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Jaco Incorporated

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Until he arrived, the electric bass had been a steady if unexciting backing voice in jazz ensembles. But Jaco turned it into a melodic instrument with the explosive power and subtle feeling to lead an orchestra. Some compared how Pastorius transformed the jazz bass to what Charlie Parker, another jazz icon who died young, had done with the saxophone. Pastorius himself encouraged comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, who redefined the guitar before his own life ended too soon.

Or, as biographer Bill Milkowski put it, "Jaco was to the electric bass what Paul Bunyan was to the lumber industry."

In other words, a mythic figure among mere mortals. Revered the world over, Jaco's records are considered sacred texts, his rare videotaped shows living memorials. And the stories of his epic performances and wild offstage antics still fuel websites and Internet forums like he'd never left. His presence is also still felt by the musicians who came later; Jaco's playing paved the way for physical, wild perfectionists like Flea and Les Claypool.

"My father," Mary Pastorius says, "was a rock star."

After the Pastorius family moved from Pennsylvania to South Florida in 1959, Jaco played sports and took up drums, then switched to bass after breaking a wrist playing football. He began playing in local bands in 1966 and 1967, which is when Bobbing, another teenaged local bass player, first ran into him at a performance on the beach near Las Olas Boulevard.

It was also Bobbing who gave Jaco a key break early in his career. In 1972, a slot for a bassist opened up in Georgia soul singer Wayne Cochran's backing band, the C.C. Riders. Offered the job but unable to take it because of a prior commitment, Bobbing told Cochran about Pastorius, who burned up his audition and then spent the next several months traveling the country and impressing audiences.

By that time, Pastorius was married to his first wife, Tracy, and had a young daughter, Mary. His second child, John, was born in 1973. And it was in the next few years that Pastorius really blew up, with two particularly explosive years in 1975 and 1976, when he joined the jazz-fusion juggernaut Weather Report, released a solo album that killed, and also recorded with Pat Metheny and Joni Mitchell.

Overnight, Pastorius and his trademark double-jointed thumbs had become the force of nature that musicians like Metheny and Mitchell sought out to help them explore new sonic territory.

And Bobbing, as well as Mary and John Pastorius, were around for those years of stratospheric success. So it's not hard to understand why — after Jaco's rise was followed by a precipitous fall, generating just as many stories not about his musical prowess but about the bizarre and manipulative behavior of his later years — the people who feel they must protect Jaco's legacy guard it with surprising tenacity.

While his fame was still peaking in 1977, Pastorius began an affair with Hornmüller, a Sumatra-born former Eastern Airlines flight attendant who was the daughter of an Indonesian woman and a German man and who had been raised in the Netherlands. Pastorius divorced Tracy in 1978, and the following year, he and Hornmüller were married.

The twins, Felix and Julius, arrived in 1982. And by then, Pastorius, who earlier in his life had made a reputation as a rare teetotaler among musicians, was already being consumed by a steady diet of alcohol and cocaine. That mix only made worse his undiagnosed bipolar illness, which furthered his decline. He and Ingrid divorced in 1985.

When Jaco performed in his later years, he was notoriously unpredictable — genius or insanity, with nothing seemingly in between. After a voluntary stay at Bellevue Hospital in New York in 1986, Pastorius returned to South Florida the first week of 1987. Known for being an obnoxious drunk, he pissed off one too many people later that year. On September 11, he had a run-in with nightclub manager Luc Havan, a 25-year-old Vietnamese-born French national who had previously warned Pastorius about coming into his Wilton Manors bar, the Midnight Bottle Club. Havan, a martial arts expert, claimed that Pastorius struck him and that he hit him back only once, causing Pastorius to fall and strike his head on the pavement. But a witness and Jaco's condition suggested that Havan had actually unleashed a furious assault on the hapless drunk. After spending several days in a coma, Pastorius' heart stopped beating on September 21. Havan was later convicted of manslaughter but served only a few months in prison.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton