Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Rick Suchow: Bass

backstage at the jaco 20th anniversary tribute...

Jaco Pastorius 20th Anniversary Concert
featuring the Jaco Pastorius Big Band: December 2, 2007

Produced by Bob Bobbing, Peter Graves & John Pastorius with special appearances by Peter Erskine, Randy Brecker, Bob Mintzer, Dave Bargeron, Gerald Veasley, Jimmy Haslip, Ira Sullivan, Alex Darqui, Bobby Thomas Jr. and a very special duet by Mary Pastorius and Tony Franklin.

A video of Jaco sitting at the piano playing "Three Views Of A Secret", as Toots Thielemans blows harmonica, fills the giant screen above the stage at the Amaturo Theatre in Fort Lauderdale. As the rare footage of their impromptu duet beams out, the enthusiastic audience-- who has already been treated to nearly two hours of standout performances by the Jaco Pastorius Big Band with special guests-- are reminded again of the seemingly limitless genius of Jaco's musical mind. They watch as he lays out the now familiar series of complex chords for Toots to add the twisting, turning melody of "Three Views". And though he is considered the greatest electric bassist in the world, his long fingers find intricate harmonies within the piano keys as though he were Herbie Hancock, while he and his legendary harmonica playing friend wind and weave their way through the original Pastorius composition now considered a jazz classic.

As the screen fades, master of ceremonies Frank Malfitano again takes his position at a podium at the end of the Amaturo stage and begins his next introduction. "One of the most beautiful and most recognizable songs Jaco ever wrote is next on the program," Frank tells the audience. "Along with this performance, Bob Bobbing has assembled some rare family footage that will be shown as the Jaco Pastorius Big Band plays 'Three Views Of A Secret'."

With that, bandleader Peter Graves counts off the tune and the 13-piece band once more kicks in, delivering yet another killer performance. As their sound reverberates inside the theatre, the video screen comes alive with old Pastorius home movies. There are clips of Jaco in his childhood, from baby to young boy to teenager. A touching scene of Jaco and wife Tracy's wedding follows, segueing into footage of the young couple in various scenes with their newborn children. And in a moment, as we watch a young Mary Pastorius playing with daddy, the two laughing together and doing cartwheels on the beach-- random 8mm clips that might be typical of any family documenting itself in the early seventies-- we somehow remember that the Pastorius family story has been anything but typical. What the audience is in fact witnessing on this night is much more than a special event, much more than just a tribute concert. They are watching a family that has come through a struggle and emerged with a happy ending. They are watching a man take his rightful place as one of the greatest musicians that ever lived, revered by his peers, universally acknowledged as the world's greatest bass player, and loved by his children as the celebration of his life takes place here in his hometown on the twentieth anniversary of his untimely death.

For me, it was a privilege to be involved in helping with the concert. Bob Bobbing, the event's primary producer and someone who I've become good friends with over the past few years, asked me if I wanted to come down and help out as he had three final days of planning and organizing for the Sunday night show. Unfortunately I had two weekend gigs in New York that I was already committed to, but Sunday was wide open for me so I told Bob I'd be on the first plane down. I saw it as another opportunity to help the Pastorius family in any way I could, merely wanting to give something back after all Jaco had given me with his musical gift.

In the past Bob had sought my advice or help on various Jaco projects, such as the track lineup for Sony's "Essential Jaco" CD release and ideas for choice of celebrity musicians to offer comments or recollections of Jaco for the package (I suggested Sting). Early last year I aided Bob and Mary with a video project and then over the summer met with Will Lee, when we were both on the same bill at a Waldorf event, to discuss his involvement in the project (Will seemed equally interested in talking to me about my experience with Ringo). Earlier this year, I put together the website for Bob to help him stay in contact with the nearly 14,000 names on the official Jaco website mailing list. For me, flying down to the Broward Center for the 20th Anniversary Tribute seemed to be the perfect way to end an important year in Jaco's legacy, not to mention the opportunity to hear some of the finest musicians on the planet.

When I arrived at the theatre at about 2 PM, Mary was finishing up an excellent dry run of her song "Longing" with bassist Tony Franklin as her sole accompanist, while band members and special guest musicians slowly began arriving one by one: Gerald Veasley, Peter Erskine, Jimmy Haslip, Bob Mintzer and the Big Band regulars. With much pre-show preparation needed to be done and not much time to do it, I went upstairs to help set up the VIP reception room which was scheduled to open at 7 PM sharp. There was to be a silent auction to be in the room , with items that included a stunning canvas painting of Jaco by artist Bruni Sablan (the reprint was used for the show's program cover, as shown above), Fender's new updated Jaco Pastorius Relic Bass, and the Japanese 20th Anniversary Jaco doll. In addition to the VIP room, two additional areas needed to be set up for merchandise sales and we quickly got things up and running in both the lobby and outside the New River Room where the VIP hour was to be held. When I finally returned to the stage area, tuba player extraordinaire Dave Bargeron was rehearsing a duet with his daughter Gussie on flute, while Bobbing reviewed video cues and DVD's for the video segments to be played, and Peter Graves carefully perused various band charts. I chatted with long time Word Of Mouth member Bargeron about Gussie's advanced talent at just 16 years of age, as he told me of her fairly recent entrance into the jazz world after having been classically trained by Trudy Kane of The Met in New York. Dave mused about how inspiring Gussie found both jazz and jazz musicians to be. The Bargerons were one of the scheduled special guest artists on the bill, and were to perform Dave's composition "Jaco Time", a tune comprised of various Jaco riffs and lines that Dave had gathered in his head over the years, all somehow strung together in this one composition and performed as a duet.

Dave Bargeron at soundcheck.

The full band dress rehearsal began somewhere between 3 and 4 o'clock. Veasley was out front first, then later joined by Haslip, as the band ran down selections from Jaco's repertoire as well as a few Weather Report classics, including "A Remark You Made", "Barbary Coast" and "Havona". Already the guys seemed to be in high gear and primed for the night's show. For me personally, one of the great joys of the day was watching Peter Erskine play drums from just feet away, something I had the opportunity to witness years back at Jaco's first Word Of Mouth quintet performance at the tiny NYC nightclub Seventh Avenue South. I can only imagine the inspiration Jaco must have felt when playing with Peter, a drummer who, like Jaco, is and has always been in a class by himself.

Rehearsals generally went without a hitch, save for a a few technical glitches that needed to be worked out such as the onstage monitor mix, which took unusually long to get right. At one point a flustered Peter Graves muttered "This was supposed to be done at noon." When it finally seemed to be resolved, Graves quipped, "It's noon somewhere." Offstage, I gravitated over to the Jets - Dolphins game playing on a small television, where I joined trumpetist Ken Faulk who sat and cringed at play after blown play by the hapless Dolphs. For a moment I had forgotten I was in Florida and that Miami was the home team here. Ken told me that he's been following the team for thirty years, and how painful this winless season has been. As we both recalled Miami's golden years, from Bob Griese to Dan Marino, Haslip and Veasley wandered over for the game update. I asked Jimmy if he was a Jets fan. "Green Bay," he said. "I'm rooting for Brett Favre. It might be his last year, but he's still amazing to watch. " By the time the dress rehearsal was all over, the Jets had quickly built a 20-13 lead to 40-13, and the Dolphins were to remain winless for yet another week.

Peter Erskine at soundcheck.

Sometime before 5 o'clock Randy Brecker finally arrived, and the Big Band proceeded to finish up the afternoon dress rehearsal. On the organizing side of things, the day so far had not been without a few missteps. For one, although there were now full merchandising displays in both the lobby and outside the VIP Reception room, with plenty of programs, T shirts and CDs to be sold, no one had considered the need for having cash to give change back to the customers, or for any cash boxes or registers for that matter. Nor were there any signs with prices for any of the merchandise. There was also a problem locating a guitar stand somewhere in the building for the Fender Relic Bass to be displayed on at the silent auction. Later backstage another minor point came up: food for the band. I soon found that people were coming to me for answers, for which I had none, and time was running short. Bob had his hands full and certainly didn't need to be stressed any more, so with a little quick thinking and some pretending to be more important than I actually was, I did the best I could and got a few things taken care of. With help from the production room and a couple of event assistants, and a few delivery menus later, all problems were soon cleared up, although Randy Brecker couldn't figure out why everyone's food had arrived but his. In time though, all were seemingly happy, and with the Amaturo Theatre now ready to go the festivities were set to begin.

Just before 7:00 PM the New River Room opened it's doors and the small crowd of VIP ticket holders slowly began to wander in and mingle about. Three large posters of Jaco sat on easels to the right of the room, and the silent auction items drew curious eyes to the table in the back. Before long the special guest artists strolled in along with Pastorius kin John, Julius and Mary. A Broward Center rep walked to the podium in the corner of the room and spoke a few eloquent words describing the excitement of this special event and of Jaco's importance to the local area. The Pastorius kids then took over and presented an award to Bobbing for his tireless efforts and overall excellence in preserving their father's legacy. Bob humbly accepted the award, noting that he's never won an award for anything, and how grateful he was to receive it. Peter Erskine then gave a thoughtful speech, fondly recalling his earliest encounter with Jaco before a gig with Maynard Ferguson. Peter revealed how the two spoke backstage for a while, and when it was time for Peter to go back on and play Jaco looked at him and said simply, "have fun." Peter told the VIP room how he often thought about that remark afterward. "Nobody ever said that to me before," he said. "Have fun." For him, playing music and doing gigs was always about hard work, getting it right, yet here was Jaco summing up in two words the basic essence of what it's all about.

As Peter left the podium to loud applause, Jimmy Haslip added a few thoughts of his own, and finally vocalist Dana Paul took to the microphone and sang an acapella version of Victor Bailey's "Continuum", in which Victor wrote lyrics to Jaco's classic bass anthem. Dana was perfect in his delivery and it was a fitting way to end the pre-show meet and greet. The mood was set, the anticipation was high, and the doors were ready to open to the main theatre for the big night.

Part Two: The Concert

Here is the show's entire program:

Set One:

1. Audio-Visual: "Jaco Speaks"
2. Jaco Big Band: "Soul Intro / The Chicken" (bassist: Jeff Carswell)
3. Peter Graves announcement and introduction of MC Frank Malfitano
4. Frank Malfitano: Opening Announcement and introduction of Gerald Veasley
5. Audio-Visual: "Herbie Hancock & Benecio Del Toro"
6. Jaco Big Band: "Elegant People" (bassist: Gerald Veasley)
7. MC Announcement
8. Audio-Visual: "Joe Zawinul"
9. Jaco Big Band: "A Remark You Made" (bassist: Gerald Veasley)
10. Audio-Visual: "Pat Metheny"
11. MC Announcement
12. Jaco Big Band: "Dania" (Bassist: Gerald Veasley)
13. MC Inroduction of Pastorius children
14. Pastorius children presented with plaque from Syracuse Jazz Festival Tribute to Jaco
15. Mary Pastorius acceptance speech
16. MC Introduction NARAS Florida Chapter president Carlos Alvarez
17. NARAS Proclamation
18. Mary Pastorius acceptance speech
19. MC Introduction of Tony Franklin
20: Mary Pastorius & Tony Franklin duet: "Longing"
21. Jaco Big Band: "Barbary Coast" (bassist: Gerald Veasley)
22. MC Introduction of Jeff Carswell
23. Jaco Big Band: "Teen Town"
24. Audio-Visual: "Will Lee"
25. MC Introduction of Alex Darqui
26. Jaco Big Band: "Domingo"


Set Two:

1. Audio-Visual:"Pat Metheny" (clip 2)
2. MC Introduction of Jimmy Haslip
3. Jaco Big Band: "Havona"(bassist: Jimmy Haslip)
4. MC Introduction of Joni Mitchell
5. Audio-Visual: "Joni Mitchell"
6. Jaco Big Band: "Continuum" (bassist: Jimmy Haslip)
7. MC Introduction of Bobby Thomas Jr.
8. Bobby Thomas Jr. talks to crowd
9. Bobby Thomas Jr. solo performance on Pan Art Steel Drum
10. Peter Graves announcement
11. Jaco Big Band: "Used To Be A Cha-Cha" (bassist: Jimmy Haslip)
12: MC Intoduction of Oakland Park Mayor Larry Gerer to announce Jaco Pastorius Park
13. MC Introduction of Del Breckenfeld & Tony Franklin of Fender Corporation
14. Pastorius children return to stage, Mary accepts Fender award
15. MC Introduction of Dave Bargeron
16. Audio-Visual: Dave Bargeron performing at 1981 Aurex Jazz Festival at Buddhakon
17. Dave Bargeron enters stage playing as video ends
18. Bargeron intoduces daughter Gussie
19. Dave & Gussie Bargeron duet: "Jaco Time"
20. MC Introduction of Toots Theilemanns
21. Audio-Visual: "Toots & Jaco"
22. Jaco Big Band: "Three Views Of A Secret" (bassist: Jeff Carswell)
23. Audio-Visual: "Three Views / Family shots"
24. Peter Graves introduction of Big Band members
25. Jaco Big Band: "Liberty City"
26. MC Introduction of Ira Sullivan
27. Ira Sullivan takes stage, talks about Jaco
28. Ira Sullivan & Dana Paul: "Amazing Grace"
29. MC Announcement and thanks
30. Jaco Big Band with all guests returning to stage: "Fannie Mae"
31. Final Curtain and Bow

back to top