Don Alias and Jaco Pastorious

Melanie Futorian By

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[Author's Note: This marks the last article in the four-part series for Cymbalism, a tribute to the great percussionist and my companion, Don Alias. Please look for the forthcoming photo book on Amazon.com, Don Alias: The Moments We Spent. As well, keep an eye out for my upcoming for All About Jazz interviews with David Sanborn, Miles Evans and others.]

Don Alias and Jaco Pastorius

I had been touring supper clubs, posh hotels and concert halls with Lou Rawls for three years, and now we had an engagement to do a television show in Miami. On the bill were Lou Rawls, Morey Amsterdam and a female jazz singer that slips my mind. The rehearsal was at The Flamboyant Fontainebleau Hotel with chandeliers that looked like ice crystals and a red carpet to boot.

When I walked into rehearsal, The Peter Graves Band (which was to be the backup band for the television show) was playing. The only sound I heard coming off the bandstand was the bass and it was something I had never heard before. I looked up and there was this gawky, lanky looking guy who was all ears.

I think the words I said were, "Who are you?" I introduced myself and apparently he knew who I was from all those Miles Davis records like Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) and On The Corner (Columbia, 1972).

From hearing him play, I knew right away there was something so unique that his sound had to become worldwide. We struck up a friendship like two high school kids. That night he took me to a club where the great multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan was appearing, and Jaco Pastorius was playing upright bass in the band. In that band were Alex Darqui and Bobby Economou, who later went on to make Jaco's first record [Jaco Pastorius (Epic, 1976)].

Following that period, Jaco and I played together with Lou Rawls and Blood, Sweat and Tears. We went on to have a very special creative partnership writing and playing together.

I remember the first time I played "Donna Lee" with Jaco. I didn't give it any thought to how unusual it was for a bassist to be playing that melody, let alone be accompanied by conga drums. It later became the signature tune for most aspiring bass players. Jaco, for a young musician, had this god-given talent, able to play all of the old bebop tunes, and he could write his ass off. There's no question that he should be revered in the annals of influential musicians of the 20th century.

It was the 1980s and common knowledge that there had been quite a bit of substance abuse during the last decade. Though I don't want to dwell on the drug subject, just let it be known that it was prevalent. The following story was a result of abuse. It was not Jaco's normal state, which was creative, loving and more sane than not. Jaco had left Weather Report and had already done a series of tours with bands that had a constant change of personnel.

This particular band consisted of Mike Stern, Delmar Brown, Randy Brecker, Bob Mintzer, Othello Molineaux, Kenwood Dennard and myself. The musicians were fiery, intense. It was musical pyrotechnics. Audiences were primed to hear Jaco especially after his brilliant stint with Weather Report.

We had toured Japan, some of the East Coast in the States and were now appearing in California at The Playboy Jazz Festival at The Hollywood Bowl. Many people in the industry were anticipating this concert with Jaco. We were on the same bill as such greats as Tito Puente and Ella Fitzgerald. Sad to say, also at this time, Jaco was starting to experience bouts of manic depression. Before our tour to Japan I received a call from American Airlines in Las Vegas. Jaco had attempted to board a flight without a ticket, just proclaiming that he was the greatest bassist on Earth. Somehow he had thought that was sufficient enough to get him on board.

While speaking with these authorities, in the background I could hear Jaco's voice shouting," Don, Don, tell them who I am." Obviously he was already showing signs of instability. Up to this day, I had no idea how he got on the flight. Finally on our way to Japan, Jaco showed up in a dress though perhaps today that wouldn't seem so out of the ordinary. Take into consideration any outrageous thing that Jaco did was fine with the Japanese. No matter how bizarre it looked, they still accepted him.

Keeping Jaco's steady decline in mind, we were all heading to The Playboy Festival. I was summoned by Bill Cosby three days prior to the performance to give a tribute for Willie Bobo. Bill Cosby was the figurehead of this Playboy Jazz Festival, as Quincy Jones was to Montreux. It was an honor for me to have been asked by Bill Cosby to do this tribute, as Willie Bobo was the premier percussionist while I was growing up.


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