Jaco Pastorius

Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius

Pastorius in concert at Naples, Italy in 1986
Background information
Birth name John Francis Anthony Pastorius, III
Also known as "Mowgli"
Born December 1, 1951(1951-12-01)
Norristown, Pennsylvania
Died September 21, 1987(1987-09-21) (aged 35)
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Genres Jazz, jazz fusion, big band
Occupations Musician, songwriter, producer, educator
Instruments Bass, drums, piano, backing vocals, mandocello, steel drums
Years active 1964–1987
Labels Epic, Warner Bros., Columbia, ECM, CBS, Elektra
Associated acts Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Joni Mitchell, Trio of Doom, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Word of Mouth,
Website jacopastorius.com
Notable instruments
Fender Jazz Bass

John Francis Anthony Pastorius III (December 1, 1951 – September 21, 1987), known as Jaco Pastorius, was an American jazz musician and composer widely acknowledged as a virtuoso[1] electric bass player.

His playing style was noteworthy for containing intricate solos in the higher register and for the "singing" quality he achieved on the fretless bass. His innovations also included the use of harmonics. Pastorius suffered from mental illness including a substance-related disorder, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982. He died in 1987 at age 35 following a violent altercation at a Fort Lauderdale drinking establishment.

Pastorius was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988, one of only four bassists to be so honored (and the only electric bass guitarist). He is one of the most influential electric bass players of all time.


Early life and education

John Francis Pastorius III was born December 1, 1951 in Norristown, Pennsylvania[2] to Jack Pastorius (big band singer/drummer) and Stephanie Katherine Haapala Pastorius,[3] the first of their three children, Jaco Pastorius was of Finnish, German, Swedish and Irish ancestry.[4]

Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Oakland Park, Florida, (near Fort Lauderdale). Pastorius went to elementary and middle school at St. Clement's Catholic School in Wilton Manors, and he was an altar boy at the adjoining church.[5] In his years at St. Clement's, the art he was most known for was drawing.[citation needed]

Pastorius formed his first band named The Sonics along with John Caputo and Dean Noel. He went to high school at Northeast High in Oakland Park, Florida.[6] He was a talented athlete with skills in football, basketball, and baseball, and he picked up music at an early age. He took the name "Anthony" at his confirmation.[6]

He loved baseball and often watched it with his father. Pastorius' nickname was influenced by his love of sports and also by the umpire Jocko Conlan.[6] He changed the spelling from "Jocko" to "Jaco" after the pianist Alex Darqui sent him a note. Darqui, who was French, assumed the name was spelled "Jaco"; Pastorius liked the new spelling.[6] Jaco Pastorius had a second nickname, given to him by his younger brother Gregory: "Mowgli", after the wild young boy in Rudyard Kipling's children's classic, The Jungle Book. Gregory gave him the nickname in reference to his seemingly endless energy as a child.[6] Jaco Pastorius would later establish his music publishing company as Mowgli Music. In 1973, he was an instructor at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music.[citation needed]

Music career

Pastorius, shirtless, playing bass in his early years.
Pastorius November 27, 1977

Jaco Pastorius started out following in the footsteps of his father Jack, playing the drums,[7] however he injured his wrist playing football at age 13. The damage to his wrist was severe enough to warrant corrective surgery and ultimately inhibited his ability to play drums.[6] At the time, he had been playing with a local band, Las Olas Brass, and since the bass player, David Neubauer, had decided to quit the band, he picked up an electric bass guitar from a local pawn shop for $15, and began to learn to play,[8] with drummer Rich Franks assuming his former position in the band.[9]

By 1968–1969, Pastorius had begun to appreciate jazz and had scraped up enough money to buy an upright bass. Its deep, mellow tone appealed to him even if its cost was prohibitive. Pastorius discovered the difficulties in maintaining the instrument, which Pastorius attributed to the humidity of his Florida home, coupled with his shift in focus to R&B music. Following the development of a crack in the body, he finally traded the instrument for a 1960 Fender Jazz Bass.[10]

Pastorius' first real break came when he secured the bass chair with Wayne Cochran and The C.C. Riders[7] He also played on various local R&B and jazz records during that time such as Little Beaver, Ira Sullivan's Quintet, and Woodchuck. In 1974, he began playing with his friend and future famous jazz guitarist, Pat Metheny. They recorded together, first with Paul Bley as leader and Bruce Ditmas on drums, then with drummer Bob Moses. Metheny and Pastorius recorded a trio album with Bob Moses on the ECM label, entitled Bright Size Life.

Debut album

In 1975, Pastorius was introduced to Blood, Sweat & Tears drummer Bobby Colomby, who had been given the green light by CBS Records to find "new talent" for their jazz division.[11] Pastorius' first album, produced by Colomby was the eponymous Jaco Pastorius (1976), a breakthrough album for the electric bass.[2] Many consider this to be the finest bass album ever recorded;[2] when it exploded onto the jazz scene it was widely praised by critics. The album also boasted a lineup of heavyweights in the jazz community at the time—essentially a stellar backup band—including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, David Sanborn, Lenny White, Don Alias, and Michael Brecker among others. Even legendary R&B singers Sam & Dave reunited to appear on the track "Come On, Come Over".[12]

Weather Report

Pastorius playing in Convocation Hall in Toronto Canada on November 27, 1977

Around the time of his solo album, he ran into keyboardist Josef Zawinul in Miami, where Zawinul's band, Weather Report, was playing. According to Zawinul, Pastorius walked up to him after a concert one night and talked about the performance and said that it was all right but that he had expected more.[13] He then went on to introduce himself to Zawinul, adding that he was the greatest bass player in the world. An unamused Zawinul told him to "get the fuck outta here."[14] According to Milkowski's book, on that same evening, Pastorius persisted and, according to Zawinul, reminded Zawinul of himself when he was a "brash young man" in Cannonball Adderley's band, which made Zawinul admire the young bassist. Zawinul asked for a demo tape from Pastorius, and thus began a correspondence between the two.

Pastorius joined Weather Report during the recording sessions for Black Market, and he became a vital part of the band both by virtue of the unique qualities of his bass playing, his skills as a composer and his exuberant showmanship on stage. His stage act and melodic, propulsive solos brought Weather Report a large new African-American audience; before his arrival the band had mostly pulled in white college fans.[citation needed]

Guest appearances on albums

Pastorius seated with his bass guitar, in Amsterdam 1980

Pastorius guested on many albums by other artists, as for example in 1976 with Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople fame, on All American Alien Boy, which again featured David Sanborn as well as Aynsley Dunbar. Other recordings included Joni Mitchell's Hejira album, and a solo album by Al Di Meola which were also standouts, both released in 1976. Soon after that, Weather Report bass player Alphonso Johnson gave notice that he would be leaving to start his own band. Zawinul invited Pastorius to join the band, where he played alongside Joe and Wayne Shorter until 1983. During his time with Weather Report, Pastorius made his indelible mark on jazz music, notably by being featured on one of the most popular jazz albums of all time, the Grammy Award-nominated Heavy Weather. Not only did this album showcase Pastorius's bass playing and songwriting, but he also received a co-producing credit with Joe Zawinul and even played drums on his self-composed "Teen Town."

During the course of his musical career, Pastorius played on dozens of recording sessions for other musicians, both in and out of jazz circles. Some of his most notable are four highly regarded albums with acclaimed singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell: Hejira (1976), Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (1977), Mingus (1979) and the live album Shadows and Light (1980). His influence was most dominant on Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, and many of the songs on that album seem to be composed using the bass as a melodic source of inspiration. Also worthy of mention is his collaboration with important jazz figures Flora Purim and Airto Moreira. Pastorius can be heard on Moreira's 1977 release I'm Fine, How Are You? His signature sound is prominent on Purim's 1978 release Everyday Everynight, on which he played the bass melody for a Michel Colombier composition entitled "The Hope", and performed bass and vocals on one of his own compositions entitled "Las Olas".

Near the end of his career, he guested on low-key releases by jazz artists such as guitarist Mike Stern, guitarist Biréli Lagrène, and drummer Brian Melvin. In 1985, he recorded an instructional video, Modern Electric Bass, hosted by acclaimed bassist Jerry Jemmott.

Pastorius' original compositions for solo electric bass guitar, "Portrait of Tracy" and "Three Views of a Secret" have been arranged for piano and published in The New Real Book: Volume 1 published by Sher Music.[15]


He and Weather Report parted ways in early 1981, and Jaco began pursuing his interest in creating a big band solo project named Word of Mouth, one that found its debut aurally on his second solo release, Word of Mouth. This 1981 album also boasted guest appearances by several distinguished jazz musicians: Herbie Hancock, Weather Report's Wayne Shorter and Peter Erskine, harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans and Hubert Laws. The album allowed Pastorius' songwriting to take some of the spotlight from his bass performance. It also showcased his producing skills and ultimately, his ability to bring together a project that was recorded on both coasts of the United States, as well as in Belgium where he recorded Thielemans.

On his 30th birthday, December 1, 1981, he threw a party at a club in Fort Lauderdale, flew in some of the artists from his Word of Mouth project, and other noteworthy musicians that included Don Alias, and Michael Brecker. The event was recorded by his friend and engineer Peter Yianilos, who intended it as a birthday gift. The concert remained unreleased until 1995.

He toured in 1982; a swing through Japan was the highlight, and it was at this time that bizarre tales of Pastorius' deteriorating behavior first surfaced. He shaved his head, painted his face black and threw his bass into Hiroshima Bay at one point.[16] That tour was released in Japan as Twins I and Twins II and was condensed for an American release which was known as Invitation.

In 1982, he recorded a third solo album, which made it as far as some unpolished demo tapes, a steelpans-tinged release entitled Holiday for Pans, which once again showcased him as a composer and producer rather than a performer. Jaco Pastorius did not play any of the bass parts on this album. He could not find a distributor for the album and the album was never released; however, it has since been widely bootlegged. In 2003, a cut from Holiday for Pans, entitled "Good Morning Anya", was included on Rhino Records' anthology Punk Jazz.

Behavior and health problems

Pastorius performing in New York City (with Jorma Kaukonen in the back, left); March 1986

Pastorius was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression.[17] Pastorius showed numerous features of the condition long before his initial diagnosis, although they were insufficiently extreme to have been diagnosed at the time as mental illness, being regarded instead as eccentricities or character flaws.[18] The condition in its earlier stages is likely to have contributed to his success as a musician. Hypomania, the cyclical peaks in mood that distinguish bipolar disorder from unipolar depression, have been associated with enhanced creativity.[19] It was recognized (retrospectively) by friends and family that these peaks played an essential role in his urge to create music.[20]

In his early career, Pastorius avoided both alcohol and drugs, but he became increasingly involved in alcohol and other drugs during his time with Weather Report.[21] Alcohol abuse ultimately exacerbated Pastorius' condition, leading to increasingly erratic and sometimes anti-social behavior.[22]

Pastorius was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in late 1982 following the Word of Mouth tour of Japan in which his erratic behavior became an increasing source of concern for his band members. Drummer Peter Erskine's father, Dr. Fred Erskine, suggested that Pastorius was showing signs of the condition and, on his return from the tour, his wife, Ingrid, had Pastorius committed to Holy Cross hospital under the Florida Mental Health Act, where he received the diagnosis and was prescribed lithium to stabilize his moods.[23]

By 1986, Pastorius' health had further deteriorated. He had been evicted from his New York apartment and had begun living on the streets.[24] In July 1986, following intervention by his then ex-wife Ingrid with the help of his brother Gregory, he was admitted to Bellevue Hospital in New York, where he was prescribed Tegretol in preference to lithium.[23] He moved back to Fort Lauderdale in December of that year, again living on the streets for weeks at a time.[24]


After sneaking onstage at a Carlos Santana concert September 11, 1987, and being ejected from the premises, Pastorius made his way to the Midnight Bottle Club in Wilton Manors, Florida.[25] After reportedly kicking in a glass door after being refused entrance to the club, he was engaged in a violent confrontation with the club bouncer, Luc Havan.[26] Pastorius was hospitalized for multiple facial fractures and injuries to his right eye and left arm. He fell into a coma and was put on life support.[citation needed]

There were initially encouraging signs that he would come out of his coma and recover, but a massive brain hemorrhage a few days later pointed to brain death. Pastorius died on September 21, 1987, aged 35, at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale and was buried at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery in North Lauderdale.[27]

In the wake of Pastorius' death, Havan was charged with second degree murder but later pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Because he had no prior convictions, and accounting for time served while waiting for the verdict, he was sentenced to 22 months in jail and five years probation. He was released after four months in jail for good behavior.[28]

Honors and tributes

Miles Davis honored the late bassist on his album Amandla with the Marcus Miller composition "Mr. Pastorius", as Jaco Pastorius was an inspiration to Marcus Miller.[29] Victor Wooten also honored Jaco Pastorius on his album Soul Circus on the track "Bass Tribute", thanking Pastorius several times. Wooten and Steve Bailey's Bass Extremes includes the tracks "Glorius Pastorius", "Portrait of Tracy," and also a tribute to Pastorius' interpretation of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" titled "Madonna Lee". The Pat Metheny Group also honored Pastorius on their album Pat Metheny Group with the track "Jaco". This song was not specifically written for Pastorius. Metheny wrote the song and then realized that the main melody sounded a lot like Pastorius' "Come On, Come Over", and subsequently decided to name the tune for Pastorius.[30] Bass player Brian Bromberg recorded a Pastorius tribute album entitled Jaco, which includes his interpretations of "Come On, Come Over", "The Chicken", "Portrait of Tracy", and more.[31]

John McLaughlin also honored Pastorius on his album Industrial Zen with the song "For Jaco". English keyboard player Rod Argent includes a track titled "Pastorius Mentioned" on his 1979 Album Moving Home. The song "Big Country", by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, contains the opening lick from Pastorius' "Continuum". Stuart Zender, the original bass player and founding member of Jamiroquai, cites Pastorius as one of his main influences. "With his sense of rhythm, melody and use of harmonics, Jaco pushed the envelope and transformed the way the electric bass guitar was played."

Since 1997, an annual birthday event takes place around December 1 in South Florida, hosted by his sons Julius and Felix Pastorius.

On December 2, 2007, the day after what would have been Pastorius' 56th birthday, a concert called "20th Anniversary (of his death) Tribute to Jaco Pastorius" was held at The Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, featuring performances by the award-winning Jaco Pastorius Big Band with special guest appearances by Peter Erskine, Randy Brecker, Bob Mintzer, David Bargeron, Jimmy Haslip, Gerald Veasley, Pastorius' sons John and Julius Pastorius, Pastorius' daughter Mary Pastorius, Ira Sullivan, Bobby Thomas, Jr., and Dana Paul. Also shown were exclusive home movies and rare concert footage as well as video appearances by Pat Metheny, Joni Mitchell, and other luminaries from Pastorius' life. Almost 20 years after his death, Fender released the Jaco Pastorius Jazz Bass, a fretless instrument from its Artist Series.

On December 1, 2008, on what would have been Pastorius' 57th birthday, the park in Oakland Park's new downtown redevelopment was formally named 'Jaco Pastorius Park' in honor of its former resident.[32]

Playing style


The "Jaco growl" is obtained by using the bridge pickup exclusively, and plucking the strings right above the bridge pickup. Pastorius used natural and false harmonics to extend the range of the bass (exemplified in the bass solo composition Portrait of Tracy from his eponymous album) and could achieve his signature horn-like tone by utilizing his fretless neck (covered in polyurethane marine varnish). His playing techniques earned him accolades both from the critics and his audiences. He used finger-style playing exclusively, and was not seen using the slap and pop method that dominated the R&B charts.[citation needed]

Jaco obtaining special effects with his bass guitar, performing with Weather Report in 1980



Pastorius was most identified by his use of two well-worn Fender Jazz Basses from the early 1960s: a 1960 fretted, and a 1962 fretless. The fretless, known by Jaco Pastorius as the "Bass of Doom", was originally a fretted bass that had the frets removed. Pastorius claimed to have removed the frets himself[33] but later said he had bought it with the frets already removed.[7] Pastorius finished the fretboard with marine epoxy (Petit's Poly-poxy) to protect the wood from the roundwound Rotosound strings he was using.[7][33] Even though he played both the fretted and the fretless basses frequently, he preferred the fretless, because he felt frets were a hindrance, once calling them "speed bumps". However, he said in the instructional video that he never practiced with the fretless because the strings "chew the neck up." Both of his Fender basses were stolen shortly before he entered Bellevue hospital in 1986. In 1993, one of the basses resurfaced in a New York City music shop, with the distinctive letter P written between the two pickups. In 2008, the 1962 fretless "Bass of Doom" also turned up in good condition in New York.[34] It was subsequently acquired by Robert Trujillo, bassist with Metallica. Although Trujillo currently owns the instrument, the Metallica bassist agreed in writing to relinquish the instrument to the family at any time for the same purchase price.[35]

Amplification, effects, and strings

Jaco Pastorius used the "Variamp" EQ (equalization) controls on his two Acoustic 360 amplifiers[36] (made by the Acoustic Control Corporation of Van Nuys, California) to boost the midrange frequencies, thus accentuating the natural growling tone of his fretless passive Fender Jazz Bass and roundwound string combination. His tone was also colored by the use of a rackmount MXR digital delay unit that fed a second Acoustic amp rig.

He often used Hartke cabinets during the final three years of his life because of their characteristic aluminum speaker cones (as opposed to paper speaker cones). These gave his tone a bright, clear sound. He typically used the delay in a chorus-like mode, providing a shimmering stereo doubling effect. He would often use the fuzz control built in on the Acoustic 361. For the bass solo "Slang" on the 8:30 album, Pastorius used the MXR digital delay to layer and loop a chordal figure and then he soloed over it.


Apart from his career in the jazz fusion band Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius had two Grammy Award nominations for his self-titled debut album.[2] He won the readers' poll for induction into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988, one of only four bassists to be so honored (the others being Charles Mingus, Milt Hinton, and Ray Brown), and the only electric bassist to receive this distinction.

Biography controversy

In 1995, jazz author Bill Milkowski wrote Jaco: The Extraordinary And Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius.[37] Published by Miller-Freeman, the book incorporated Milkowski's firsthand experiences with Jaco when he lived in New York between 1982 and 1986, when Pastorius' health had deteriorated.[38] This was supplemented by extensive interviews with friends, family and colleagues of Pastorius', as well as musicians and industry insiders.[39]

Pastorius's second wife Ingrid has complained that the book treated Jaco Pastorius with a lack of sensitivity,[38] and has listed a number of contextual inaccuracies on her website.[7] Guitarist Pat Metheny, who was a close friend before Pastorius joined Weather Report,[40] wrote in the liner notes of the reissue of Pastorius' first album that Milkowski's book was "a horribly inaccurate, botched biography".[41] Meanwhile, John Corbett of Downbeat wrote: “With insight, care and plenty of musical detail, Milkowski charts the bassists’s trip from Florida beach and cruise-ship gigs and a year in Wayne Cochran’s C.C. Riders to fame with Weather Report and misfortune in his drug-and-drink ridden ‘dark years.’” Michael Point of the Austin American-Statesman wrote: “To his great literary credit, Milkowski tells the bassist’s story with enlightening candor, allowing his sympathy to be palpable without obscuring the hard, cold facts.” Rick Anderson of Library Journal called it “A clean, carefully written biography that tells Jaco’s story without lurid drama but also without flinching from the tragic details.”

A 10th anniversary edition, published in 2005 by Backbeat Books, was a greatly expanded and updated version that included a 40-minute CD of spoken word testimonies from key figures in Jaco's life along with examples of his early bands before joining Weather Report in 1976.


Jaco has been cited as an influence by such great bass players of both jazz and rock as Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten, Victor Bailey, Neil Stubenhaus, Jimmy Haslip, Oteil Burbridge, Richard Bona, Hadrien Feraud, Robert Trujillo, Neil Murray,[42] Tony Franklin[43] and Pedro Aznar[44] among many others.

Selected discography

Solo Weather Report Collaboration
Album Artist
1975 Pat Metheny
1976 Ian Hunter
Joni Mitchell

Al Di Meola

1977 Joni Mitchell
1978 Herbie Hancock
  • Mingus
  • Shadows and Light (live album)
Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell
1980 Herbie Hancock
  • Invitation


  1. ^ "Fender Artists". Webcache.googleusercontent.com. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:8BLPzgMpF0UJ:www.fender.com/artists/artist.php%3Fid%3D139+jaco+pastorius+virtuoso&cd=5&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a&source=www.google.com. Retrieved 2011-07-19. 
  2. ^ a b c d Jaco Pastorius official website
  3. ^ Ingrid's Jaco Cyber Nest; FAQ
  4. ^ Ingrid's Jaco Cybernest; FAQ
  5. ^ GQ, 1988
  6. ^ a b c d e f Milkowski, 2005
  7. ^ a b c d e Jaco Pastorius official website biography
  8. ^ BBC radio 3 profile; Jaco Pastorius official website biography
  9. ^ Rich Franks; Jaco Pastorius official website biography
  10. ^ Bob Bobbing (2007), Jaco and the upright bass; Jaco Pastorius Official Website biography
  11. ^ Bobby Colomby
  12. ^ AllMusic; Jaco Pastorius credits
  13. ^ Zawinul, Josef. Portrait of Jaco
  14. ^ GQ
  15. ^ The New Real Book: Volume 1. Sher Music.
  16. ^ Milkowski, 20055
  17. ^ Mary Pastorius; Daddy, just Daddy to me
  18. ^ Milkowski, 2005; Grayson, 2003
  19. ^ Santosa, 2006; Redfield 1993
  20. ^ Ingrid's Jaco Cybernest; Ken Gemmer's Insight; Torn Moon 1987
  21. ^ Milkowski, 2005; Flynn
  22. ^ Torn Moon 1987; United Press 1987
  23. ^ a b Ingrid's Jaco Cybernest; Mind II
  24. ^ a b Torn Moon 1987
  25. ^ Stanton p195
  26. ^ Jeff Stratton (2006-11-30). "browardpalmbeach.com". browardpalmbeach.com. http://www.browardpalmbeach.com/2006-11-30/news/jaco-incorporated/5/. Retrieved 2011-07-19. 
  27. ^ Stanton
  28. ^ Broward Palm Beach News 2006
  29. ^ Perspectives on Jaco; Cole p297
  30. ^ Metheny, Pat. Pat Metheny Songbook. Appendix: Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 439. ISBN 0-634-00796-3. 
  31. ^ Billboard, Oct 26, 2002; Kelman, 2009
  32. ^ Oakland Park Main Street
  33. ^ a b Rosen, 1978
  34. ^ Jisi, 2008
  35. ^ Robert Trujillo Assists Pastorius Family In Recovering the Infamous Bass Of Doom
  36. ^ "Acoustic 360 amplifiers". Acoustic.homeunix.net. http://acoustic.homeunix.net/twiki/bin/view/Acoustic/BassPreamp360. Retrieved 2011-07-19. 
  37. ^ Milkowski, 1995
  38. ^ a b Ingrid's Jaco Cybernest; Book
  39. ^ Bob Bobbing post; jacopastorius.com forums
  40. ^ Flynn, Metheny interview
  41. ^ Metheny, liner notes
  42. ^ Dmitry M. EPSTEIN Copyright 2003 - dmitry at epstein.to. "LET IT ROCK - Neil MURRAY interview". Dmme.net. http://dmme.net/interviews/nmurray.html. Retrieved 2011-07-19. 
  43. ^ "Tony Franklin's bass tips". Tonyfranklin.com. http://www.tonyfranklin.com/basstips_3.html. Retrieved 2011-07-19. 
  44. ^ "Pedro Aznar: encuentro con Jaco Pastorius". Edant.clarin.com. 2009-09-30. http://edant.clarin.com/diario/2009/09/30/espectaculos/c-02008852.htm. Retrieved 2011-07-19. 


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