Hey Kid: Remembering Jack Pastorius

November 1, 2004

Jack and Jaco Pastorius

His boys dubbed him “Mr. Swing”. And he was, he could, and he did. Swinging through life deep in his own groove, on November 1st Jack Pastorius swung off to the hereafter with his trademark style and pizzazz.

That final hour found Jack at his regular ‘hang’ — the Ancient Order Of Hibernians, a private Irish club in Swedesburg, PA — where Jack holds the record for the most consecutive days by any member, an amazing 679 afternoons back-to-back. From his regular stool at the far end of the bar, right beside his oldest and dearest friend Jack Brennan, Jack began stuffing his pipe as he ordered his ‘regular,’ a beer and a shot of vodka. It seemed like any other day until the bartender Doc noticed that Jack looked a little ‘down’ and wasn’t his usual self. A veteran bartender at the AOH, Doc decided to put a dollar in the juke box and play a couple cuts from “Mr. Swing,” a homemade CD that features recordings of Jack from back in the 50s & 60s. As anticipated, Jack perked right up with his familiar smile and offered a few witty comments before breaking into the chorus of one of his old songs. For the moment, everything seemed back to normal.

Mr. Swing - Jack PastoriusThen suddenly Jack leaned over against his old friend Brennan and whispered, “I need to go home now.” Brennan, realizing that he wasn’t joking around, immediately put Jack in his car and sped the short three-block distance to where Jack has lived in the neighborhood for the past 38 years. Helping Jack to his easy chair, Brennan told Roseanne, (Jack’s younger sister) to “call 911!” By this time Jack had very little strength but was still able to signal Brennan by moving his head back and forth not to call an ambulance. While holding Jack in his arms, Brennan comforted his life-long friend as he gradually fell unconscious before the medics could arrive. One of Jack’s old sayings was, “In music and comedy, timing is everything,” and Jack couldn’t have timed it any better if he tried.

Jack passed away at his own home, in the presence of his little sister and his best friend, right after having a farewell round of drinks with ‘the boys’ and singing a couple of his songs at the AOH. As one of the club members put it, “He had one hell of a run.”

Jack’s heart was wide open and the world was his playground; it didn’t matter if he was stepping out onstage before thousands or delivering a pizza. And perhaps Jack’s greatest gift was his natural ability to communicate with others. He loved people, and he loved life. He also had a nonjudgmental, take-it-as-it-comes attitude, and always displayed a positive good nature. It’s fitting that Jack left the Christmas decorations in his house up year round: to Jack every day was Christmas — a new gift to be opened and enjoyed.

Jack had style and pizzazz and instilled in his sons an appreciation for the one-liner, the funny contradiction, the unexpected comment that created that ‘buh-da-bump’ moment where there wasn’t any other choice but to smile. Jack also taught his boys to know what’s good, to know who’s good, to surround yourself with the best, and to learn.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine that Jocko could have become Jaco without Jack. As the third generation of ‘John Francis Pastorius’ drummer-boys from Norristown, Jaco was in many ways his father’s son.

Exposed to all kinds of great music growing up, Jaco was influenced by his father at an early age, and initially decided to become a drummer like his father and grandfather before him. Jaco also learned how important the melody and singers were to the over all groove, always remembering Jack’s golden rule- “It has to Swing, baby.” Jack also helped Jaco understand the dynamics of playing live, reading the room, and having fun.

Jack had a driving passion for Big Band Swing, and although as a performer his career ultimately fell short of national recognition, he continued to entertain audiences, always winning new friends, and ‘spreading the love.’ On the microphone, Jack had the ability to communicate with anyone in the room one-on-one, constantly moving off the game plan and improvising with anything that happened. In later years, when Jack’s phone would ring in the middle of the night and he’d hear Jaco saying, “Dad! Guess who I’m with!” Jack knew he might find himself talking to almost anyone: once he was greeted by a soft spoken Miles Davis which led to a conversation about jazz and their mutual friend Teo Macero, and another late night instance led to a spirited debate with “Kojak” star Telly Savalas over which of them actually originated the phrase, “Who loves ya, baby?” The funny thing is that Jack had coined that phrase long before “Kojak” ever became a hit TV series. One thing’s for sure, Jack was the kind of guy who could tell someone he’d just met, “Love ya,” blow a kiss, and have it feel totally natural and real.

As anyone who ever called Jack knows, he had a running gag with his telephone answering machine, addressing his outgoing messages to a friend named Kegle. Changing the messages every few weeks, they became ‘classics’ among friends and family. Most thought that “Kegle” was only an imaginary friend used as a prop, but Kegle actually worked at Pizza Mia where Jack also worked delivering pizzas right up until the end. In reality, Kegle was just as amused as anybody by the messages. Some believe that his messages to Kegle will be missed most of all; their absence, a sad reminder that Jack is finally gone.

He called most everyone ‘kid’ — “Hey Kid!” — but it was always Jack who was the youngest person in the room.

Who loves ya, baby?

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