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Jacofest: Dennard's Tribute to Pastorius


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Kenwood Dennard: Jacofest
Boston, MA
March 13, 2009

Twelve musicians packed the Regattabar stage on Friday, March 13, 2009: Six horns, drummer, percussionist, keyboard, bass—even an EWI (electronic wind instrument). The reason? Jacofest!

Jaco Pastorius is an iconic jazz figure. Widely considered one of the most influential bassists of all time, Pastorius' playing is often noted for its melodic style, use of harmonics, and dynamic solos. In the liner notes of bassists' 1976 CBS debut release, Herbie Hancock states: "Jaco is a phenomenon. He is able to make sounds on the bass that are a total surprise to the sensibilities."

Clad in a turquoise suit, Kenwood Dennard, Berklee instructor and former Pastorius band mate, served as drummer, orchestrator, and emcee for the event. In his introductory commentary, Dennard described Pastorius as "a dear friend." He also stated "I want to introduce you to Jaco's spontaneous attitude," then tore into a drum fury, counting off the first number. The music blared to life—sounds of "The Chicken" filling the room. Dennard instructed the audience to snap while Hiroaki Honshuku soloed on the electronic wind instrument. Perhaps influenced by this snapping sound, bassist Joe Sinaguglia changed from a fast, walking line to one using a snapping and plucking approach.

Dennard exuded his strength as musical director throughout the performance. He encouraged the horn section, called for solos, yelped, and hollered. During "The Chicken," the band broke into fragmented directions, with the saxophone playing brief measures of the main melody. After seven minutes, the band stopped, resolving the tune in unison by bringing back the main theme in a shower of sound.

The second song, introduced by a series of Honshuku's electronic swells and delays, was a rousing version of "Havona." Nearly nine minutes into the piece, there were call and response phrasings between drums and tenor sax. While still drumming, Dennard reached over and played the melody line to another Weather Report classic—"Teen Town"—on a bass keyboard.

"Havona" and "Teen Town" were originally recorded while Pastorius was with the jazz-rock fusion project Weather Report. In Bill Milkowski's '95 biography, Jaco, Weather Report drummer Alex Acuna states, "Playing with Jaco was really a treat." Continuing, he adds, "His grooves were so strong and his tone was so unique, so fresh."

While Pastorius was a member of Weather Report, he contributed original pieces to the band's catalog. Additionally, he helped bandleader Joe Zawinul co-produce Heavy Weather (Columbia, '77), propelling the band to its commercial peak. According to Milkowski's biography, "Zawinul often referred to Jaco as 'The Catalyst' for his ability to ignite a session or concert with his sheer drive." Zawinul also states, "...Jaco was in a space all his own. He was so different from all the other bass players of that time. He had that magical thing about him...He was an electrifying performer and a great musician."

As Havona concluded, Sinaguglia stepped forward. A skilled artisan, the bassist delivered top-shelf renditions of "America" and "Portrait of Tracey"—two of Pastorius' definitive solo pieces. Sinaguglia comments on his participation in this project, stating: "It's like a dream. I definitely hope I'm doing [the music] justice, but I don't think I am. I think it's every bassists dream to play Jaco's music."

Next, Delmar Brown took the solo spot. Stepping to a piano, Brown's solo began with Pastorius' "Punk Jazz," before segueing into exotic, free-form movements.

During the mid-to-late '80s, Dennard and Brown accompanied Pastorius on numerous gigs. Brown describes the experience of playing Pastorius' music again in a single word—"Great!" He elaborates: "I played with [Jaco] a long time—me and Kenwood. We had a strong chemistry. The rhythm section was very strong."

With the band back on stage, Dennard called for "Liberty City." Some five minutes in, Dennard stood, pointed to the trombone and tuba, encouraged the audience to snap, then resumed drumming. With Brown's keyboard producing sounds of steel pan drums, Dennard stood back up, and marched around playing a snare drum—still directing the band, calling for solos, and further prodding the audience.

The performance continued with "3 Views of a Secret." As it ended, Sinaguglia broke into a brisk-tempo bass line. "We're gonna do the last tune of the evening," Dennard said, "Give it up for Jaco!" Lead by Sinaguglia, the band charged into "Dania." When the maelstrom of sound ended, Dennard embraced Brown - both waived to the crowd in a curtain call salutation. Through them, the music had captured Jaco's spontaneous attitude.



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