Breaking Down Jaco Pastorius' "Slang"
Updated: Aug 19, 2022
The pratice of quoting riffs from popular songs and show tunes in the middle of a solo is a longstanding tradition in jazz going back to the beginnings of the bebop era. Not to be confused with 'contrafacts' (the rewriting of a melodic line on an existing set of changes, as Charlie Parker did on his "Donna Lee," which was essentially a re-imagining of the 1917 Tin Pan Alley tune "Back Home in Indiana"), quoting is giving just a taste, jogging the memory with a catchy melody line from well-known tune, as Kenny Dorham did by quoting "I Had the Craziest Dream" in his solo on "Lady Bird" or Bird routinely did by nonchalantly dropping in an impromptu quote from the 1936 Irving Berlin tune "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" (popularized by Al Jolson) whenever he would spy a particularly fine-looking chick walking past the bandstand. And then there were Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin and Sonny Rollins, all veritable quote machines.
The above video of Jaco Pastorius' solo showcase (which he dubbed "Slang") in the middle of Weather Report concert in Offenbach, Germany on September 29, 1978 is rife with quotes. There's actually nine in all. Below is the original source material that Jaco was drawing on for his stunning solo bass performance (which culminates in one of the most spine-tinglingly theatrical exclamation points since Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival 11 years earlier on June 18, 1967).
1. "Delores" (Wayne Shorter)
This is a particularly clever opening statement from Jaco, especially considering that in this live concert from Offenbach, he followed Wayne himself playing an unaccompanied version of Bob Hope's theme song "Thanks for the Memories," which he premiered in the movie The Big Broadcast of 1938. The inside joke here is that Hope's wife's name was Delores.
2. "Portrait of Tracy"
This is an easy one. After playing around with variations on "Delores" for the first 3:14, Jaco slips into a 10-second quote (3:28-3:38) from his own remarkably beautiful harmonics showcase, "Portrait of Tracy," from his self-titled 1976 debut album.
3. "I'm So Glad We had This Time Together" (Carol Burnett)
"The Carol Burnett Show" ran for 11 seasons on CBS, from Sept. 11, 1967, to March 29, 1978. Certainly, Jaco was a fan of this popular sketch comedy show during its early years with Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Lyle Waggoner and Vicki Lawrence, no doubt running scales on his bass while watching the show as a 16-year-old from his mother's couch in Ft. Lauderdale. Anyway, Burnett's sign-off song stuck with him through the years, enough so that he included a snippet of it in his "Slang" solo showcase.
4. "Sing a Simple Song" (Sly & The Family Stone)
A favorite funky riff from the band's fourth album, 1969's Stand! , it was also the B-side of the first single from that album (the A-side was the #1 hit song, "Everyday People"), it's one that Jaco played innumerable times on the South Florida circuit with the Uptown Funk All-Stars and his organ trio Woodchuck, featuring the great Hammond B-3 maestro Billy Burke and drummer-singer Bob Herzog. This is the first of a string of funky quotes that Jaco lays on top of his primitive bass loop from the 5:50 mark on, touching on each one for just 10 seconds or so before flowing to the next one, all without dropping a beat. Jaco was 17 when he first heard this siimple song.
5. "Had to Cry Today" (Blind Faith)
Keeping the flow happening, Jaco jumps into this catchy bass riff from the supergroup's one an only album released on Aug. 9, 1969. Again, Jaco was 17 when he first heard this tune featuring guitar hero Eric Clapton, bassist Ric Grech, keyboardist-singer Steve Winwood and Clapton's former Cream bandmate Ginger Baker on drums. He lays down a brief four-second quote (from 6:03 to 6:07). Strictly a 'hit it and quit it' scenario.
6. "Funky Broadway" (Wilson Pickett)
Jaco continues the funky medley with a quote from one of his favorite bass lines, from the Wicked Pickett's catchy tune from 1967. He was not yet 16 when "Funky Broadway" came out, but it would soon become a staple in his various bands on the South Florida circuit. In fact, he continued to play this song in the mid '80s with the PDB Trio featuring guitarist-singer Hiram Bullock and drummer Kenwood Dennard. Again, it's all of seven seconds (from 6:07 to 6:15) but the quote is both potent and funky.
7. "Them Changes" (Buddy Miles)
Next up is a quote from this funky gem (from 6:15-6:24) which is, the title track of drummer Buddy Miles' 1970 album. Of course, it's hard to speculate on which version Jaco preferred, this one with Billy Cox on fuzz bass and Wally Rossunolo on rhythm and lead guitar, or the classic Band of Gypsys version from their live at the Fillmore East session recorded on Jan. 1, 1970. Buddy's version was released in June 1970 while Band of Gypsys came out on March 25, 1970. Jaco loved Jimi Hendrix, it's true, but I'm guessing he felt the Buddy Miles version was by far funkier. You dig?
8. "Third Stone From the Sun" (Jimi Hendrix)
Jaco's love of Jimi comes out in full force when he stomps on the fuzz box at the 6:37 mark and launches into this heroic quote from Hendrix's anthemic tone poem from his 1967 solo debut album, Are You Experienced?, released on Aug. 23, 1967 when Jaco was still three months shy of his 16th birthday. It's another tune that stayed with him throughout his career as he continued to quote from this memorable tune in concert through the mid '80s. In my first official interview with Jaco, for a 1982 story for Downbeat entitled, "Jimi Hendrix: The Jazz Connection," Jaco very succinctly put it this way: “All I gotta say is…’Third Stone From the Sun.’ And for anyone who doesn’t know about that by now, they shoulda checked Jimi out a lot earlier. You dig?” In 1993, six years after Jaco had passed, Pat Metheny used a sample of Jaco's signature muted 16th-note funk bass line on his remake of this tune for the album Stone Free (A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix).
9. "The Sound of Music" (Rodgers & Hammerstein)
Following a display of some hellacious distortion-laced harmonics, Jaco settles into this lovely melody at the 8:42 mark. The original Broadway version of this musical premiered in 1959 when Jaco was just seven years old. He was, however, no doubt familiar with the popular 1965 film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer and probably saw it with his family when he was not yet 14. Along with another oft-quoted tune, "If I Only Had a Brain," this sentimental number represents a time from Jaco's youth, long before fame hit or things began to fall apart for him. And for that reason, there's a touch of poignancy to hear him reach back to those more naive and carefree times in this solo medley from a 1978 Weather Report concert.