by Willard Manus
It's always painful to read about a superb artist who gets caught up in self-destruction and burns out early, depriving the world of his many gifts. In the jazz world such players as Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt and Chet Baker come to mind, not to speak of Jaco Pastorius. The bass player blazed onto the fusion scene in the 70s, playing with the likes of Pat Metheny, Weather Report and Word of Mouth (his own big band). Jaco, a specialist on the fretless electric bass, was also an accomplished composer, producer and sessionman, capable of playing everything from reggae to rock to straight-ahead jazz.
A manic depressive, Jaco flamed out on drugs and booze in the mid-80s while on stage at the Hollywood Bowl during a "Playboy Jazz Festival" gig. He died in 1987, beaten to death by a bouncer at a sleazy Ft. Lauderdale night club.
Ten years ago Bill Milkowski published The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius, and now the author has revisited that biography, refining, expanding and sculpting it into a better, more satisfying shape. JACO paints a sympathetic and honest portrait of the doomed musician, whom Gerald Veasley called "one of the world's greatest bass players of all time, and a lot of it has to do with his boldness in his approach to playing the bass. Before he came along, sure, there were some players who were impressive in terms of chops, but he was a man with a great vision for the role of the bass in jazz, and music, in general. He was very daring with his approach to the instrument. There'll never be another like him."
JACO includes a 40-minute CD that recaps the bassist's life in words and music. (Backbeatbooks.com)