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Remembering Jaco Pastorius, Part One: A Walk in the Park

C. DiMattei

Forty-five-year-old Tammy Goss is sitting on a park bench in a small patch of green wedged between Dixie Highway and the FEC railroad tracks. Staring down from the southeast wall of the corner community center is a huge blue-toned mural of a man's face, his fingers curled around an electric bass guitar.  She knows his name.

“Jaco Pastorius, I think,” says Goss.

But that's all she really knows about John Francis Pastorius III.

“I don't remember him," admits Goss, as she takes a drag on a cigarette.  “I guess he was before my time or something.  So I'm not really sure what he did."

'That’s Who That Dude Is?'

Fifty-seven-year-old Johnny Boston says he hangs out in the park nearly everyday.  He's seen Pastorius's name on a sign.

"And that's who that dude is?" asks an incredulous Boston.  “I didn't know he was a musician."

An Artist Who Redefined An Instrument

Pastorius’s lightning-fast fingering and use of harmonics elevated the electric bass guitar from rhythm section pulse to a virtuoso's instrument.  He toured with jazz fusion band Weather Report and Joni Mitchell and won two Grammy nominations for his own debut album in 1977.

In 2005, Oakland Park resident Robert Rutherford started the petition drive to name the seven-acre park near the tracks after his musical hero.  He says Jaco deserves more -- but Jaco Pastorius Park is a good start.

“I think it could be a catalyst to more things in the future," says Rutherford.

Portrait Of The Artist As A Troubled Young Man

After struggling for years with bi-polar disorder, the trail-blazing musician who performed with jazz fusion giants Pat Metheny and Herbie Hancock ended up homeless on the streets of Fort Lauderdale.  In September 1987, after trying to force his way into a Wilton Manors nightclub, Pastorius was beaten senseless by the bouncer on duty.   He died nine days later. 

But Rutherford says Pastorius was more magic than tragic.  And he hears that in the music.

"I can picture flocks of ibis flying in the morning or in the evening back to roost,” says Rutherford.  “You know, it's going to be different for everyone how they interpret these songs.  But the place and his music are so intertwined, they're inseparable."

Rutherford is now throwing all his energies behind another grassroots effort: a petition drive for a Jaco Pastorius commemorative postage stamp.