When 17-year-old Jaco Pastorius laid eyes on his buddy Bob Bobbing’s Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder, he saw musical possibilities with unlimited potential. Fortunately for us, Bobbing had already recognized those same qualities in Jaco. Lugging the unit to Jaco’s initial gigs or loaning it to him for a sound-on-sound home version of “The Chicken” was the cornerstone of Bobbing’s 2002 landmark CD box, Portrait of Jaco: The Early Years. Ever since that superior sampling of pre-Weather Report Jaco, Bobbing has been eager to launch Jaco: The Early Years Series, featuring full CDs by the bands in which Jaco forged his seminal style. The first two releases, Woodchuck and Tommy Strand & the Upper Hand, have officially arrived [available on jacotheearlyyears. com and cdbaby.com]. Both live recordings are raw, revealing, and riveting, and serve as worthy style studies. Bobbing used the same taping method for each disc, setting up his Sony deck at a table in the club and placing one mic in front of Jaco’s amp and one in front of a PA speaker. The in-your-face result is that both melodically and rhythmically, as Bob notes, “you can hear Jaco’s mind working, virtually one measure at a time.”
Woodchuck was Jaco’s first group as a leader. He formed the organ trio in 1969 with friends Bob Herzog (on Hammond B3) and Billy Burke (drums and vocals), based on their passion for R&B—which at the time was found only at clubs, record stores, and black radio stations. Together, the three take a spacey, seven-track journey through soul classics such as “Think,” “Barefootin’,” and “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do).” Jaco, on a fretted ’66 Jazz Bass strung with heavygauge La Bella flatwounds, through a Sunn 2000S rig, plays the role of primary timekeeper (Burke was a singer new to drums). Still, his unmistakable surging intensity is present, as is “Fannie Mae,” a blues he would revisit on his live big band album, Invitation [Warner Bros., 1983].
With the arrival of his first child, Jaco joined Tommy Strand & the Upper Hand— a Top 40-playing, eight-piece horn band— out of necessity, in 1971. To his credit, Strand gave Jaco plenty of freedom to stretch and explore, and that’s where the fun begins on the ten-track CD. Playing a flatwound-strung, fretted ’60 Jazz Bass through his beloved Acoustic 360 rig, and given a canvas of period pop gems by Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, Sly Stone, Tina Turner, and Herbie Hancock, the 19- year-old paints his first bold strokes from the Pastorian palette the world would come to know. Bobbing, who includes rich remembrances and rare photos in the CD booklets, is already preparing the next releases in the series, from artists like Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders, Ira Sullivan, and the Peter Graves Orchestra. Happily, it seems we’ll be hearing fresh Jaco for some time to come.
Jaco confidently issues a catalog of concepts on Woodchuck and Tommy Strand & the Upper Hand—and the ideas that aren’t fully developed are as fascinating as the complete ones fans will recognize by their later usage.
Example 1 shows a two-bar groove Jaco settles into at the 10:49 point of “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)/Soul Medley,” from Woodchuck. Focus on nailing both downbeats. Moving to Strand, Ex. 2a contains a daring, ear-grabbing moment (at 4:19) during the final chorus of Chicago’s “Beginnings.”
Having fully explored the A–G–F–G progression rhythmically and melodically, Jaco decides to play the 2nds of the chords, instead of the roots, giving the harmony a sus-chord sound (A/B–G/A–F/G–G/A)! Soon after, in Ex. 2b, he continues his pedal-pushing ways by remaining on an A throughout the same progression.
Examples 3a–3f are taken from Sly Stone’s “Higher.” Example 3a is a classic Jaco onebar boogie heard at 3:39. Unlike Motown’s James Jamerson, who often muted his chromatic or non-chord tones (many of which came from bouncing off open strings in flat keys), Jaco fully plays the A#, F#, and F here.
During a breakdown later in the track, Jaco unleashes the four different chordal harmonics shown in Ex. 3b, starting at 5:41. Soon after, at 6:50, Jaco begins a solo over an E9–G9 progression, in which he never quite gets going lyrically.
Example 3c (9:07) contains a classic Jaco jazz phrase utilizing whole-step or half-step approaches from above the chord tones (as the G7 scale dictates). Try working out this lick over the span of the neck in G (hint: the next note would be E, 12th fret E string), and then try it in all the remaining keys.
Example 3d (9:33) boasts two Jaco-isms: his jazz-rooted arpeggio-like exploration of the E7 chord’s upper structure (playing the 9th, 11th, and 13th), and his uncanny ability to phrase 13 notes evenly over four beats in bar 1 (of course, he was also a master at laying odd-numbered note patterns across several bar lines).
Example 3e occurs toward the end of his solo (10:13), where he has started playing chords; check out his use of the open Gstring and the G7sus chord implied on beat four. A final chordal feast is found in Ex. 3f (10:22): After playing his trademark Pat Metheny-esque E chord (which features an E2 or Eadd9 sound) on beat one, Jaco grabs a gorgeously voiced E13 or Dmaj7/E chord on the “and” of beat three. Use your 2nd, 1st, and 4th fingers to fret the D, F#, and C#.
Examples 4a and 4b are from “Too Hard to Handle” (the best-known version is by the Black Crowes). For the ascending one-bar boogie in Ex. 4a (1:01), Jaco touches on all manner of tasty chord, scale, and passing tones.
Example 4b, heard later (5:10), is an even tastier descending boogie, thanks to the non-chord tone Bb played on the “strong beat” three.
Finally, Examples 5a and 5b are from “The Chicken.” In Ex. 5a, dig the difference in feel (it’s more swung) and note choices in the opening bass line (at 0:28) as compared to Jaco’s famous version, on Invitation.
Example 5b occurs at 1:40, during bar 9 of the form, where Jaco always seems to play melodies instead of a bass part. Lay back here, too.