I started playing bass guitar when I was around 12, mostly because everyone else was already playing guitar or drums and so every band in the area needed a bass player. I spent the first few years playing simple lines along to the punk and classic rock songs that every garage band starts out on. After a few years, the kids who were more serious and/or talented started to gravitate towards each other and take on more challenging music, like early Metallica and, of course, Rush.
Around this same time I took over the bass chair for my high school jazz ensemble. It was a pretty mediocre group, mostly uninterested kids from marching band just trying to fill another class on their schedule with a couple of really talented musicians all slogging their way through the usual repertoire of “All the Things You Are” and “Satin Doll”. From a bass perspective, it was totally boring. The charts we used were lower level arrangements that had the bass lines written out on them. Improvisation was a no-no.
Getting to the point: One day, my frustrated young self challenged the instructor to give me something I could sink my teeth into. The four words that came out of his mouth changed my life: “Check out some Jaco”.
I headed to my local CD shop that day after school and bought my first copy of Jaco Pastorius. Once I got home, I put the disc in my stereo and strapped on my bass. I was going to sit down and learn this record lick for lick. I hit play on the remote:
Uh oh. Is that really an electric bass? It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. In 2:27 Jaco had shattered my naive belief that I had mastered my instrument. At this time I had no understanding of what a landmark chart “Donna Lee” is, or how groundbreaking it was for a bass player to run it with just a simple percussion accompaniment. All I heard was someone performing acrobatics on a bass like I had never heard. I let the disc play, falling in love with most of what followed. “Portrait of Tracy”, “Opus Pocus”, “Come On, Come Over” and “Kuru/Speak Like A Child” are all great songs, showcasing different aspects of Jaco’s genius.
The next day I was back at the record shop, buying everything Jaco I could find. I was absolutely obsessed with everything he did, and started working my way through his other solo work, Weather Report, Pat Metheny, etc. His discography was my window to jazz. I left Rush and Metallica behind and never looked back.