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Jaco Pastorius at Mr. Pips – Dec 1, 1981

Jaco Pastorius “Word of Mouth” Big Band at Mr. Pips – December 1, 1981

It was a Tuesday night, typically considered an “off-night” which allowed every working musician in South Florida to descend upon the popular dance club, Mr. Pips. Located near Oakland Park Boulevard in Ft. Lauderdale, it was a rare chance to see our hometown hero and world’s greatest bass player, Jaco Pastorius, up close and personal after his skyrocket to fame in 1976. Oakland Park had been Jaco’s hometown from the mid-60’s and where most of us who knew him honed our chops as aspiring musicians in and around the many live music venues in the area. Jaco turned 30 years old that day hence the apt title of the live recording of the album “The Birthday Concert” which was recorded that very night over two sets that spanned from 9pm to 3am.

I remember getting the call from my old friend and bass player, John Goodwin, asking if I was going to the gig and, if so, to meet him there. When we arrived the room was at capacity and when scanning the venue it was a veritable musicians’ who’s who. Tom Staley and Steve Ferguson from NRBQ were there. Guitarists Pete Trias, Randy Bernsen, Bonefish Johnny; drummers Ray Lenahan, Jack Ciano (Jon Secada), Sandy Ficca (Firefall), Mark Griffith (Jaco Pastorius Big Band) and countless others from the S. Florida music community. Ray Lenahan hadn’t purchased a ticket so he called Jaco before the gig and Jaco told him to tell the doorman “I know the guy who delivers milk to the drummer’s mother” and that got him in the concert for free. Jaco’s mom was even there to celebrate her son’s birthday.

Jaco was famous for resurrecting the Pee Wee Ellis tune, The Chicken (the B side to James Brown’s 1969 hit, The Popcorn) and, of course he opened the evening with it. The energy was off-the-charts as Peter Erskine (drummer from Weather Report and now part of Jaco’s Word of Mouth band) played the 16th note groove at lightspeed tempo and Michael Brecker took his sax solo to the Coltrane universe. Another standout moment was Jaco’s composition Liberty City and its half-time hip hop groove and screaming horn section. Jaco also included a tune he had written in 1972 called “Domingo” where this author had the pleasure of playing on its live debut with the Peter Graves band at Vizcaya in 1973. Again, the tempo on this “Birthday” recording of Domingo smoked at 160 beats per minute. Between Erskine and the percussionists, it was like a freight train pushing Brecker to arpeggiate with a blazing 16th note onslaught.

What was totally unusual about Jaco’s big band iterations was there was no chordal instrument in the line-up (no guitar or piano). This allowed Jaco to add chordal tones on the fretless bass as well as arranging the horn charts to his liking. This concert line-up featured 15 horns (4 trumpets, 4 trombones, 2 french horns and 5 woodwinds) as well as Erskine on drum set accompanied by 4 percussionists. The sound was massive. It was as loud and explosive as a 3-guitar rock band. The band included alumni from Wayne Cochran’s C.C. Riders’ band (1972-73), members of the Peter Graves Orchestra from the Bachelors III days (1974-1976) as well as his friends from New York city (Brecker, Bob Mintzer, Don Alias).

What is truly a treasure for all is the fact that this concert was preserved in all its glory by Jaco’s friend Peter Yianilos of Artisan Mobile Recordings and released 14 years later under Peter Erskine’s production efforts. It can be streamed on all major platforms and is one of the best representations of Jaco’s genius. I’ll never forget that night or all the opportunities I got to witness Jaco carving out a place in history for himself not only on the bass guitar but as a world class composer.

by Scott Kirkpatrick
Scott is a drummer, singer and songwriter who played with many South Florida acts including Game, Tommy Strand and the Upper Hand, Cpt. Harry Hann and many others. He was fortunate to land the drum chair for McGuinn, Clark & Hillman and later Firefall. He has recorded with Coco Montoya, Tom Chapin, Shirley Caesar, Crane, Keith Barrow, Ivano Fossati and many more. He has also recorded with his brother, guitarist Chuck Kirkpatrick on several of Chuck’s solo projects as well as his own band, the Coconut Boat Band.
Scott grew up in Ft. Lauderdale and later moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where he currently resides with his family.

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