[JPL] Jaco Pastorius honored in Oakland Park, 20 years after death

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Sun Dec 30 07:16:38 EST 2007


Jaco Pastorius honored in Oakland Park, 20 years after death
OAKLAND PARK, Fla. -- Jaco Pastorius' violent death 20 years ago ended the
career of one of the most original and flamboyant jazz musicians ever to
strap on an electric bass guitar.

Pastorius' Grammy-winning career included time with influential group
Weather Report, Joni Mitchell and Herbie Hancock, who has called him a
genius. But the end of his life was marred by erratic and strange behavior
that culminated in a brawl outside a South Florida bar that killed him at

Now, the city of Oakland Park is honoring the man they simply call Jaco,
naming a yet-unbuilt park after him as a reminder that a visionary once
roamed this otherwise nondescript Fort Lauderdale suburb.

"He influenced me as a kid growing up wanting to do what he did," said Brian
Yale, bass guitarist for the rock band Matchbox 20, at an Oakland Park city
commission meeting in November.

"That it happened here in Oakland Park in the local school system, that's
cool," said Yale, who lives near the park. "It's something that all of us
should be telling our kids about, because this stuff started here. He
changed the one American art form - jazz."

Pastorius' virtuosity is cited by musicians and teachers alike. His speedy
fingers, stylized harmonies, personal themes and technical proficiency on
his Fender bass produced gems such as the quickly paced "Donna Lee," his
wistful solo "Portrait of Tracy," and the catchy, upbeat "Birdland" with
Weather Report. He often appeared shirtless to show off his slim build and
wore a bandanna or other headwear. He liked to move around the stage and, in
essence, brought a rock frontman's presence and energy to jazz music

He's earned praise from jazz mainstays like Wayne Shorter and Pat Metheny,
to rock guitarist Carlos Santana, to Police frontman/bassist Sting, who has
compared Pastorius to another guitar revolutionary - Jimi Hendrix.

Here's what Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea wrote in liner notes
accompanying the 2007 release, "The Essential Jaco Pastorius."

"I love everything about him, I feel the depth of his joy and pain in every
note I have ever heard him play. Obviously he changed the face of electric
bass playing forever and a great poet would be needed to attempt to describe
it, so I will just remain humbly awe stricken like everyone else."

Pastorius was born in Pennsylvania, and his family moved to Florida shortly
afterward. He graduated from Northeast High School in Oakland Park, a
working-class community known for the train that intersects the city with a
loud horn that Pastorius used in at least one recording.

Pastorius started off as a drummer, but a wrist injury as a youth led him to
the bass. The bass, along with the drums, keeps time and lays the foundation
for jazz and rock musical compositions.

After building a reputation as an innovator, he eventually performed in the
1970s with Blood, Sweat and Tears and Metheny, along with Weather Report,
Mitchell and Hancock. Pastorius won a Grammy Award in 1979 for his work on
"8:30" with Weather Report.

However, the 1980s were a darker time for Pastorius, who began to display
psychological problems and erratic behavior due to a bipolar disorder, while
also allegedly using drugs.

Those problems were manifest when he tried to get into a bar in Wilton
Manors in September 1987. Pastorius and a bar employee got into a dispute,
which ended in a vicious beating that sent Pastorius to a hospital, where he
later died. The bar employee was later convicted of manslaughter but served
only a few months in prison.

Pastorius had four children in two marriages. Two of his children, Felix and
Julius, are musicians who often perform in South Florida.

After the death, Pastorius' story was not often told in Oakland Park, where
many residents were oblivious to his life and accomplishments. It wasn't
until this year, the 20th anniversary of his death, that a grass roots
effort began gathering signatures for Jaco Pastorius Park.

With his family behind a petition drive that gathered more than 1,000
signatures, commissioners unanimously decided in late November to name the
park after their local hero, choosing to honor his career rather than ignore
his story or dwell on his death's sad and tragic nature. Along with the park
naming, a memorial jazz concert honoring Pastorius was held Dec. 2.

Oakland Park Mayor Larry Gierer said he heard little public complaint about
naming the park after a man whose late-life struggles are a prominent part
of his story.

"I did not hear any concerns, but I believe that Jaco Pastorius Park will
help people remember the way he lived, not how he died," Gierer said.

Officials hope to have the park at least operational by the end of
September. Community and historical groups have pledged to help craft
displays honoring Pastorius and bring special events to the park.

Marcel Anton, a longtime music educator who lives in Sunny Isles but has
taught in several cities around the country, was one of several people who
spoke in support of the park at an earlier commission meeting. His
3-year-old son is named Jaco.

"This man's work and his life, and who he was, represents a very positive
element that youth can look at. The common good for the community is
unbounded," Anton said. "There's not a bass program in the world that
doesn't require for rite of passage and graduation some portion of this
man's music." 

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