cas­sette and I remem­ber it was my most prized pos­ses­sion after my fret­less Fend­er Pre­ci­sion dat­ed 1976! I can nev­er for­get the sense of won­der, see­ing how fast and pre­cise Jaco was: I had lis­tened to many of his tracks by that time, but to see him in action was a mind-blow­ing expe­ri­ence. And yes, Jer­ry Jem­mott (who was a sol­id musi­cian) seemed like a pupil in front of his mas­ter, when duet­ing with him.
    When in the right state of mind, Jaco was prob­a­bly a quite approach­able, down-to-earth guy, as many of his peers tes­ti­fy: Peter Cetera spoke fond­ly of their first meet­ing, for instance. It was a cry­ing shame his career and his life had to spi­ral down over the years like they did. RIP to one the heroes of my youth!

  • Andrew van Zyl says:

    Dear Open Cul­turati!

    Hi there-this is just to say a VERY big Thank You for all the hard work you guys put into the OC blog. I am the librar­i­an at a boys’ school in Pre­to­ria, South Africa and yours is the first feed of the day which I check. My music teach­ers love your stuff, obvi­ous­ly, but there is so much rich­ness and vari­ety that there is gen­er­al­ly some­thing for every­one. I often down­load the clips and put them on the school serv­er for teach­ers to use in class (which they some­times do, amaz­ing­ly ) and I very often pass on blog posts to oth­er school librar­i­ans on a nation­al list­serv. I know that some­times when writ­ing a blog one won­ders if any­one out in cyber­space ever reads or uses one’s mate­r­i­al, but rest assured that here in The South we are Mas­sive Fans!

    Keep up the good work and thanks again, Andrew van Zyl

  • Jeff Whitt says:

    I know Jaco played a fend­er and mod­i­fied one or many into fret­less electrics. I’m try­ing to find out what kind of bass he was play­ing at the begin­ning of the doc­u­men­tary that had the swirls, like a vio­lin or man­dolin. Do you know?

  • Rudy Lutz says:

    It was Jer­ry Jem­mot’s cus­tom built Rivera bass.

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