Jaco Pastorius, the man who revolutionized how the bass guitar is played and who is, for many, the best and most influential bass guitarist ever, didn’t start his musical life on the instrument. Instead, the man who would be the master of the fretless electric bass was a drummer.
Jaco was the first of three children born to Jack and his wife, Stephanie. He arrived on Dec. 1, 1951 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. John Francis Anthony Pastorius III was quickly given a nickname by his parents — “Jocko,” which transformed into “Jaco” in the early 1970s when a French-born musician friend and neighbor, Alex Darqui, spelled it that way by mistake. Jaco liked the alternate spelling, and kept it.
When Jaco was almost eight years old, his family moved to Oakland Park, Florida, near Fort Lauderdale. Jaco was a sweet, competitive kid, who loved to play games, including football. As the son of a musician, he was interested in music, too, and bought a small drum kit with money earned as a newspaper delivery boy. His two interests collided in 1964 during a youth league football practice in which Jaco’s wrist was badly injured, so much so that it eventually required corrective surgery. Jaco continued to play drums after that, but it was far more difficult that it had been prior to that hit in practice.