Saturday, April 23, 2016

"John and Mary" by Jaco Pastorius

I recently listened to the tune "John and Mary" from Jaco Pastorius' second solo album, Word of Mouth, and marveled again at how wonderful it is. I am also amazed that this album, and this piece in particular, are not better known. To me it has always seemed to be a work of utter genius. There seems to be very little on the Internet about it that I was able to find. So I'd thought I'd write a little about it. Maybe one or two people will stumble on this, seek it out, and discover just how beautiful and great this tune is. Then my work here will be finished ;-)

It's actually a rather elaborate piece, running a little over ten minutes long, with Jaco on bass, organ, and vocals, Othello Molineaux and/or Paul Horn-Muller on steel drums, Wayne Shorter on soprano sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, either Peter Erskine or Jack DeJohnette on drums, perhaps Don Alias and/or Bobby Thomas, Jr. on percussion, Jim Walker and/or Hubert Laws on flute ( as you might gather, the album's liner notes are somewhat lacking, so other than the very recognizable Wayne and Herbie, it's hard to piece together who else actually played on this track), augmented here and there by strings and a choir of voices, as well as some captured moments of Jaco and his children talking.

It actually starts with one of those snippets, with Jaco and his kids whispering and giggling. Then come some piano chords that lead us into the first part of the tune, a joyous melody with a Caribbean lilt from the pans throughout which dart soprano sax improvisations from Shorter. This goes on for a bit and then come to an end, leading into some more moments of Jaco's children speaking.

From there the piece segues into a second theme stated with wordless vocals from Jaco and the children, punctuated with tympani, with Shorter's improvisations again springing up around and through the theme.

The first theme returns with more improvising. Then the second theme repeats its first part, but leads to another section where a tuba plays an ostinato note and the rhythm changes and then drops out, and a moment of silence occurs. Then the piano introduces the next section, where strings and horns play a lovely segue. An achingly beautiful melody played by Jaco on the bass (and doubled freely by his voice) is stated once, then again as the strings and horns lay down a slightly more elaborate backdrop.

Next, a vocal segue by the choir leads to a repeat of the first theme, this time much fuller, with the voices harmonizing the simple melody and Jaco singing improvisationally

I don't really know how to describe it, but this piece just makes me stop and quietly listen, and it evokes a lot of emotion. The feeling it projects is sweet and loving, but there is also an undercurrent of sadness and regret. There is depth and complexity to the emotions evoked. Maybe part of that is knowing Jaco's story, his bipolar disorder and his sad death at age 36 (so much potential music-making that we'll never get to hear). I also remember clearly when this album first came out, when I was living alone in a studio apartment in West Los Angeles, emotionally tattered, miles from friends and family. I remember lying on my futon at night and playing this record many times, letting it sweep me up in its spell.

To me these kind of experiences are what gives music its power, though "power" isn't the best word.

"John and Mary" on YouTube
More about Word of Mouth
See the Jaco documentary film