Bass Innovator Edo Castro on Jaco Pastorius
Check out Edo’s piece on Jaco Pastorius featured on RARWRITER.com at https://www.rarwriter.com.
To gain further perspective into the influence that Jaco Pastorius had on subsequent generations of bass players, RAR went to San Francisco bass player extraordinaire Edo Castro (left). The ultra-articulate Edo, who in 2006 released his album Phoenix (Passion Star Records), which explored the range of rhythm and melodic possibilities presented by the instrument – Edo uses the 7-string variation – owes much to the innovative spirit of Jaco Pastorius. That said, Edo admits that talking about Jaco and the effect his playing had on him was not easy. “It actually was difficult because it’s as if I were asked to describe a religious experience… words fall short and one must just be in the experience to understand it.” With that introduction, here is what Edo had to say about Jaco Pastorius.
You know I never knew Jaco personally but I wish I had. If there was anything true to what I’ve read about him, he was larger than life and words didn’t do him justice: You had to experience him. We were blessed to have his creative spirit, if ever so briefly in our musical lives. As most will agree he was perhaps the most influential musician of our time who single handedly changed the paradigm of the electric bass.
After 20 years of his passing, there isn’t a bassist out there who hasn’t been influenced by his work. It’s interesting because my introduction to Jaco, via recordings, didn’t start with his solo album Jaco Pastorious or Heavy Weather, it was Joni Mitchell’s album Hejira which came out a year before Heavy Weather (1977). I was a Joni Mitchell fan already but when this album came out, my hair stood on end. Joni Mitchell took a big step with this album and I welcomed it with open arms. Track 1 on the album Hejira, “Coyote” mesmerized me. I kept wondering what “that sound was and what instrument that was making it?” I listened to that album for a year constantly to the annoyance of everyone around me. It never occurred to me that it was a bass because up to that point I had been accustom to “thump, bumpty-bump-bump.” (LOL)
During that time we had Larry Graham with Sly Stone doing his slap thing, Chris Squire, John Entwistle and Rocco Prestia of Tower of Power pumping those 16th notes. Oh yeah, and Stanley Clarke’s Journey to Love (1975) – that is a whole other story. Clearly though, Jaco’s fretless tone and melodic approach turned everyone’s head. Nobody had this sound. Anyway that was the first time I clearly heard Jaco, not as a bassist but as a composer, overlaying his fretless bass parts, doubling melodic figures and creating textures using harmonics.
By the time Heavy Weather hit the scene I was like “oh yeah that’s him.” Then I got his solo album and Heavy Weather. Jaco’s fretless tone was undeniable. I mean everyone had a fretless bass by then, scrambling to emulate his sound. Even though the fretless bass existed prior to Jaco coming onto the scene, he definitely popularized it.
Oddly enough I did my best not to play a Fender Jazz bass or a Precision because Everyone had one, so I bought a black Gibson Fretless Ripper bass, that had a very unique tone and sound. (Back then you didn’t have much of choice, it was Fender, Rickenbacker, Kramer or Gibson.) The sound that Jaco had was partly due to his bass set up: Low action, roto sound Strings and that Epoxy finish on his fingerboard. The rest of it was his hands. This may sound controversial but in many ways Jaco’s revolution was a blessing and a curse, because in one hand he brought the bass to center stage, made bassists more accountable and raised the bar for musical competence.
On the down side, many tried to play like him sacrificing the fundamental role of the bassist. The point I think most of us missed when trying to play like Jaco back then was that he had the most sublime and innate sense of groove that was way beyond all of our preconceived notions. His command of the musical language gave him a unique insight to the “other side” of the groove: partly stated, mostly implied. It’s a line easily blurred and often misunderstood. Only Someone of Jaco’s level could do this. His sense of the groove and time was uncanny. During that time every bass player was overplaying, trying to play like Jaco and just ruining the musical experience.
There was a plethora of great and not-so-great Jaco imitators but thanks to Marcus Miller, Anthony Jackson, and Stanley Clark, these guys made us remember what the bass is all about first and foremost: the Groove. For me It was a great awakening to understand that I could never be like him as a bassist but as a composer I could emulate his style and achieve the same results in my music. And perhaps that’s what people hear in my music and say “wow that sounds like Jaco.” That is perhaps the ultimate compliment for any bassist or composer.