It was only a matter of time. You could see the potential there nearly 20 years ago, when an 11-year-old Felix Pastorius participated in a 1993 tribute to his father, the late, great Jaco, who’d passed six years prior. At the now-defunct Cat Club in Manhattan, Felix performed renditions of “Continuum” and “Come On, Come Over” with his twin brother, Julius. Sporting baseball caps, high-top sneakers and matching Fender basses, the boys were a cute and touching sight to behold, but they were also nailing Jaco’s anthems note-for-note.
Julius would eventually switch to drums when the teenaged Pastorius twins formed their band Way of the Groove, which landed a regular Tuesday night gig at Alligator Alley in Oakland Park, Fla., where their father had grown up and close to where they were raised and home-schooled by their mother, Ingrid, who died last year from complications following an aortic aneurysm. Prior to that, at 16, Felix had played in Bobby Thomas Jr.’s Bermuda Triangle band, led by the South Florida percussionist, a former bandmate of Jaco’s in Weather Report.
Then, in November of 2002, Felix emerged in a big way in New York, when bassist Victor Wooten presented the phenom at a Bass Day convention. The lanky 20-year-old, standing 6-foot-6 and utilizing the double-jointed thumbs he inherited from his father, wowed attendees with a gutsy solo performance that showed flashes of dad’s facility, even if it lacked his audacious stage presence.
Felix is now 29 and, in terms of measuring up to his father’s legacy, his perspective is a thoughtful one. “There’s always going to be some kind of comparison or expectation,” he says, “and not only by listeners or critics, but by myself as well. But I’m just doing what’s exciting and new to me and makes me happy. I’m trying to have as much fun with it as possible for as long as I possibly can.”
As for his own development as a musician, Felix is, like his father was, “formally self-taught.” “I haven’t really had bass lessons or music lessons, per se,” he explains. “But I’ve always had the opportunity to hang around musicians in situations where most people don’t. And I don’t take it for granted. I’ve had the ability to hang around musicians in backstage areas and have them talk about stuff that they’re working on, and not necessarily be in a student-teacher situation.”
Since moving to New York during the summer of 2009, he’s been steadily increasing his profile on the scene, beginning with his regular Monday night gig at Zinc Bar in Greenwich Village with his band, the Hipster Assassins. In 2010 and 2011, he toured in Cindy Blackman-Santana’s Another Lifetime, her tribute to drummer and role model Tony Williams. In November of last year he gigged with guitarist David Gilmore’s Art of Ascension, featuring keyboardist James Hurt and drummer Nate Smith.
Meanwhile, for the past 10 years he has been a member of Jeff Coffin’s Mu’tet, touring with the group when the former Flecktones saxophonist is on hiatus from his current duties with the Dave Matthews Band. (Felix appears on Coffin’s 2008 Compass Records release Mutopia and on 2011’s double-CD Live!, available at iTunes or earuprecords.com. A new Mu’tet studio album is being readied for release this summer.)
“It’s been astonishing to witness Felix’s development over the last 10 years,” says Coffin. “When he would come out with me early on, you could hear him getting better, literally on a daily basis. So with each new tour he would start out at a higher level than he ended the last one. He practices [constantly]; he’s got a great sense of time. He’s a very intuitive musician but he’s also very knowledgeable. He’s into figuring out these different configurations of arpeggiated possibilities for different chords and structures. … And he’s playing as good as anybody out there. … He’s a complete musician at this point.”
While Felix has been honing his craft, along comes a gig that stands to bring the bass monster the most attention he’s seen yet: filling in for Jimmy Haslip on tour with Yellowjackets. As the young bassist is quick to note, “It’s not me taking over the bass chair in any aspect. It’s still Jimmy’s band. He co-founded it 30 years ago. So it’s still his seat; I’m just fortunate and very honored to keep it warm for him.”
In a recent news release, Haslip explained what is behind his planned yearlong sabbatical. “The primary reason is so that I can spend more quality time with my family,” says Haslip. “I spent 10 months on the road last year. The break will give me an opportunity to spend more time at home as well as work on other artistic endeavors, such as independently producing projects.”
Yellowjackets saxophonist Bob Mintzer, a longtime colleague of Jaco’s and a member of the bassist’s Word of Mouth big band and sextet, has known Felix since the day he was born. “I love karmic twists like this,” says Coffin, who recommended Felix for the Yellowjackets gig. “Bob had called me and said that they were looking for somebody and were considering Felix. He asked about where he was at in his life and playing-wise. And I said, ‘He is absolutely ready for this-as a person and as a player.’ He’s really worked hard and he’s never once rested on any kind of Pastorius pedigree. He’s his own person, his own bass player.”
But despite his independence, Felix is excited about a detail of the tour that will bring him closer to his heritage. “Playing alongside Mintzer is definitely a unique situation,” he offers. “He says he’s got a bunch of stories about my father that he wants to tell me.”