How Jaco Pastorius Made His Trademark Sound
Everywhere one can go it seems there are traces of Jaco’s trademark sound. Whether it’s a commercial on T.V. or a 16th note groove escaping from the confines of the record store on the corner of the avenue, Jaco’s revolutionary approach to bass guitar may be found anywhere. Unlike his various predecessors, Jaco redefined the bass guitar utilizing abstract and unconventional techniques, paving the way for future musicians. Truly a man before his time, here is a list of various ideas and techniques Jaco used to create his unmistakable trademark sound.
The Fret-less Bass: Coming from a poor family in Fort Lauderdale Florida, Jaco didn’t have enough money to buy the instruments that he needed, which led to a more creative approach to getting what he wanted. Once he got his hands on the infamous 1962 Fender Jazz Bass, Jaco decided he preferred the sound of a fret-less bass and proceeded to remove the frets himself, filling in the holes with wood filler and coating the fret-board with a layer of marine epoxy. However, this epoxy didn’t fully protect the fret-board from the damaging round wound bass strings that he would grind deeper and deeper into the board, leaving large gashes behind. This creation of a fret-less bass and relentless damage to the fret-board gave Jaco a distinctive mellow and dramatic sound.
Jaco Growl: Also called the “mu-ah effect,” Jaco would boost the mid-range frequencies of his amplifiers and pluck the strings of the bass close to the fret-board, using the fleshy pad of the finger. This technique creates a distinctive “growl” sound that Jaco would use melodically and rhythmically. Jaco would also only use the bridge pickup during most of his performances creating a brighter, more metallic sound. When mixed with the low frequencies of the bass speakers, this exemplified Jaco’s “growl.” Listen to “A Remark You Made” by Weather Report for good examples of this method.
Harmonics: Utilizing both natural and false harmonics, perfected the use of bass harmonics to perfectly replicate the sound of a horn. These soft, bell like tones he would transcribe into a 16th note groove, truly creating a new sound with the bass guitar that was never before thought possible. For the best example of Jaco’s use of harmonics check out his bass solo composition “Portrait of Tracy”.”
Punk Jazz: Besides his unconventional approach to bass guitar techniques and vocabulary, Jaco redefined both bass guitar and jazz with his overwhelming charisma on stage. Once nicknamed “Mowgli” (referring to the main character in the Jungle Book) Jaco has had a tremendous amount of pent-up energy since childhood. Transferring this energy to his on-stage presence, Jaco became an icon for musicians to mimic. Jaco decided that he wouldn’t fall into the norm of jazz musicians conservatively held back from feeling the music, instead he felt imperative not to be in one place for very long. Dancing, flips, and rolling on the floor are common ways that Jaco would give not only a musical performance but an acrobatic one as well.
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