The Lesson With Jaco

Pics of Jaco from the Boston Orpheum Weather Report Show

So, it was maybe 1979 or so…Weather Report had recently come out with their “8:30” album, and were on tour. So my friend Peter Reissig and I lept aboard the Montrealer from White River Junction, Vermont to New York, and took a train and a bus out to Passaic, New Jersey to see Weather Report. Unfortunately we didn’t listen to any weather reports, and most of the trip was in the rain.

When we got to the theater, there were some pissed off fans outside. Seems some stagehand had dropped a light on Zawinul’s keyboards. The show was cancelled. Frustrated, we circled round and round the theater, peering through the smokey glass of the tour bus, wondering where that bass god was.

We walked by the stage door, and there was this silouette of this longhaired, tall lanky guy, with the hall light behind him. He was giving an autograph to a couple of people there. He went inside to get a list of some sort. He put them on a guest list for someplace else.

“Hey, Jaco, is there any chance I can get a lesson?” I asked.

“No, he laughed. Where you guys from?”

“We came down from Vermont.”

He was visibly impressed. “Wow!” He said. “You know, we’re playing up near there sometime soon. Let’s see… New Haven, you want to come to see us in New Haven? Boston?”

“Yeah! Boston!” We said, having been stuck one too many times hitchiking through New Haven.

“Alright, you’re on the list for Boston. The Orpheum Theater. Do you want to bring somebody?”

“Sure!” we exclaim.

“OK, plus 2. What’re your names?”

So we told him and once again asked, “So isn’t there any chance I could get a lesson?”

“Bring your bass and I’ll give you a lesson,” he says. So we run off into the rain, high as kites on our encounter with musical genius. “Do you think he’ll really give you a lesson?” Peter asked.

“I don’t know, but you can bet I’ll bring my bass!”

So the time comes for the show in Boston, and Marshall Tucker Band is scheduled to play at Dartmouth, only 20 miles away. So nobody wants to go see Weather Report in Boston! Suckers. Not that we weren’t really disappointed. What could be a better way to impress a date? But it’s a little too far away. So we get down to Boston, like a four hour drive, but I think we may have hitched…and we’re trying to find a place to stay. So we call everybody we know, and can’t reach anyone. So we go to this Soup and Salad place near Boston University, and there isn’t enough time to finish our meals, so we stuff some of the food in our pockets and head off to the show, me lugging my bass with me in it’s hard shell case. Gig bags weren’t really too common in those days.

So we get to the show, and there are four 3rd row center seats for us!!! And we’re nearly broke. The show is sold out, so we sell the seats to some European tourists for what seemed like a lot of money.
The show is fantastic. The pictures above are from it. So afterwards, we try to go backstage, and the guy won’t let us. Jaco doesn’t appear to know who I am.

So, finally, we give up and go outside. The bus pulls up and Jacos wife comes out and gets on. Then Wayne Shorter. And some business type people. Then Jaco comes out and says, “Hey man! You made it! How’d you like the show?”

“It was great!” we reply, and eye the bus, nervously. “You said you’d give him a lesson,” Peter says.

“Oh, hop on!” Jaco says. “Weren’t you guys going to bring some people?” He asks.

“Well, they didn’t want to come down from Vermont. Marshall Tucker Band was playing.”

He looks annoyed.

Nervous and excited, we climb aboard the bus. Zawinul gets on and I say, “Hi! We really loved the show…” he pushes past us into the back of the bus, wordless. I’m sitting next to Wayne Shorter. Jaco introduces us to everyone; his wife, the manager, Shorter…I push for musical words of wisdom. Shorter tells me that learning scales and modes is like learning your musical ABCs. Several times people ask us where they can drop us off. We keep pushing for the lesson. Finally, Jaco relents and we arrive at the Lexington Hotel in Boston. Jaco and his wife invite us upstairs to their room. Peter offers them some bread. Jacos wife gives us an apple from Paris.

We sit down in their hotel room. Jaco takes my bass out. He runs through some two octave scales on it. “Hey! This is a nice bass!” he says. It’s a Fender copy, a Carlorobelli. But he’s right.

“Could you show me how you play Teen Town?” I ask.

“Sure.” He runs through it. All the fingering shifts I’d been trying to figure out are suddenly crystal clear.

“So, do you write out all your solos? Did you write that tune out?”

“Yeah, of course,” he says. “Hey look here…see this? You shouldn’t let your strings stick out like that. The hole in the middle is where they get pushed through like this…” He unwinds my strings and rethreads them. “Then you cut the end off.”

The phone rings. “Hey, Lyle! Did you guys come to the show? OH…you didn’t? We set those seats aside for you! You want to go eat? Come on over.”

“So, do you guys do yoga or anything?” Peter asks.

“I especially like booberry” Jaco replies.

Somehow Jaco brings up that he doesn’t drink or do any drugs. He runs through some modes.
“My wife just had twins” he tells us.

Then Lyle shows up. “You guys know Lyle? He and I toured with Joni Mitchell last year.”

“Yeah, sure!” We reply. We’d seen Pat Metheny with him several times in New York City and Long Island. “Could we take pictures of you guys?” I ask.

“Nah, I hate pictures. Well, you guys take care now,” Jaco says. We head out into the hall.

“It’s really late. Where are we going to stay?”

“I dunno. Let’s go downstairs. ” We walk down the stairs and come to a ballroom. We go into the dark ballroom and take some tablecloths and wrap them around us, climbing under the tables to go to sleep. At some point during the night, the lights come on, then cleaning people pick up some table cloths, but they don’t seem to see us. It gets light. We feel awful having slept on the floor.

We walk downstairs and out through the lobby. Weather Reports manager, who was on the bus, is in the lobby. “HI!” We say as we walk out. His jaw hits the floor.

We go to a donut shop across the street and have a donut for breakfast, tired, but laughing.

Saratoga SpringsKOOL Jazz Festival

Once again, I’m trying to track Jaco down. I go over to the hotel, just off the grounds of the stadium. Shorter is sitting with his sax cases in the middle of the extremely picturesque lobby. Zawinul is outside, sitting down to lunch. I go over to ask him if he could give some mounted prints of the bad to Jaco. The waitress runs up, exceedingly friendly, and tries to seat me with him. I’m flattered, nervous, and know I shouldn’t be there… He gruffly tells me he’s trying to eat. I get up and leave. I ask him to give the pictures to Jaco.

A while later, he and everyone else in the band except Jaco walk over to the stage. I follow. Down offstage, I see jaco hanging out. I give him the pictures. He isn’t very friendly this time.

Seems more out of it.

New York City 1983Jaco Big Band

Onstage, Jaco introduces his father, whose birthday it is. His father sings Sinatra style with the band. I remember thinking, “Who is this Bob Mintzer guy? He’s fantastic!” Jaco doesn’t play too well. He seems out of it.

Rebecca and I go backstage. I say “Hi, Jaco!” He seems to recognize me. Or fake it well. “Hey, how ya doin’?” He may have even asked if I was still in Vermont. “I’m at Hampshire College” I say. “Isn’t that a hick school?” He asks. Somehow he mentions that his Fender bass has survived falls down a few staircases. I follow upstairs. The mirrors in the dressing room are lying on the counters. People look at me nervously. Jaco says, “Hey you should come down to Randy’s place. We’re going to jam there after Gary Burton is done.” We had been intending to go down there anyway. So at Seventh Avenue South, there’s a fantastic show by Gary Burton. Steve Swallow plays pretty damn well. Then Jaco staggers upstairs and wants to jam using his bass after they’re done.

Swallow watches on nervously as Jaco nearly falls off the stool with his bass. Jaco attempts, unsuccessfully, to play Donna Lee. It is embarrassing. Randy Brecker is playing OK.

“Jaco Pastglorius” Rebecca repeats in my ear.

New York City 1986I’ve just moved to New York City from Madison, Wisconsin. The paper comes out with an obituary for Jaco, claiming he was manic depressive. Judging from the behavior I’d seen, I assume it was really cocaine addiction that brought him down, and that people misdiagnosed it as manic depression.

The stories of his life while I’d been in other parts of the country emerge; living on a basketball court off 4th street, on the Psych ward in Bellevue. Scaring the hell out of kids. Breaking up other peoples jam sessions. Living in a park in Fort Lauderdale. I try to figure out from the stories when the addiction started. My life is in turnaround. I realize I’d been given a release from the disease that had killed him and have grandiose fantasies about taking his place in the world.

Then I get a job doing computer stuff.

New York City 1996I’m sitting in a coffeeshop with Bob Mintzer and John Hagen. We’re having lunch.

“Jaco could play a groove better than anyone I’ve ever played with” he says

We discuss how Jimmy Haslip studied with my first real bass teacher, Ron Smith.

We walk uptown together. “So, how’s the world of bass playing?” he asks.

I fish for excuses and head to the Lincoln Center Library, wondering why I’m in the bands I’m in.