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Mike Frost: Donna Lee (A Tribute to Jaco)

Bassist Mike Frost said that “with all the noise and anticipation around the new Jaco documentary to be released this year, I began to reflect on that moment when many years ago I placed the Jaco Pastorius LP on the turntable and heard the opening track – Donna Lee. The ‘impossible’ made possible by Jaco. With the suggestion of a friend, I began to ponder tackling the ‘impossible’. Note by note, week by week, and month by month I strived until the end was reached.”

He’s even made the transcription available on his website, for the rest of us to try the “impossible”.

Here’s Mike’s complete commentary on the video, the inspiration, and the work:

“Gratitude for my great teacher.

“Like anyone that heard the opening track on Jaco’s first solo album, I was in left in awe.

“It seemed impossible that a bass could be played in such a fashion and even less likely that I would be ever able to play it. And that was my view for that past 35+ years.

“I had recently been reflecting on the impact of Jaco on my life, the bass world and the world of music. And in my opinion, in all three cases that impact is immeasurable. It is with this awareness that I was able to realize the debt of gratitude owed for all my teachers Jerry Jemmott, Chuck Alder, Carlos Castillo, and of course, my time studying with Jaco. Those precious hours would transform my approach to the bass and music forever. Moreover, they gave me the inspiration to make this precious art form the main route in this life’s precious journey.

“With all the noise and anticipation around the new Jaco documentary to be released this year, I began to reflect on that moment when many years ago I placed the Jaco Pastorius LP on the turntable and heard the opening track – Donna Lee. The ‘impossible’ made possible by Jaco. With the suggestion of a friend, I began to ponder tackling the ‘impossible’. Note by note, week by week, and month by month I strived until the end was reached. The video above is the culmination of this effort. I often imagined who was Donna Lee? Did she approve of the tune? Will we ever know? And that was the inspiration for the video to the track. Having Edwin Hamilton on congas, my main drummer these days, was a no brainer. Great job. We tried to remain faithful to the original performance.

“The effort started in the Spring 2015 when I began listening to the track over and over to reacquaint myself with the form. I also needed to become familiar with the nuances of the track and trying out different fingerings in an attempt to capture Jaco’s inflections. It’s not 100%, but close enough for now. I can’t tell you how many times I changed it up. In fact, right up to the time of the video shoot I was still re-thinking the lines.

“After all these decades I am still in awe of this piece and of Jaco’s work in general. To think there was no track, nor Jaco, for Jaco to emulate is indeed mind boggling. I can’t imagine electric bass today without his pioneering work or imagine how he was able to single handedly re-invent the instrument.

“I will never be done with the piece. I will never master it. It will be an everlasting challenge that I may or may not pull off each time I attempt it, but it has brought me, as Jaco did, to higher ground and an even greater appreciation for the greatest bass player we have ever seen. Jaco, where ever you may be, thank you for the music, the lessons, and the inspiration. You are certainly missed by me and many.

“The recording is direct. No effects, no compression. Just a preamp and then into Logic.

“The bass is a Clifford Roi with an ebony board, wenge and santos mahogany neck, and an alder and mahogany body. The top is flamed redwood.”