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Remembering Jaco Pastorius, Part Two: Class In Session

Gerald Baumann

Just two blocks west of Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, progressive metal band Neolythyc is rehearsing in a cramped, dark, converted garage.  The rehearsal space is just a stone's-throw from Holiday Park, the last known address of jazz legend Jaco Pastorius.

The four members of Neolythyc are all 17 years old, born nearly a decade after Pastorius's death in 1987.  But bass player Jerry Caceres refers to Jaco as "one of the old homies from down the block."

"He's my dawg!” says Caceres, who sports a long mane of Jaco-ish hair.  “He took a lot of trumpet leads, like in the be-bop days, and played it on the bass.  And that's amazing.  To have that kind of speed."

Ringing In An Iconic Style

In the late '60's, at just about the same age as the kids in Neolythyc, Pastorius was playing every gig he could get  in South Florida, and earning the chops that would make him the most influential jazz fusion bass player of his time.  Over a relatively short recording career, he managed to leave behind a huge body of work.  But the guys in Neolythyc are unanimous when asked about their favorite Jaco composition: it’s “Portrait of Tracy,” recorded in 1976.

What stands out in Pastorius' bass playing is his use of harmonics, says WLRN reporter Rick Stone, who has been playing guitar longer than he's been a journalist.

“To get that sort of pretty, chiming sound that you don't really expect to hear coming from a bass or a guitar, you touch the string on a particular place on the neck,” Stone says.  “You don't press it all the way down to the fret board.  You just barely touch it with just enough strength to where you can just feel it vibrate under your skin.”

A Violent Coda

At the same time Pastorius was coaxing these sounds from his fretless bass, the bi-polar disorder that plagued him all his life began to quell his incandescent talent. The illness often revealed itself in irrational behavior that left his fellow musicians baffled.

By September 1987, the Grammy-nominated artist was broke and living on the streets of Fort Lauderdale.  Pastorius died at age 35 from severe head injuries after being beaten by a Wilton Manors nightclub bouncer. 

The members of Neolythyc say that makes them sad and angry.  But if Pastorius walked into that small, dark rehearsal space right now, his ’62 Fender Jazz Bass under his arm, Jerry Caceres knows exactly what he would say to him.

“You mind giving me some pointers?”

Neolythyc will appear at a tribute concert for Jaco Pastorius, at 7 p.m. Saturday at Jaco Pastorius Park in Oakland Park.  Neolythyc released a debut CD last year; the second is due for release in early 2013.