It must have been about 1986 when I first took up bass. Early on, I realised that bass was looked down on as a ‘simple’ instrument and bassists were expected to behave and play simple background lines. I determined that I was going to forge a new path and become a bass virtuoso, making the instrument do things it had never done before. This was in pre-internet days so I have some excuse for not realising that it had already been done. The following year, I spotted an obituary for Jaco Pastorius in, I think, Bassist magazine but my only chance to encounter his music was my attempt to play the transcription of The Chicken that was included alongside the piece. It was a grooving line but I didn’t realise that, over the past ten or so years, Jaco had already blazed the trail that I had in mind.
It would be fair to say that I’ve become a reasonably decent player but not quite up to my original aspirations. I’ve never been at the point where I could claim to be the greatest bass player in the world. Although music isn’t really a competition, Pastorius was one of the people who was most able to justify that claim and I watched Jaco (2015) the other day to add to the picture I have gradually built up.
He was a remarkable musician but also troubled. He reached greater heights than most but struggled to balance when others pushed him back. Willingness to experiment could descend into anarchy and, as he began to abuse alcohol and narcotics (after being quite clean living in his early career), they exacerbated the downward spiral. Band leaders and promoters felt there was too much risk of a bad night and he began to be unable to get a gig and he fell into sleeping rough, eventually being beaten to death by a night club bouncer in September 1987.
It isn’t a happy ending (turn off at about 1980 if you want to finish on a high note) but I think it was carefully and respectfully done. Definitely a film worth watching, even if you didn’t need to realise that you’ll never be the greatest bassist in the world.