jaco pastorius may well have been the last jazz musician of the 20th century to have made a major impact on the musical world at large. everywhere you go,sometimes it seems like a dozen times a day, in the most unlikely places you hear jaco's sound; from the latest tv commercial to bass players of all stripes copping his licks on recordings of all styles, from news broadcasts to famous rock and roll bands, from hip hop samples to personal tribute records, you hear the echoes of that unmistakable sound everywhere. (it may even be more imitated at this point than the previously most pervasive jazz sound to escape into the broader culture beyond the local borders of jazz, the moody harmon mute stylings of miles davis). for all the caterwauling that has gone on about new musicians that have shown up in recent years being toted as the "next miles", or the "duke ellington of their generation", or whatever, jaco outranks all of them and all of that by being the one and the only of his kind, without predecessor; the only post 1970 jazz musician known on a first name basis with all music fans of all varieties everywhere in the world. from the depths of africa where he is revered in almost god-like status to the halls of most every music university on the planet. to this day, and maybe more than ever, he remains the one and the only JACO.
and how odd it is to see this era of historical revisionism in jazz how this accomplishment is often relegated by people who should know better as being "not jazz" or as "fusion" (possibly the single most ignorant and damaging term ever invented to describe (discount) an important and vital branch of the jazz music tree). jaco at his best, as on this record, defines what the word jazz really means. jaco used his own experiences filtered through an almost unbelievable originality informed by a musicianship as audacious as it was expansive, to manifest into sound through improvisation a musical reality that illuminated his individuality. and besides all that, he simply played his ass off - in a way that was totally unprecedented on his instrument, or on ANY instrument for that matter.
because jaco's thing has been so fully assimilated into the culture and the musical vocabulary of our time, i notice that it is difficult for people who weren't around at the time of his emergence to fully weigh the impact of his contribution. as a young musician who met jaco in his prime when we were both just starting out, i can only say that my reaction upon hearing him for the first time (with ira sullivan in miami, florida in 1972) was simply one of shock - i had literally never heard anything remotely like it, nor had anyone else around at the time. and yes, as is so often noted in his case, the way he was playing was unprecedented in technical terms, but that wasn't what made it so stunningly appealing to me. there was a humanity to jaco's thing, built into those relentless grooves was that rare quality that only the most advanced jazz musicians seem to be able to conjure up - with jaco, you were hearing the sound of a time, of an entire generation at work, on the move.
our musical relationship was immediate. we recognized in each other a kind of impatience with the status quo of our respective instruments and jazz in general and found an instantaneous rapport from the first notes we played together. we also became really good friends. during the short time that i lived in miami (near jaco's hometown of ft. lauderdale), we played show gigs together and occasionally played at his house (he was living on top of a laundromat at the time) and spent a lot of time just talking about music, much of it about how intensely we both disliked the so-called jazz/rock of the time. ( how ironic that we are both now associated (inaccurately) with that movement). shortly after we met, i wound up moving to boston to join gary burton's quartet. during this period, jaco and i spent time working together in new york with pianist paul bley and began a trio that lasted for several years with drummer bob moses (that group later went on to record what became my first record "bright size life".)
in the middle of this period jaco recorded this album. when jaco got word that herbie hancock (a major hero of both of ours) had agreed to participate, i think his already inspired vision of what he could be as a musician and what he could do with this record in particular went to a whole other level. listening again to this record, and the way that he and herbie hook up on the original and the alternate takes of "used to be a cha-cha" we are hearing improvised music at it's highest level - but with a difference. jaco restructured the function of the bass in music in a way that has affected the outcome of countless musical projects to follow in his wake - an innovation that is still being absorbed by rhythm section players to this day - he showed the world that there was an entirely different way to think of the bass function, and what it meant. for this alone, jaco would earn a major place in the pantheon of jazz history. but, of course, there was so much more.
his solo on 'donna lee', beyond being astounding for just the fact that it was played with a hornlike phrasing that was previously unknown to the bass guitar is even more notable for being one of the freshest looks at how to play on a well traveled set of chord changes in recent jazz history - not to mention that it's just about the hippest start to a debut album in the history of recorded music. that solo, along with his best compositions like "continuum" reveal a melodic ingenuity (that rarest and hardest to quantify of musical qualities amongst improvisors) that comes along only a few times in each generation. and then there is just his basic relationship to sound and touch; refined to a degree that some would have thought impossible on an "electric" instrument.
jaco's legacy has had a rough go of it - a horribly inaccurate, botched biography, endless cassette bootlegs of late-life gigs that do nothing but devalue the importance of his message through greed and overkill, and a mythology that seems to thrive on the stories that surrounded the lesser aspects of his lifestyle over the triumphs of his early musical vision and wisdom.
but you know what? you put this record on, and none of that matters. it is all here, in the grooves; everything you need to know about the guy. jaco pastorius was one of the most important musicians of our time - the fact that this was his first record is simply astonishing, there is no other way to put it. that this is without question the most auspicious debut album of the past quarter century is inarguable. as with all great recordings, the force of it's value becomes more evident as time passes.