Bobby Vega on 'Jaco: The Film'

Bobby Vega is a world-class collector and vintage bass freak of the first order.
By Bobby Vega ,

Bobby Vega is a world-class collector and vintage bass freak of the first order. The gear is real. The stories are true. The dates are foggy. And the names of the innocent have been changed to protect their identities… and save Bobby’s ass!

Few musicians change the fundamental role of their instrument, and even fewer transcend their instrument so completely as Jaco Pastorius did on electric bass in the ’70s. Nowadays, when somebody uses the back pickup on a bass, hits harmonics, plays chords, or plays a singing, melodic line, we call it “that Jaco sound.” More than 25 years after he passed away, his influence still looms large over anyone who plays electric bass.

Throughout my career, Jaco’s legacy has reminded me that anything is possible on the electric bass and that I could have a voice on this instrument. Time and time again, he showed all of us that the sky was the limit—and that you could go beyond it, too.

The community of bass players who continue to be inspired by Jaco’s innovations stretches all the way around the planet. Last September, I was blessed to meet Armand Sabal-Lecco at the Warwick Bass Camp in Markneukirchen, Germany. Besides being one of the coolest people you’ll ever meet and one of the most musical people I know, Armand is also a great all-around musician and badass who played bass on albums like Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints and the Brecker Brothers’ The Return of the Brecker Brothers. He invited me to be his guest last October at a cool event called “Jaco: A Celebration of Life & Music,” which consisted of a screening of Robert Trujillo’s unfinished documentary, Jaco: The Film, at the Mill Valley Film Festival, right here in the Bay Area, followed by an all-star concert in honor of Jaco at the Sweetwater, also in Mill Valley. Thank you, Armand! You’re the best!

Before the screening, I went to the Sweetwater to hang out at soundcheck, and I saw Stephen Perkins, a great drummer who’s fun to play with. I walked around the corner, and who did I see but Jerry Jemmott! Man, I’m a lucky duck. I said hey to Jerry and then walked on back to the Sweetwater. It was surreal!

Jaco’s bass playing always spoke to me, and Weather Report’s 1977 album Heavy Weather had a huge impact on me and on my playing. Man, I was so fired up to see the documentary, and I wasn’t the only one. When I walked into the theater, I could feel the excitement. It was sold out, standing room only, and I found a seat just as the movie began.

The doc, which Trujillo has been working on for four years, takes you through Jaco’s whole life, beginning with his birth in Philadelphia and early years in South Florida, where he saved money he made from his paper route to buy a drum set, through high school and his teenage years as a drummer and then a bass player. The next part shows you the music business side, and that’s when it gets real. Playing music is intoxicating when it’s all fun and games, but the business can be like quicksand—the harder you fight, the faster you sink.

I don’t want to tell you too much about Jaco—you have to see it. It’s sad, of course, how fame, fortune, and a broken heart got Jaco in the end, but he showed us what to do and how to make it as a musician. As a fan, I want his legacy to live on. I want to pass on the feeling I hear in his playing, the feeling you get when you can express yourself without any words. There’s nothing like it— it’s the ultimate high.

When the screening was over, Trujillo spoke to the packed theater, and his love for Jaco was clear and soulful. He told us how he had put lots of time and money into the movie, and that he was screening Jaco because he needed a little help to get this dream across the finish line. (Go to pledgemusic.com/projects/jacothefilm/updates for more info.) Some of the bass players who were there—including Trujillo, Sabal-Lecco, and Jemmott—are donating Skype bass lessons, and so am I. If you mention Jaco Pastorius at any of my Skype lessons, I’ll give 100 percent of the money to the fund for the movie.

The concert and jam, which included performances by Jaco’s son Felix, Trujillo, L. Shankar, and Rodrigo y Gabriela, was also a hang, and besides Jemmott, I saw lots of other bassists, too, including Angeline Saris, Craig McFarland, and Reed Mathis. All in all, it was a great event. One of the best moments, though, happened just before the show: Armand and I went backstage, and we saw a kid on the couch with a bass. But he wasn’t just playing the bass—this young man had that special thing called “it.” It turned out that he was Robert Trujillo’s son Ty, and it made me happy to see that the future of music was in safe hands. I felt good knowing that the spirit of Jaco lives on this young man. We all come and go, but music is forever.

From one Robert to another, thank you, Mr. Trujillo. May the groove be with you.