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Artist’s Choice: Jimmy Haslip on Jaco Pastorius

Today’s top jazz performers pick 10 favorite tracks by the players, singers and styles that helped define them.

Jimmy Haslip of Yellowjackets
Jimmy Haslip of Yellowjackets with Mike Stern at Jazz at Lincoln Center

Jaco’s vision and gift gave the electric bass a new image and function, changing the perception and role of the instrument and giving us all a new sound in music. It literally changed the world of music and continues to be a gift to us all. I studied with him on and off for about a year beginning in 1975, and that experience completely changed my world. My perception of music and my study of music were, from that point on, taken to a whole new level. I will always be indebted, appreciative and grateful to him for what he gave me, and his teachings will continue to focus my study of music for the rest of my life. Thank you, Jaco!

Jaco Pastorius (Epic, 1976)

This was the first original composition by Jaco I listened to. It was a sound I’d never heard on the electric bass before. This piece is so fluid, melodic and expressive. This was mind-blowing, and he used octaves in such a creative way. The music was performed with so much freedom. I also couldn’t help but notice his truly amazing sense of harmonic beauty and phrasing, not just in his solo but in his composition as well.

“Liberty City”
Word of Mouth (Warner Bros., 1981)

This song was written for his big band. Uplifting and joyous. I love the introduction; with the horn solos, it’s a perfect setup for what’s to come. With a super sense of funk-driven R&B, Jaco created a wonderful vehicle for improvisation. I have several versions of this piece-all fantastic performances, yet the studio version from the Word of Mouth recording has the most amazing piano solo by Herbie Hancock. Absolutely thrilling!

“Three Views of a Secret”
Word of Mouth (Warner Bros., 1981)

This is one of the most beautiful compositions in the Jaco Pastorius songbook-hauntingly beautiful, in fact. With simplicity and elegance, the melody is performed so eloquently by the virtuosic Toots Thielemans. This song brings out Jaco’s talent as a composer. My favorite performance was on the Weather Report recording Night Passage, with delicate and interesting rhythmic support by Peter Erskine on drums and Robert Thomas Jr. on percussion.

“(Used to Be a) Cha Cha”
Jaco Pastorius (Epic, 1976)

Another super-uplifting piece written by Jaco, with a seriously unique Latin groove. This piece is another great vehicle for Jaco’s soloing. Also, there’s an amazing piccolo solo by Hubert Laws. I was really inspired by Jaco’s dexterity here and the way he arpeggiated the chord changes.


Weather Report
Heavy Weather (Columbia, 1977)

My favorite Jaco Pastorius composition and bass solo! Amazing harmonic and rhythmic structure combined here. The bass solo for me has become an important part of the composition, and will always stand out to me as a quintessential performance.

Paul Bley/Pat Metheny/Jaco Pastorius/Bruce Ditmas (Improvising Artists, 1974)

This interesting jam piece appears on a recording later reissued as Jaco and features pianist Paul Bley, guitarist Pat Metheny, drummer Bruce Ditmas and, of course, Jaco on electric bass. This piece features so much great straight-ahead playing by Jaco. He definitely had a great way of maneuvering through chord changes, and in this case creating harmonic structure in an improvisational setting. Jaco also plays great on “Missouri Uncompromised” on Metheny’s Bright Size Life recording. Listening to that trio album is absolutely inspiring and stunning! Beautiful composition and performance by Jaco, Pat Metheny and drummer Bob Moses.

Word of Mouth (Warner Bros., 1981)

I found this arrangement of the classic Paul McCartney composition extremely fascinating and amazing. Jaco took this song to a whole other level, by offering the most beautiful bass work and expanding on the harmony, plus creating a percussive backdrop that is absolutely awe-inspiring. Again Toots Thielemans offers a wonderful melodic sound on the harmonica, and there is the occasional use of harp and some Mellotron-like synths and mandocello, which adds a more unique quality to this arrangement.

“4 A.M.”

Herbie Hancock
Mr. Hands (Columbia, 1980)

Interesting composition, and Jaco lends his brilliant rhythmic and harmonic support to this music alongside rhythmic funk drumming by an original member of the Headhunters, Harvey Mason. Great sound!

“Punk Jazz”

Weather Report
Mr. Gone (Columbia, 1978)

Here you have another brilliant composition that allowed this band to showcase its wonderful and strong sense of harmony and musicality. Wayne Shorter’s unique soprano saxophone combined with the genius of Joe Zawinul on synthesizers and Jaco’s melodic beauty on electric bass-all perfectly motivated rhythmically by Peter Erskine on drums and Manolo Badrena on percussion. Glorious!

“Teen Town”

Weather Report
Heavy Weather (Columbia, 1977)

This has been a bass anthem since it was released. Truly the work of a genius-and funky as hell. Jaco also played drums on the studio version along with Alex Acuña on hi-hat. It set a seriously high standard for playing the electric bass.

Originally Published