(from the 1978 Dell book – Jazz-Rock Fusion)
by Julie Coryell
This interview, done in 1977, is taken from the 1978 Dell book entitled ‘Jazz-Rock Fusion – The People, The Music’ by Julie Coryell and Laura Friedman
Jaco grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where his father, a drummer and singer, provides an early musical influence. Before settling on bass, Jaco played drums, saxophone, and guitar. On bass, he worked with many of the concert headliners who came through Florida: Wayne Cochran and the C. C. Riders, the Temptations, the Supremes – to name just a few. In addition to his musical skills, Jaco, a painter, decided against a career in art because it was ‘too tangible’ and not ‘spontaneous.’ While still in Florida, he wrote big-band charts for the University of Miami, were he also taught for a semester. He also wrote for Ira Sullivan’s Baker’s Dozen, and for Peter Grave’s big band. While playing in the house band at Fort Lauderdale’s Bachelors III (1975), Jaco encountered Bobby Colomby, the drummer for Blood, Sweat, and Tears, who later became the producer of his first record as a leader. Jaco began to receive wider recognition when he became a member of Weather Report in 1976, and later, when he recorded with Joni Mitchell.
JP: Growing up in Florida, I never had anyone tell me, ‘You have to play Jazz; you’ve got to play R&B.’ I just listened, and whatever I liked, I liked. I listened to everyone from Elvis to Miles Davis.
JC: What are the advantages of growing up in that environment?
JP: Florida is great because there are no musical prejudices. My family moved there when I was seven. I heard steel drum bands, Cuban bands, James Brown, Sinatra, the Beatles and I heard most of it on the radio.
JC: You seem to put a lot of emphasis on Florida.
JP: I do. Where I come from, nobody cares what style of music you play. Everybody down there just lives.
JC: Besides music, were you especially concerned with anything else in your adolescence?
JP: Yes, sports. I was, and still, a complete sports fanatic. This is why I play bass, because I got really beat up in one of those red-neck football rumbles when I was thirteen. My hand was almost severed from my left arm. I was playing the drums in a local band at the time. It was a good band and I was a good drummer, but I wasn’t strong enough to lay down a heavy backbeat. There was a really good drummer in town who took my place. A week later the bass player quit the band. So, the other guys called me up and said, ‘Jaco, you think you can play bass?’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ I never played bass in my life. I had exactly four hundred dollars from paper route earnings, and I went out and bought a brand new Fender jazz bass. I was working the next day, and I’ve never been out of work since.
JC: What bands did you play in?
JP: Mostly soul bands. I played just about every soul tune written in the sixties. At the same time, I used to sub for this bass player who had national guard duty twice a month. The music was kind of pop/jazz, jazz standards that were being played as pop music, so I got to learn all of those tunes.
JC: How did you incorporate that into your music?
JP: I incorporated it in one way – playing music and making money from it.
JC: Is that what got you into music – poverty?
JP: Yes! ‘Pragmatism City.’ I started playing the bass because it was so easy, and then I had to go and make it hard for myself. When I was nineteen, my daughter was born, and I gave up music. I thought nobody wanted to hear what I was up to because my approach was so different. My whole focus had always been on living – one hundred percent – being a man, being a husband, and being a father. I’ve got two kids who I love more than anything in the whole world, and there was no way I was leaving Florida until I established some sort of relationship with them.
JC: You weren’t playing while you were learning the ‘art of fatherhood’?
JP: I was playing my ass off the whole time. I stayed in Florida, stayed a daddy, but I wasn’t making a very good living. Most everyone in Florida thought I was crazy because I was playing the bass as a lead instrument. It was ironic, because I already had an underground reputation; I was sort of a rumor nationally – through my playing with Wayne Cochran and the C. C. Riders. I had played one-nighters in lots of different cities, but I was never recorded.
JC: How many years did you actually spend practicing the bass?
JP: I really only practiced for one year, 1971-72, when I was with Wayne. Then I met Ira Sullivan who, jazz wise, was one of my biggest influences. It was the first time I ever got to incorporate my concept into a jazz format. I also met bass trombonist and big-band leader Peter Graves, and I started writing for big bands.
JC: How did you acquire so much knowledge of the bass with only a year’s practice behind you?
JP: All you’ve got to do is keep your ears open. Most of my musical knowledge comes from playing experience.
JC: What bass players, if any, have you been influenced by?
JP: I’ve been influenced by bass players, but not much. Some of the players I used to dig when I was coming up were Bernard Odum, who played with James Brown, Jerry Jemmott, Ron Carter, and Gary Peacock. My greatest inspiration has been singers – they have the ability to get personal. When I play the bass, most people can usually tell it’s me, because of the kind of personal thing I try to get in my tone.
JC: What about competition?
JP: I have no competition, because I’m not competing.
JC: How would you describe your music?
JP: Punk Jazz.