One musician I've really enjoyed working with on various gigs and projects is saxophonist Mario Cruz (pictured below playing at a Jaco benefit concert). Back in 1982 -83 Mario was a member of the Jaco Pastorius Big Band, and as a result appears on Jaco's Japanese import album "Twins: 1982 Aurex Jazz Festival" and the truncated American edition entitled "Invitation".
In the spirit of the 25th anniversary of Jaco's final record release, I decided to finally interview Mario regarding his experience with the Jaco Big Band. We completed the interview in March 2007.
How did you get the Jaco big band gig?
While I was going to school at the University Of Miami I was playing in a club in Fort Lauderdale called the Musicians' Excahnge. Jaco lived real close to there and he would come by from time to time and sit in or hang out. He asked me about a certain tour that was coming up and if I wanted to go and I said "heck yeah!". Of course before that we had played some other gigs together, Jaco's gigs and local clubs and stuff. How long was your stay with the band?
All in all it was about a year and a half, through tours to Japan and a couple of minor tours to Europe. What was it like traveling with the band to Japan?
Actually there were two flights, one for people from the West coast and one for people from the East coast. I was in Texas at the time, I'd left Florida and was back in Texas, so I flew out with the West coast people. I didn't fly on the same plane with guys like Randy Brecker, Bob Mintzer and Alex Foster. On my flight were guys like Erskine and, lucky enough, Jaco.
Mostly I was just in awe. You have to realize that it was like my first major tour, and on top of that it was with some of the best players in the world, so I was enthralled just being on the plane with all these guys. The flight to Japan was like a long twelve hour flight so there was a lot of time to get crazy. It was a fun time. What were the rehearsals like?
Once we landed in Japan we really had only one rehearsal, and that was just to go through the charts and tweak up phrasing and arrangements in regard to who was going to play on what. Cues, things of that nature. Other than that though it was very loose. What was your impression of Jaco's horn charts and his ability to identify horn section mistakes in rehearsal?
It seemed like everything sounded good, because with guys of that caliber in the band it wasn't gonna sound bad. The charts were pretty much together, and the players, you know, between Jon Faddis, Alex Foster, Bob Mintzer and Randy Brecker, there were really no mistakes to be honest with you. The charts were right, the charts were clear, and the players played them. I was more concerned about making sure I didn't make myself look like a fool. Which tunes did you play clarinet or soprano sax on?
I don't really recall. I know that I did but I don't remember which particular ones -- although I remember one night in Osaka I played a soprano solo on "Elegant People", the Wayne Shorter tune. It was a very cool arrangement. Any other soloing?
Soloing was kind of on a gig to gig sort of thing, Jaco would usually open up tunes like "The Chicken" and we'd solo on that. Do you recall playing any tunes that didn't end up on the live albums?
No, not really. They taped all the stuff and just kind of took whatever cuts they wanted to as far as concept or time. They put them on either the Japanese version or the one released here. It seemed like we did pretty much the same tunes, and all of them are on those albums. What was your off-stage relationship with Jaco like?
I imagine you're talking about the tour in Japan. We kind of hung more as a band. The press or the record company would want to take the band out to dinner or to a club, and Jaco was more inclined to hang with the press because that was pretty much his role then. I'd already known Jaco and kind of hung with him when we were in Florida, so on the tour I was more curious about hanging with the other cats. Both Ingrid and Mary Pastorius have alluded to the fact that Jaco was diagnosed with manic depressive and bipolar disorder around that time, the fall of 1982. Was any of his disorder apparent to you?
With that particular disease you're going to have highs and lows. I guess it was just a good time there, because he was on one of those highs. He didn't seem to be depressed at all, if anything it was just elation. It was a good time. I mean, he was treated like royalty and we were all treated like kings there. I really didn't know anything about (the disorder) until years past the fact, when I'd see him from time to time in New York. I had realized that his character had changed, his personality had changed. But that stuff has already been written about so there's plenty on that subject. Do you still have any charts, tapes or other items from the tour?
A couple of posters and a little hat or two. Some buttons, little minor stuff just for my own keepsake. I don't really have any charts or tapes from the tour or anything like that. Any particularly funny moments in your experience with that band, musically or otherwise?
Not really funny in the sake of laughable, to me the whole thing was an absolute hoot. You know, once again: right out of college, trying to get stuff together, being surrounded by the musicianship and the quality and integrity of these guys, I was just enthralled. It was an absolutely amazing time for me. I remember that I was just trying to pay attention and stay out of the way. I was just trying to learn as much as I could, and trying to contribute the best that I could.
(Mario Cruz has played with some of music's biggest luminaries, including jazz artists Bob James and David Benoit, pop icons Bruce Springsteen, Joe Cocker and Linda Ronstadt, legends Lou Rawls and Ray Charles, and many others. His website is mariocruzmusic.net.) back to top