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Cymbalism

Don Alias and Jaco Pastorious

By Published: May 3, 2012
Ironically enough, Jaco had played with Willie Bobo and Alex Acuna. During those three days before Jaco arrived, the word was out about his behavior. It had been rumored that he had been acting in bizarre ways and everyone was a little bit nervous about his arrival. Bill Cosby inquired about Jaco, but I couldn't divulge his personal antics. I thought that once Jaco had his bass in hand, then no matter what his condition was he would play his behind off. So far, this had been consistently the case, as it was in Japan. He had still played magnificently. I replied to Bill that I didn't know.

When Jaco arrived for the sound check the day of the concert at ten in the morning, he had been up for three days and quite obviously under the influence. The sound check consisted mainly of the band playing and Jaco running around The Hollywood Bowl, end-to-end, supposedly listening. In reality Jaco was completely mad. That night, downstairs in the dressing rooms, were Tito Puente and his members of his band.

Jaco was in rare form, I mean out of his fucking brains like I'd never seen before. First, Jaco was throwing beer bottles around the dressing room. We were trying desperately to shield Bill Cosby from the events that were transpiring downstairs and we were running around trying to keep the doors closed. In the midst of Jaco's favorite phrase of "Who loves you?" he insulted Tito Puente, calling him a maricon. Taboo!!

A no-no. This was the utmost in disrespect to this Latin icon. The members of the band had to do everything they could to hold back the members of Puente's band and entourage from crucifying Jaco. Through the grace of God, especially Puente, everyone realized that Jaco was drunk and out of his mind. Puente showed great class and grace that night. While Tito was performing, Jaco ran onstage with no shirt on, interrupting his concert. Now the audience had gotten a glimpse of his strange state. The only thing that would save him now would be a stellar, outstanding performance. Behold the moment of truth as our band was now on.

The place was jammed with dignitaries, celebrities and fans. We set up onstage behind our respective instruments and before a note was played Jaco—who now was in football make up with black patches under his eyes and still bare-chested—came over to me and said, "Don, take a solo." This was the most inappropo time to take a conga drum solo. That solo should have come in the middle of the show as planned.

Everyone was taken by surprise and completely flabbergasted, especially myself. I accepted the hallenge knowing his mental state and started to play. About a quarter of the way into playing, it really hit me how absurd this was to continue, and slowly exited out of the solo. As soon as I did that, Jaco ran over to Kenwood and hollered at him to take a drum solo. Kenwood immediately started flailing away at the drums. In the midst of this cacophony, I got up to helplessly reach for a hand percussion instrument. When I turned around, Coke Esquevedo was blindly beating on my congas. Apparently Jaco, in his burnt-out state, had asked Coke to sit in. Not to take away from his expertise, but Coke had no business sitting behind my congas.

Then I heard the sound of a trumpet. It was not Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker
b.1945
trumpet
's sound but of that fine trumpeter Johnny Coles
Johnny Coles
Johnny Coles
1926 - 1997
trumpet
. Without informing the band, Jaco had asked him to sit in. Once again, it was not the right thing to do. Hold on; the best is yet to come.

Jaco turned up his bass to full volume and threw it across the stage. When it hit it sounded like a 747 had landed in The Hollywood Bowl, or use your imagination for the most thunderous sound you can imagine. It was the ultimate sonic boom. Under different circumstances, this may have been a great opening for a Lollapalooza concert, but for The Playboy Jazz Festival this was beyond inappropriate. It was the first time that I had ever performed with Jaco Pastorius, in which he got jeered at, whistled and booed. My heart sank and I bet so did the musicians that were watching backstage.

The Pièce de résistance was that Bill Cosby, observing all this fiasco shouted out, "Turn that stage around!" The stage revolved, the lights went down and it was over. At that moment it was clear that Jaco was on a death wish, and I could not stay around to see it or help him. No one could help him. That night I quit the band.

I don't think about his death because I am in denial. When I do, I realize we have again lost one of the great ones and I have lost a great friend.

Photo Credits

Page 1, Jaco Pastorius: Chris Hakkens

Page 2, Don Alias: Melanie Futorian


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