Many people know about Jaco Pastorius and his legacy on music, but for those who don’t know, it’s time you read up. Pastorius was one of the most influential bassists of all time, and did so much for the world of Jazz and R&B. Many have named him “the most important and ground-breaking bassist in history”, and rightfully so. He was taken by a brain hemorrhage on September 21st 1987, but his impact still remains present today.
Metallica’s bass player, Robert Trujillo, has said that Pastorius has inspired everything he’s done. According to Fender, Trujillo said
“Jaco wasn’t just a tremendous player and an innovator of the instrument, he had incredible stage presence and a fearless, anything-goes attitude. He was also a brilliant composer. He was so musical and well rounded — and whether it was utilizing aspects of harmonics, distortion or bringing Hendrix into the flow, Jaco always kept it really, really, heavy on the swing end. I think what separates him from a lot of the other super badass bass players was his groove.”
“The walls were shaking!, I walked into this room to see who was playing, and there’s Jaco. I was speechless, so I just sat down and watched him play, and the next thing you knew the room had filled up with about 70 people — all completely overwhelmed by his presence. And it was really strange, because he didn’t speak to anybody. He just looked closely at everybody and kept on playing. It was a really surreal and special moment and I’ll always remember it.”
There can be no question, the impact that Pastorius has had on other artists is quite strong, to say the least.
Even cooler, Pastorius played a fretless, 1962 Fender Jazz Bass which he dubbed the “Bass of Doom”, a remarkable instrument. Apparently, he removed the frets with a butter knife, the filled the missing chunks with plastic, and covered the fingerboard with boat epoxy. It was custom, made just to suit Pastorius’ playing style. Robert Trujillo also commented on the bass saying
“Jaco played his fretless like a surfer rides a surfboard, he became one with his instrument — gracefully navigating through the unknown. I think where he shines most brightly is with that fretless voice. Just the mere fact that he ripped his frets out of the board himself to get that growl shows he was actually committed to the art of the fretless bass. He was a pioneer; an innovator; and he took that melodic voice on the fretless bass to incredible heights. There’s not a bass player on the planet that would not respect or acknowledge that.”
Not only that, but it had even been broken into pieces, and subsequently rebuilt by bass tech, Kevin Kaufman. This thing is fabled, and like most valuable instruments, has went missing for quite some time. The bass was apparently stolen from a park bench in Greenwich Village in 1986. 20 years later, the bass had been discovered in 2007 in a random music store in Manhattan. Probably one of the most iconic electric basses of all time had been sold to a music store for $400.
When word got out about the bass, the Pastorius family attempted to recover the bass, and offered to pay quite a large amount to recover it. The store owner refused, however, and a wave of legal battles began in order to recover the instrument.
Being friends with family members David Pastorius and Johnny Pastorius, and inspired by someone whom he admired, Robert Trujillo stepped in to help recover the bass. He gave the family the much needed capital to finally win this legal war, and the bass was recovered.
Although the bass is technically owned by Trujillo, he says
“I’m never going to single-handedly feel like I have the ultimate right to it, I feel like myself and the family share its voice in a way. Ultimately, I think we all agree that we’d like to see this legendary bass in a museum.”
It’s a heartwarming story, and it’s good to hear someone selflessly take a stand for what they believe in. Now, however, Trujillo has come forward to talk more about it, and clear the air about his plans. He told Bass Guitar Magazine
"I'm not a collector, but I felt at the time that it was important for me to help the situation, so we got the bass back. I'm its legal owner, but I made a point of ensuring that any decision made about the instrument has to go through the family. To them, it was like the family pet that used to lie around the house, without even being in a case. Felix Pastorius [Jaco's son and twin of Julius Pastorius] has it right now. I've played it and it's incredible, it was in pretty good shape."
"There's a lot of misinterpretation about the situation. I'm not one to go on the Internet: I'm completely aloof to all that shit, but I've been approached by people in the street who have the wrong idea, who thought that I bogarted the instrument [i.e. kept it for himself], that I found it in New York City and I paid all this money and took it. That always upsets Johnny and Felix very much, because the situation was completely the opposite. I'm a person that takes on situations from passion. I get passionate about things, and I try to help."
Not only that, but Trujillo is getting involved with making a documentary about Jaco Pastorius’ legacy and influence. He said
“The first moment I met Johnny, I said to him, ‘You gotta make a film about your father, because his story is so compelling’. Johnny and I stayed connected and he started working towards a documentary film with a guy called Bob Bobbing, the producer of an audio documentary called A Portrait Of Jaco: The Early Years. It’s really great – a beautiful piece.
“Years went by, and Johnny brought Bob to a Metallica show, because he had told Bob that I was into Jaco and that he wanted to bring in other types of musicians to the documentary, because they understood Jaco’s relevance. They came to see Metallica and Bob was impressed with it, because it was a sold-out arena show in Fort Lauderdale. Bob and I became friends, and four years ago he asked me to jump on board with the production. Johnny and I had talked about this years before, so it was kind of a weird, ironic twist of fate that here we were.”
“I’m very hands-on. I’m financing the whole project. The production company is called Passion Pictures, who won an Oscar for Searching For Sugar Man. Stones In Exile was also their film. They’re really amazing, hands down the best documentary makers on the planet.
“I’m also hands-on creatively, and of course there’s a balance there, because on the one hand you have a director who is very creative: Paul is very creative at what he does, and he’s bringing it to life on the screen and is very strong-minded. Then you’ve got the family, and my whole thing is that there has to be a balance between what everybody wants. At times, that can be the most difficult thing, because when you’ve got a film-maker and a family that is really emotionally attached to their father’s story, which means everything to me, and then my artistic vision as well, you’re going to have moments of tension.
“But it’s creative tension, and emotional tension, and I feel that some of those moments where we head-butted – in the most respectful way – have been the best thing for the project. If we’d completed it three years ago, I don’t think it would have been the right film. Where we are now in 2014 is where we’re supposed to be. The film needs to come out this year, so we’re pushing hard for the third week of November.”
So, there we have it. It’s quite a story, and it’s amazing to see how involved such an influential figure can be, especially when it comes to helping another influential figure be remembered. Recovering the bass could’ve been enough, but Trujillo seems to have his heart set on making the legacy of an inspirational figure more widely known, and that in itself is inspirational.
Photo courtesy of The Guitar Files