How to Phrase Bass Licks like Jaco Pastorius?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Ethan Creveling, Feb 27, 2020.

  1. Ethan Creveling

    Ethan Creveling

    Feb 27, 2020
    This is a bit of a long winded question, but I’ll try to articulate everything I’m wondering.

    I was listening to “Havona” by Jaco Pastorius (big band) and I want to be able to create bass solos similar to how he does it in this song. I believe the key of this song is E, but as I was watching a video of someone covering it on YouTube, he was hitting a bunch of notes that were out of the key of E. These notes gave it that jazzy sound which I want to achieve.

    How would I begin to practice jazz phrasing like this?:

    How does this guy(or Jaco) know which notes to hit that are out of key? Should I learn all the chord changes behind the song first, then pick apart the notes in the chord to phrase my solos in?

    Some general tips on approaching learning this type of music would be greatly appreciated. Any particular scales/modes to be proficient in? I want to learn how to do this so that I can make my own songs and phrase over the chord changes in ways that I’ve never done before.

  2. orichtvuna


    Jun 18, 2016
    Well, first things first, the harmony changes key à number of times in this particular example, so if your ears are expecting only one key then it would naturally sound very outside of that key.
    The rest is learning scales and using flavourful scale notes over the proper chords, along with certain typical jazz techniques like chromatic approach notes on offbeats, enclosures, and fast arpeggios build off of notes that aren't simply root - third-fifth.
    One easy way to learn to play like Jaco is to transcribe jazz trumpet parts. That's how he learned to sound like himself. Learn to think in these sorts of phrases by learning the melodies of bebop tunes, which you can get from any Real Book.
    theguy316, DJ Bebop, Winoman and 2 others like this.
  3. Mushroo

    Mushroo Guest

    Apr 2, 2007
    Hi Ethan, there really is no shortcut: You need to show more scholarship than "I think it's in E major." What I recommend is to sit down with a transcription of "Havonna" (or better yet, make your own transcription!) and study each and every note of Jaco's solo. I'm not technically skilled enough to actually play Jaco's solo well, but I can certainly sit down with a few different color highlighters, and maybe highlight the chord tones in one color, the diatonic non-chord tones in a second color, and the non-diatonic tones in a third color.

    But harmony is only one element of music. Make another copy of your "Havonna" transcription, and do the same highlighter trick, but this time with rhythm. For example, whenever Jaco starts his phrase on beat 1, color that in one color. When he starts a phrase on the "and" of 2, color that in a different color, and so forth.

    Then when you are done with "Havonna," learn another Jaco song. And another. And another. And then 10 or 20 more after that. That's how you "learn to phrase bass licks like Jaco."

    If your answer is, "But Mushroo! I can't read music and I've never learned a Jaco song note-for-note" then there you go, that is the reason why you don't sound like Jaco today. But you can get there someday! Find a good teacher and get to work. If you are really serious about studying Jaco, there are actually teachers living today who studied with him and can pass along his knowledge directly to you!

    Jaco had a voracious hunger for learning music. He studied with the best teachers, asked his bandmates lots of questions, read every music book he could get his hands on, and learned thousands of songs, in many different genres. A real human jukebox. The reason Jaco is such a confident soloist on the Weather Report albums is because he is not leaving it to chance and guessing; he really knows the song backwards and forwards, each and every note, and he can also draw on his mental "library" of musical ideas from the thousands of other songs he knows.

    I found this cool video you can listen or play along with. Pro tip that if you click the 'gear' icon, you can play back the video at a slower speed. I notice this transcription is missing the chords, so filling in the missing chord symbols might be a great first exercise, for you to begin studying this song in depth.

    A final comment is that "Havonna" is in many ways an advanced example. If you are new to these concepts of soloing, phrasing, and improv (and especially if you can't read/write music) then you might want to start with a MUCH easier song. A lot of improvisers get started with 12 bar blues and Rhythm Changes. Are those two "forms" I just mentioned familiar and comfortable to you, or a new concept? For example, if I asked you, "play 32 bars of Rhythm Changes in E," could you do that?
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2020
  4. +1 to everything said above. This song is very advanced and will be for about 10 years, even with intense study. You need to start at the beginning.
  5. It's worth noting that Jaco didn't just pull this out of thin air during recording. This is a very thoughtfully COMPOSED solo, written out and rehearsed. So, learn jazz theory, learn your instrument and get to work. As said already, transcribe everything you like. This will help get you inside the composers head.
    lfmn16, DJ Bebop, Winoman and 4 others like this.
  6. I've read that the overall theme for Havona was originally written as an exercise. I've also read that Jaco pre-composed a lot of his solos. Pat Metheny says he does the same a good bit of the time.

    John Coltrane said you can't improvise what you've never played before. So the magic of solos isn't so much the magic of pulling things out of thin air as David already mentioned. It's the magic of a lot of hard work and literally knowing exactly what you are doing.
    nanbanpapa, DJ Bebop, Avigdor and 8 others like this.
  7. Ethan Creveling

    Ethan Creveling

    Feb 27, 2020
    Mushroo, thank you so much for your gracious response and advice! I will print out the transcription and watch the YouTube video of Havonna. First I'll write out the notes, then try to write the chord changes out on the sheet. I agree with you that this is a daunting song to learn, especially for someone who doesn't have too much experience with transcribing music, but it is one that I'm willing to take the time on.

    To answer your question, I am pretty experienced with 12 bar blues, but not Rhythm Changes. I will look into learning the Rhythm Changes chord progression and how to improvise over that. I have taken two music theory classes in my schooling career, so I know the basics of jazz harmony, intervals, chord tones, etc.

    I didn't realize that Jaco composed his solos rather than improvised them. This makes sense. Here is a request: could you tell me a couple intermediate songs that you would recommend I transcribe myself, or read an existing transcription and write chord changes/rhythm over? I would greatly appreciate that.
    DJ Bebop likes this.
  8. Ethan Creveling

    Ethan Creveling

    Feb 27, 2020
    This makes a lot of sense. I did underestimate the amount of time that goes into creating a long, advanced solo like in Havona. I gather that in order to be able to play with even half the confidence that Jaco had, I'd need to transcribe and learn note for note a bunch of jazz standards and understand the harmony behind each chord, in order to highlight the correct notes in a solo or a bass lick. Thank you
    David Jayne likes this.
  9. Ethan Creveling

    Ethan Creveling

    Feb 27, 2020
    I will start transcribing this piece of music as well as other, more basic sheet music from a real book so I can better understand the harmony that is going on. Thank you for the advice
  10. BrotherMister


    Nov 4, 2013
    PVG Membership
    Years ago at a Branford Marsalis masterclass he told a story about transcribing Coltrane because he wanted to understand Coltrane's playing. Art Blakey told him what did he think Coltrane was doing? Transcribing himself in the future? The lesson being if you want to understand how these people arrived at the way they play rather than just copy the way they play then look at who was influencing them. If you transcribe a bunch of Johnny Hodges solos, you'll hear Coltrane. Any Jimmy Blanton part and you hear Ray Brown. If you want to understand Anthony Jacksons playing then James Jamerson, and Olivier Messiaen are your guys. Check out Ellington and James P Johnson and you'll hear that in a lot of Monk's playing. If you want to dig deep into the Jaco thing then to what he was checking out and learn from them as well.

    Where to start with transcription? I always recommend starting simple. Nursery Rhyme simple and building it from that, folk songs, pop songs and really get the transcription process down and into the habit of lifting things from recordings and learning to understand whats going on. I personally am a huge advocate of transcribing without slowing the recording down so starting with the simplest of simple material really gets your ears adjusting to hearing things in real time.
    bfields likes this.
  11. Mushroo

    Mushroo Guest

    Apr 2, 2007
    The first jazz bass lines I ever transcribed were from an album called "Kansas City Six" by Count Basie. Most of the tunes are moderate tempo 12-bar blues. The bassist is Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, and there is something about the articulate way his bass is recorded, it's relatively easy to hear the pitch.

    Count Basie Kansas City 6 - YouTube
  12. Ethan Creveling

    Ethan Creveling

    Feb 27, 2020
    Great advice, thank you
    DJ Bebop likes this.
  13. Ethan Creveling

    Ethan Creveling

    Feb 27, 2020
    I will look into that album, thanks for the suggestion.
    Mushroo likes this.
  14. IamGroot


    Jan 18, 2018
    Havona uses a quote from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. It also uses what sound to me like Charlie Parker phrases. Jaco studied the Parker solos a lot, including Donna Lee.
  15. IamGroot


    Jan 18, 2018
    I think you can study the Havona transcription to get your technique up, but the mindset to create those lines will take serious jazz study.

    Its a bit like saying you want to paint a masterpiece.
    BassBrass and HolmeBass like this.
  16. Mushroo said "There is no shortcut..."
    That is 100% correct. Jaco wasn't always great. He was obsessed with music and played tens of thousands of hours.
    Just like anyone else who becomes great at what they do it takes a huge investment of time and dedication.
    Only you can decide what you actually want and how far you are willing to go to get it.
  17. tradernick


    Mar 19, 2008
    You're not going to get a better answer than what Mushroo gave you. What you want to do takes a long time to get together unless you're that 1 in 100,000 genius that just has all the vocabulary built in and also the chops.

    Having said that, you're starting down a long and rewarding road. Enjoy the journey!
  18. mexicanyella


    Feb 16, 2015
    Troy, MO
    This is all miles above my head, but even a ding-dong like me can pick up on how cool it is when an enthusiastic question-asker gets solid, detailed, reality check answers that manage to encourage, not discourage.

    Pretty cool read, guys. Inspiring even to a non-Jack aspirant.
  19. Lesfunk

    Lesfunk Bootlegger guitars : S.I.T. Strings Supporting Member

    Apr 5, 2007
    Florida USA
    All good advice here.
    The most basic thing you can do to start is just listen to Jaco and immerse yourself in his music.
    Pick out some of his easier licks and patterns and learn how to play them.
    That will start to give you a quick , practical (if somewhat basic ) idea of how his phrasing works
    Pay attention to the rhythm of his passages. If you can cop a little bit of his feel concept, you can play semi jacoesque sounding stuff without the advanced harmony
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2020
    bfields and Ethan Creveling like this.
  20. REV

    REV Supporting Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    I once saw the Jaco Pastorius " Modern Electric Bass" DVD. On it at one point Jaco said " learn the melody to every tune". I'd start there.
    Liam Wald, IamGroot, DJ Bebop and 4 others like this.