Bass Transcription: Jaco Pastorius’s “Amelia”
My focus for this and other future transcriptions is on how Jaco Pastorius developed his bass lines and how over time, he varied the phrasing of some of his signature lines we hear in a number of tunes he played throughout his career.
Therefore, my academic interest and research in Jaco’s playing is an attempt to connect the dots by identifying some of his core ideas and studying the recurring patterns and mechanics he deployed to achieve such flawless performances – on both fretted and fretless bass.
This track by Jaco is titled “Amelia” and goes back to his period with the C.C. Riders in 1972. It can be found in ‘The Early Years Recording’ – a posthumous compilation of Jaco’s compositions composed and performed prior to the release of his debut album.
So my job here is to present and take you with me on my endeavor to discover Jaco’s bass playing and, at least, try to have more elements to interpret and decipher his vocabulary. Then a separate in-depth study should also be done on his composing ideas and arranging skills – but that’s a different ball game.
According to Jaco’s biography by Bill Milkowski, it was during the period with Wayne Cochran & C.C. Riders that Jaco learned theory and arrangement. When Jaco auditioned for the band in 1972, he could not read music, yet he was already playing most of the things we know him for chords, harmonics, solos, and his ferocious grooves.
Eager to know more, while on the road, Jaco kept asking tons of questions to Charlie Brent – guitarist and arranger of the band – on how he made this or that arrangement or why he had written something in a certain way, until one day, Brent decided to finally answer all Jaco’s questions and lectured him the whole night on everything he knew in a hotel in Lexington, Kentucky.
Then it took Jaco a few days to show up with a number composed and arranged for the whole band.
Note: The tuning of most versions of this piece you can find online seems to be a little off – possibly due to the recording quality and the fact that it is a bootleg recorded over fifty years ago. At first, to play along with the track, I tuned my bass to the recording, but then for the video, I decided to pitch the track as close as possible to the 440Hz reference pitch by increasing it to +25 cents sharp, hopefully making it easier for you to play along.