Liberty City - BassPlayer.com

Liberty City

Through the Cycle, Jaco-Style
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Whether soloing, playing in a rhythm section, or composing a standard-in-the-making, Jaco Pastorius always found the best notes—great bass lines, with cool melodies, slathered in hip harmonies. Last month, we looked at songs that have two chords in the harmony. This time, let’s explore a chord progression that winds through a few more harmonic back-alleys: Jaco’s brilliantly constructed “Liberty City.”

The defining bass lick in “Liberty City,” as shown in Ex. 1, bounces up and down on a G7 chord. This is the tune’s get-groovy gravy. The meat-and-potatoes melody comes after the bass vamp. Example 2 shows how the melody, chord changes, and bass line flow in a bluesy, funky, and sometimes dissonant counterpoint through the eight-bar form.


The beauty of the composition lies in its simple chord progression, juxtaposed with altered chord-tones in the melody. Play the bass line in Ex. 2 (bottom staff). You serve the tune by hitting the root of every chord in half-notes. The “R” under a note indicates that it’s the root of the chord. The b7 and the 3rd appear in a couple of spots as passing tones to the next root. Listen to any version of Jaco playing this line, and marvel at how simple he keeps things. Half-notes and roots, half-notes and roots.

Check out the melody against the bass line, and you’ll hear the magic of harmony as it unfolds (Ex. 2, top staff). Basement dwellers: Note the treble clef in the melody staff. For aspiring composers, this is a great method for sketching out a composition: Compose a melody, and then find complementary bass notes. Once you have a strong melody and bass line, the harmony— the notes in between—will become apparent. The chord tones of the melody are indicated above the notes: R, #11, b13, 9, #9, 13, b7, and 11. These colorful upper extensions give the melody a vocal, poignant character.

In the first two bars of Ex. 2, the bass line moves down and the melody moves up. Jaco chooses the #11 on the F7#11 chord and the b13 on E7#9(b13). The Ab7 in bar 2 is a passing chord leading to the A9 in bar 3. The melody note on the A9 is the 9th—the note B. In bar 4, the note F is the #9 of the D7#9 chord. The melody in bar 5 lands on the 13th of the B13 chord—the note G#. In bar 6, Jaco continues in the funky vein, using the note D, the b7 of E7#9(#11). The recurring rhythmic hook in bar 7 hammers away on the note G, which is the b7 of A7. The repeated G then becomes the sus4 of the D7sus chord.

In early recorded versions of “Liberty City,” various instruments play the melody: steel drums, harmonica, and horns. You can play Ex. 2 as a duet with yourself or a friend. Record the bass line in a loop, and then record the melody track on top. Be sure to leave open a few extra choruses for your solo!


Examples 3 and 4 show solo choruses based on the harmony of “Liberty City.” If we only look at the root movement, we see that the chords move in a cycle: G, (F), E, (Ab), A, D, B, E, A, D. The solo line in Ex. 3 hits many of the choice melody notes, like the #11 (the note B) on the F7(#11) chord, the b13 (the note C) on E7#9(b13), and the 9 (the note B) on A9. Arpeggios flesh out the harmony in a few spots, like on the A9 and B13 chords.

Example 4 brings the solo line into the upper register of the bass. Here the line is also targeting juicy altered notes from the melody: B on the F7(#11) chord, C on the E7#9(b13), and B on the A9. Note the double-stops in bar 7, which mirror the rhythmic hook that occurs every chorus.

Listen to some of Jaco’s versions of “Liberty City” to absorb the composition’s sound and vibe. Next month, we’ll explore key parts of the song that we didn’t cover in this Woodshed. In the meantime, pick up your bass—the “Liberty City” chord progression is a playground for jamming!



John was never good at the Liberty City video game, but he likes to play on the changes of the Jaco tune by the same name. Check out his video lesson series The Upright Bass Handbook, at truefire. com and johngoldsby.com.