In the 2015 film Jaco, drummer Peter Erskine recalled the moment when Jaco Pastorius played a new recording of his composition “Liberty City” [Jaco Pastorius, Word of Mouth, 1981, Warner Bros.] for Joe Zawinul. “Joe had a fighter’s instinct, a boxer’s instinct,” Erskine recalled. “He had a Miles [Davis] instinct—if there was a glass chin or a soft spot in the belly, he knew how to find it pretty quick … [Jaco] wanted to wait for the perfect moment to play the music for Joe, and he thought after lunch flying to Tokyo would be the perfect moment. Joe takes off the headphones, and I hear him say, ‘That sounds like some typical high school big band bullshit.’ That’s what Joe said about ‘Liberty City,’ and I couldn’t believe it.”
We’ll never know whether Zawinul was testing his precocious bassist, or if he felt challenged by the quality of Jaco’s writing and the undeniably brilliant musicianship on the Word of Mouth album. Maybe Zawinul—known for his unpredictable temperament—just had a bad lunch and didn’t want to be bothered. Regardless, “Liberty City” endures as a recognizable anthem from the ’80s era of listenable, groovy big-band fusion.
Last month, we looked at the intro and first melody section of “Liberty City.” This month, let’s check out the bridge—the E major, feel-good changeup. Bars 1–4 of Ex. 1 show the last four measures of the first melody section, the turnaround in G that we explored in the August issue. In bar 4, Jaco leads us out of the key of G with a II7–V7 progression leading into the key of E major. The F#7(b9) to A/B modulates to the key of E.
A common modulation in classical music is from a major key, down a minor 3rd (m3) interval to the relative minor. For example, G major often modulates to the key of E minor; G major and E minor share the same key signature of one sharp (F#). In “Liberty City,” Jaco modulates from the key of G major to the key of E major. The ear expects E minor, and Jaco gives us E major!
This section’s form is 16 bars long, bars 5–20. The harmony begins with three chords in the key of E major: E, G#m7, C#m7. The Bb13(#11) in bar 6 sounds deliciously bluesy. It’s a passing chord outside the key of E major, leading into the A9 in bar 7. The A9, G#7(b13), and F#7(b9) are examples of modal interchange—chords that are borrowed from a parallel key or scale. In this case, the native chords in the key of E major would be A, G#m, and F#m. Jaco adds spice by making the chords dominant: A9, G#7(b13), and F#7(b9).
Bars 9–12 repeat the chord progression from bars 5–8. Bar 13 goes to C#m7, a poignant sound that contrasts the first eight bars. Bars 21–24 return to the chord progression heard in bars 5–8. The harmonic movement and form of this section is like a short poem, a nursery rhyme for big hipsters. Remember the 12-bar structure of the blues? Statement-statement-answer (see Woodshed, May ’18). The structure of this section of “Liberty City” is statement-statement-answer-statement—four four-bar phrases.
Example 2 shows a solo line over the harmony to lead you through bars 21–36. If you took my advice from last time, you recorded the bass line from the first section of “Liberty City,” and then you soloed on top. Now is your chance to punch in, adding to the track you recorded last month. Record the 16-bar bass line (bars 5–20), and then record the solo track on top (bars 21–36).
Joe Zawinul and Jaco Pastorius were both incredibly talented and prolific composers who left a legacy of classic jazz hits. The story Erskine told about Zawinul’s criticism of Jaco’s work illustrates an important life lesson: Criticism can be constructive, yet sometimes inappropriate, confusing, and off the mark. Learn from everyone, and especially heed the words and opinions of elders and mentors. But remember that you ultimately decide whether your music is worthy.