Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Remark You Made

There are a few musicians who completely change the way people approach different instruments. They become icons in the music community, and they often become known by one name. "Eddie," to a guitar player, can only mean Eddie Van Halen, who completely freaked out every guitar player in the world when the first Van Halen record came out. Say "Bird" to any sax player and you're talking about Charlie Parker, who completely rewrote the rules on playing bebop in the 50s and 60s. "Miles" to a trumpet player is Miles Davis. "Gadd" to a drummer is Steve Gadd.

For electric bass players, the name is Jaco.

Until Jaco Pastorius came along, the bass player in a band was the guitar player's little brother, who only learned to play bass so he could be in the band. Or it was a serious upright bass player who bought an electric bass for convenience. Sure, there were a few fine electric bass players before Jaco, much like there were some fine basketball players before Michael Jordan.

Jaco could play faster than any bass player on earth. His unbelievable playing on tunes like Donna Lee and Teen Town let bass players know that there was a level of playing possible that was previously unimaginable. That fact, in following years, turned his name into a not-so-nice cliche. A bass player who overplays gets a "what's with all the Jaco shit, dude?" from his bandmates.

So, yeah, Jaco could play fast. But what made him so great was that he could play electric bass so beautifully. Like, listening slack-jawed, stunned, staring-at-your-hands, verge-of-tears beauty.

There is a song on Weather Report's album "Heavy Weather" called A Remark You Made. It is a ballad, written by Joe Zawinul specifically for Jaco. In my opinion, it is one of the most important recordings in American music history. And the reason is because it is so achingly beautiful. When the Idiot Drummer and I drove to Florida and back last month, that song came on my iPod and we just sat in stunned reverential silence, letting the music wash over us for six respectful minutes. When it ended we looked at each other and simultaneously shook our heads and said, "fucking Jaco." And we are a couple of jaded, cantankerous, musically cynical old motherfuckers.

Jaco went crazy. Literally. He died penniless and homeless by having his head bashed in by a bouncer in a bar in his native Ft. Lauderdale. But years before he was beaten to death, he recorded A Remark You Made to remind cynical old motherfuckers like me 30 years later that music can flood your soul with an overwhelming surge of beauty and truth. And that is something that cynical old motherfuckers like me need to be reminded of occasionally.

4 Comments:

At 5:34 PM , Blogger SistaSmiff said...

People don't appreciate how important a bass player is in a band, until there's a bad one in a band.

 
At 4:17 PM , Blogger saraclark said...

You forgot to reference "Vinnie" for drummers. He's just as big as Gadd.
The Other Half has all of Jaco Pastorious both Solo, Weather Report and more. I'm scared that I know exactly what you're referencing and how cool it is.

 
At 8:43 AM , Blogger Pee Wee said...

Good blog. Jaco was truly scary.....

 
At 9:25 PM , Blogger Kely said...

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