Jaco Incorporated

Robert Rutherford thought he had a pretty good idea. A way for Oakland Park, where he lives, to honor its most famous native son, storied jazz bass player Jaco Pastorius, by naming a small new city park after him.

Rutherford, an unassuming man in his early 30s (he won't give an exact number), is skinny, ponytailed, and bespectacled. He works in a local printing shop and lives just blocks from where his idol grew up.

The young jazz fan — an uncommon animal, to be sure — appears to have little influence with local city leaders. He does have a few web skills, which he used to produce jacopastoriuspark.org to promote his idea. The website has motivated 199 people to sign an online petition endorsing the park. Rutherford has also taken advantage of his position at a print shop to churn out some Jaco-themed fliers, guitar picks, and buttons.

It's not quite a groundswell. But Rutherford, the well-meaning, worshipful fan, is hoping that his grass-roots campaign will persuade an uptight collection of city officials to name a sliver of a park after a man who, in the 1970s, briefly became a jazz god, forever changing the way the electric bass was perceived and played, and just as quickly was overtaken by mental illness and alcohol abuse and finally died at 35 after a beating inflicted by a Wilton Manors nightclub manager one night in 1987.

In other words, Rutherford probably doesn't have a prayer.

Or he didn't, at least until he got the endorsement of a key backer, who has unequivocally given her blessing to his efforts.

That angel, who has been instrumental in what little momentum Rutherford has been able to generate, is Ingrid Hornmüller Pastorius, Jaco's second wife and the mother of his twin sons, Felix and Julius, who have also made it plain that they want to see Rutherford's idea succeed.

But even with the support of Pastorius' own sons, Rutherford knew he'd run into resistance at City Hall, where at least one commissioner has voiced her opposition because of the famous musician's ignominious final years.

What Rutherford didn't expect, however, was that the biggest resistance to his idea would come not from squeamish civil servants but from a buzzsaw of criticism from Jaco's two older children, John and Mary, and the bass player's longtime friend, a man named Bob Bobbing.

Rutherford, it turned out, had unwittingly stepped into the middle of a feud between Pastorius family members and friends warring over the man's legacy.

And very soon, he got the message: Remember Jaco. Appreciate Jaco. Revere Jaco. But don't mess with Jaco Pastorius Inc.

Sunday afternoon behind Calder Race Track, the South Florida Jazz and Heritage Festival has infused a hot afternoon with chicory coffee, gumbo, and jazz.

A couple of horn players from CB Pope's Dixieland All-Stars file offstage in matching outfits of navy slacks and powder-blue shirts.

"That's got to be Jaco's kid hanging backstage," one of them says, nodding toward a tall, thin dude with wise brown eyes, his eyebrows, lips, and mustache as iconic as his father's. They stroll over.

"Excuse me... are you Jaco's son?"

Sure am, nods Felix, sporting two gold rings in one earlobe and a Caesar haircut.

"I played with your dad!" they both gush at once.

Dennis Clouse, probably in his early 50s, looks like he rides a hog. Mike Petrozzino wears bifocals and beignet crumbs on his blue polyester shirt. They stare in amazement at Felix, not just because he's six-foot-seven with snake-like arms but because he's the spitting image of Jaco.

Clouse and Petrozzino used to sit in on jam sessions at Pirate's World, a tiny Dania Beach club on Sheridan Street, they explain. Petrozzino pumps Felix's big hand again. "I'm honored," he says. Felix's twin brother, Julius, half a foot shorter but with a similar stark charcoal outline, elicits the same response from the two horn players. They sit and wait for the acclaimed outfit Way of the Groove — with Felix on bass and Julius on drums — to perform.

As the band stretches through two softly rendered Herbie Hancock numbers, it's impossible to watch Felix play and not be reminded of his father. Outlandishly long fingers work up and down the neck of the instrument, and the physical resemblance is uncanny.

"His dad was the same way — like the bass was part of his body," Clouse raves.

Nearly 20 years after his death, one of South Florida's most famous products is still the legend he himself always insisted he was. The first thing most people new to the legend learn about Jaco — pronounced "Jocko," which is also the way he spelled it until he was about 23 years old — was that he began to call himself "The World's Greatest Bass Player" before the rest of the music world had even heard of him. But the label stuck after he proved that it wasn't an idle boast. To many jazz fans, Pastorius, the brash Oakland Park kid who grew up by the Florida East Coast railroad tracks, really was the World's Greatest Bass Player.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton