This issue’s piece is a bit of a tough hombre. (See that, I used Spanish, not bad for a bassist!) I have transcribed one of Jaco Pastorius’ signature compositions, Teen Town from the Weather Report’s legendary 1977 album ‘Heavy Weather’.
This used to be a sort of ‘rite of passage’ in the 1970s London session world. The album version is fast, and doubled by Joe Zawinul on bass synth, but I saw one of Jaco’s last live gigs with his big band in London and he played it even faster as an encore. Jaco even played drums on the original recording. This issue has the first half of the tune.
After the opening four bars of drums, synth, and soprano sax, the main be bop melody comes in. Watch the live version on YouTube, it looks effortless with the great Pete Erskine on drums. A lot of the piece, as you will see, is about position playing, i.e. where you place your fretting hand to avoid unnecessary leaps.
Bars five and six are centred around a kind of C mixolydian #5 with a few other chromatic additions. Place your second fretting finger across fret 3 and you can play the C to C octave with fingers two and four before using the base of finger two to play the Bb at fret 3, string one. To play the fast D# to E slide, just use finger one with a slight stretch. Bar five has a descending A, F# B phrase.
I recommend learning the tune slowly and in two bar sections. Bars seven and eight are a kind of chromatic pentatonic phrase starting with fretting finger one on low F and finger four sliding G# to A on string four before a C-D-C figure leading to F an octave higher played with finger one before a low A changing to chromatic G, G#, A and C, D, D# going up to E at fret 9, string one. This phrase moves down to B, A, B and two Ds. As you will have noticed by now, this is not a regular bass line!
Bar nine has another finger one slide from D# to E at frets 1 and 2 on string 2. Bar 10 can be played with fingers 1, 2, and 3 with bar eleven using finger four on the two Ds, finger 2 on the C and finger one on the low Fs. Bar 12 has three syncopated chromatic phrases played by the first three fretting fingers.
You will notice a bracket starting bar 13 with a number ‘one’. This means that there are two sections following the opening section and that this is the first. You can use a pull off for the Eb at fret 1, string two to open D and then fret C at fret three before the low A. Bar 14 has similar chromatic phrases although the final phrase is a descending A, Ab, G before you move to bar 15 starting with Eb at fret 6 played by finger four, string one, descending down through D and C and an F at fret eight, string three with finger 4.
In bar 16, there is another pair of squeezed-in very fast notes before you play A at fret 7, string two to two tied Cs at fret 5, string one. This pair of tied notes has a vibrato sign (a wobbly line) that is easy on a fretless but use can do a fast bend on a fretted bass. The bar ends with two staccato Cs played on string one at fret 17 (that’s what the ‘8va’ sign means, i.e. play an octave higher. ‘Loco’ means back to the written register).
The phrases in bar 17 can be played with fingers one and three and all of bar 18 is a kind of blues scale in which fretting fingers one, four and three can be used. Bar 19 is just low F moving up to G chromatically with fingers one, two and three. This half ends with bar 20 playing G, A and two Cs up an octave between frets 17, 14 and 17. You then repeat back to fret 5. Don’t forget to play it slowly and in small sections of two bars. See you next time!
Dr. Rob Burns is an Honorary Associate Professor in Music at the University of Otago. As a former professional studio bassist in the UK, he performed and recorded with David Gilmour, Pete Townsend, Jerry Donahue, Isaac Hayes, James Burton, Ian Paice and Jon Lord, Eric Burdon and members of Abba. He played on the soundtracks on many UK television shows, such as Red Dwarf, Mr. Bean, Blackadder and Not the Nine O’Clock News. Rob is currently a member of Dunedin band, The Verlaines and is on three new progressive rock albums released in the UK in 2020. There is an album available on Seelie Court Records (US) that Rob played on when he was 16, with a second more recent one due June 2021.