Watch Jaco Pastorius: The Lost Tapes Documentary, the Fan-Made Film on the Most Innovative Bass Player of All Time

Peo­ple do not under­stand how hard a jazz musi­cian works for a liv­ing. I’m not putting nobody down, but I’m telling you nobody under­stands how hard jazz musi­cians work. Jazz is not big in the US, because the States are too wor­ried about Pac-Man and The Police. — Jaco

When Jaco Pas­to­rius uttered the quote above in a typ­i­cal­ly enter­tain­ing and insight­ful inter­view with Gui­tar World from 1983, he meant no dis­re­spect to the mem­bers of The Police. It’s safe to say, in fact, that Pas­to­rius sig­nif­i­cant­ly influ­enced crossover sub­gen­res in punk, New Wave, and No Wave, through com­po­si­tions like “Punk Jazz” — “a real jazz play­ers stab at a brave new music,” writes Gui­tar World’s Peter Mengazi­ol. In gen­er­al, Pas­to­rius’ music was “a fusion with ener­gy but with­out overkill.” He absorbed influ­ences from every­where, and noth­ing seemed out of bounds in his play­ing. “I am not an orig­i­nal musi­cian,” he says in the same inter­view:

I am a thief…. You see, I rip off every­thing. I have no orig­i­nals. Only ani­mals and chil­dren can under­stand my music; I love women, chil­dren, music, I love every­thing that’s going in the right direc­tion, every­thing that flows… I just love music. I don’t know what I’m doing! 

It’s not that Pas­to­rius nec­es­sar­i­ly thought of jazz as a more ele­vat­ed form than rock or funk or soul or pop — hard­ly. He regard­ed Hen­drix with the same wor­ship­ful awe as he did Motown bassist Jer­ry Jem­mott, and both equal­ly informed his play­ing and show­man­ship. Yet he seemed to feel under-appre­ci­at­ed in his time, and that is prob­a­bly because he was, even though he was acclaimed as one of the world’s great­est bass play­ers dur­ing his brief 35 years, and he rad­i­cal­ly altered the sound of pop­u­lar music on albums by Joni Mitchell and oth­er non-jazz-world stars.

But Pas­to­rius knew that few under­stood what he was try­ing to do with jazz-rock groups like Weath­er Report and Blood, Sweat & Tears and in his solo work. He knew he could sell records and sell out per­for­mances, but he did­n’t care about com­merce. (He spent the last few years of his life sleep­ing on park bench­es.)

Warn­er Bros. refused to release his third solo album, Hol­i­day for Pans — a selec­tion of orig­i­nal com­po­si­tions and tunes by the Bea­t­les, Coltrane, and Alan Hov­haness, cen­tered around the steel drum play­ing of Oth­el­lo Molin­eaux — on the basis that it was “extreme­ly eso­teric.” Described by The Pen­guin Guide to Jazz as “by far the most imag­i­na­tive project Pas­to­rius ever under­took,” Hol­i­day for Pans received a release in Japan in 1993, but remains unre­leased in the US, per­haps val­i­dat­ing the bassist’s opin­ion of his coun­try’s cul­tur­al lim­i­ta­tions.

The fan-made doc­u­men­tary at the top, Jaco Pas­to­rius — The Lost Tapes Doc­u­men­tary, first appeared “on a some­what obscure French chan­nel called ‘Real­cut’,” notes the site Jazz in Europe. The title refers the inter­view footage with choice sub­jects like Mar­cus Miller, Joe Zaw­in­ul, Peter Ersk­ine, Dave Car­pen­ter, and Paco Seri, all shot while the musi­cians “were on tour in France back in the mid noughties.” In 2008, “the images were defin­i­tive­ly lost,” the film­mak­ers write in their descrip­tion, only to sur­face again on a hard dri­ve in a dusty attic last year.

Tying these inter­views togeth­er with archival Inter­net footage of Pas­to­rius, the mak­ers of The Lost Tapes Doc­u­men­tary have done an excel­lent job of intro­duc­ing the man and his work to a broad audi­ence through the words of those who knew and played with him, and they’ve done so with “no bud­get, no finan­cial aid or no image pur­chase.… The peo­ple who worked on this project did it vol­un­tar­i­ly, out of pas­sion and love of music, and the film will in no way be mon­e­tized on the plat­forms.” Pas­to­rius would have approved. “I don’t want to sell shit,” he told Gui­tar World back in 1983. “I want to do what has to be done.” For him, that meant con­stant inno­va­tion and change. “I’m not a magi­cian, I’m not a politi­cian, I’m a musi­cian,” he said. “I have no goal. You don’t get bet­ter, you grow. I am a musi­cian, and I final­ly real­ized it!”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

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

How Jaco Pas­to­rius Invent­ed the Elec­tric Bass Solo & Changed Musi­cal His­to­ry (1976)

Bass Sounds: One Song High­lights the Many Dif­fer­ent Sounds Made by Dif­fer­ent Bass Gui­tars

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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