Felix Pastorius: Closing the circle

Felix Pastorius

On the surface, it would almost seem like the act of simply playing the bass would bear an incredible weight for Felix Pastorius. On one side, his father was none other than the groundbreaking Jaco Pastorius; one the other, his current gig finds him filling the recently vacated bass chair for the Yellowjackets when founding member Jimmy Haslip left the group after 30+ years.

But Pastorius is not intent on trying to fill anyone’s shoes other than his own. After mere seconds of listening to him play, anyone can tell the man is prodigiously talented, but he falls into a very rare camp of musical offspring. Like Julian Lennon, he can sound eerily like his famous and iconic father but at the same time, sound only like himself.

And this is precisely what drives Pastorius – establishing a musical voice that stands on its own merits. As such, the last ten years have found him working with the like of Jeff Coffin (Bela Fleck, Dave Matthews Band) in Mu’tet, Cindy Blackman and now, the Yellowjackets; forcing his musical range to develop and grow beyond his years.

The Yellowjackets new album, aptly titled A Rise In The Road, marks the beginning of a new chapter for the group, the closing of a karmic circle that began over 30 years ago. This circle began as YellowJackets member Bob Mintzer (tenor sax) was playing with Jaco in the early 80’s around the time that Felix was born. Coincidentally, not long after the Yellowjackets began their career. When Haslip left the group and discussion began about their future the young Pastorius’ name was the first to come up.

The ‘Jackets have such a long history – how do you approach their past while looking towards the future?

I think the easiest way to respect the past and look forward – to do both at the same time – is to be the least selfish within the situation as far as your own playing as possible; pay attention to the compositions and to what the artists around you need.

I respect everyone else greatly – I’ve listened to those guys growing up! It comes from a point of view where I’m just trying to be respectful to the situation. The tunes have been played a certain way for so many years so obviously, I want to be respectful to what Jimmy [Haslip] did. It’s a work in progress - just trying to have my own sound in the group but also stay respectful to what has been there for so long – and obviously worked because it’s still around!

Also being open to being criticized by those musicians – if you’re going to be criticized by anybody, it’s going to be by your peers and people you respect. If I’m going to be told something from a great musician like Will Kennedy, I’m going to perk up and listen and take it for what it is.

The bass sounds fantastic – what did you use on the album?

Well, when I got to the studio, some of the guys were caught off guard by all my Aguilar gear! I guess for all these years, Jimmy had primarily just recorded with a DI or through the board or a compressor and never recorded an “amp sound”. I wanted to have both because I hear and feel the difference when air is being pushed and capturing that is a huge deal to me. It also gave our engineer the opportunity to have various sounds – a DI sound and an amp sound – and the ability to blend the two. Rich Breen, who is called the “5th Yellowjacket member”, engineered and mixed the session and he loved it! I had two amps, the DB 751 and the Tone Hammer 500 and then I had a DB 212 and DB 410 cab and I was mixing and matching the amps and cabs depending on what the tune called for. If I wanted a more “classic” sound, I would maybe go for something with a larger speaker with a tube and if I wanted something more modern, I would go with the Tone Hammer 500 and a 410 sound.

How did you prepare for this album?

I’d really only been playing with the band for about 8 months but it wasn’t continuous playing since we all had other gigs so we were still getting to know each other on a personal level.

The initial idea was as soon as we got back from our run in China; we would fly to LA and go right to the studio. And that’s without really learning any of the tunes or rehearsing any of the music! And I immediately stepped to the plate and voiced my opinion that I didn’t think that was going to work – for me personally. I know those guys are all professionals and have been doing this for a long time; they are used to it but I just said, “You know guys, it’s my first recording, I think we need rehearsals; just to sit down and play through the tunes”.

So we go to LA to rehearse and we have two days and each day we rehearse about 3 or 4 hours and got a good idea of what everybody was looking for specifically from me – the composers of each tune – and went in two weeks later and recorded the album in three days!

That is a serious recording session! How was it structured?

The first day was set up, we had only recorded two or three tunes the first day and the next two days we did about 9-10 songs! It was pretty heavy but it was a great experience.

Did you have demos of the tracks before you went in or was it just a recall from the rehearsals?

Everything was charted out for the most part and I also had midi tracks of all the tunes. But I definitely had to sit down and learn them! And I had been learning the music even before we went to China!

At one point before the rehearsals and recording session, I was on the road with Jeff Coffin and I said, “Man, I’m really nervous about this recording!” And Jeff said, “It’s gonna be no problem, you’ll just go in there, jam on the tunes, record and it will be fine”! And I said, “But I’m jamming with Russell Ferrante and Bob Mintzer and Will Kennedy!” For those guys, jamming is on a different level than my kind of jamming! And he immediately retracted what he said; “Yeah, I guess you’re right – you do have your hands full”!

Your walking lines have a very driving yet relaxed feel. How did that develop for you?

Well, I’ve done some walking in other groups I’ve played in – I’m definitely no Ray Brown or Ron [Carter] but for me, walking requires the same kind of attention, feel and emotion as soloing or grooving. It’s a mindset. It’s getting in the right place where you’re being supportive or reacting. I just let my hands go. It’s hard to really describe the walking sense for me because I was never taught; I never learned out of a book or anything like that. Wherever the tune starts going, I’m going to go with it!

What about your fretless work on the album?

On the last day of rehearsals Russ asked if I could play a melody on You’ll know When it’s Time. Longing wasn’t going to be on fretless at that time. My immediate reaction when he asked me to play the melody because it’s such a pretty song; my immediate reaction, without even thinking about it, was “it’s got to be fretless”! It just came out – I didn’t mean to put myself in that position! I started thinking, “I don’t have a fretless; I haven’t really played fretless so I don’t practice it”! It’s a totally different instrument and takes confidence to be able to nail the notes along with the feel, the vibrato and the tone. I was looking at it from a listener’s standpoint not necessarily from what I needed but what I though the song needed.

I got on the plane the next day and I was racking my brain trying to figure out what to do about a fretless. Since Robert Trujillo was off the road with Metallica, I started thinking that maybe this is a unique situation and opportunity to use my father’s fretless. Since the bass had resurfaced, I hadn’t really spent much time on but I wanted to play more and spend some with it. So I called both my family to see what they felt about it and Robert and everybody was like, “Yes, that is a great idea”! I was excited, after the fact, but during recording it was a little more difficult than I had anticipated on various fronts. Being a personal and emotional front to also just being musically and physically challenging – actually playing a fretless which I hadn’t really played a lot of! I was lucky though, I got in the day before we started recording and Robert came straight to my hotel with a gig bag with the “bass of doom” in it which was amazing! It’s so funny, I’m staying – where was I staying at - this semi-famous hotel in LA…

The Chateau Marmont?

No, it wasn’t a fancy place like that (laughs)! I can’t remember. So I texted Robert when I landed and get to the hotel and Robert calls – “Dude I’m in the lobby”. I go downstairs and there’s Robert Trujillo from Metallica with a gig bag with my father’s bass in it and a little amp that ran on batteries! Totally unassuming! He just said, “Dude, go at it – start practicing”! He is so thoughtful and such a great guy. We hadn’t really had a lot of time to talk one-on-one before so that was really great to just have a pow pow and talk about different things.

So, I get back to the room and I brought some tools with me just for the purpose of tweaking it a little bit and trying to get it into somewhat of a playing situation. The neck kind of settled, it didn’t totally settle to where I wanted it to be but it felt alright and we recorded two tracks with it! Russ loved the sound of it so much, he asked me to play it again on Longing and it was really great. I was going for an older tone on those for Rich to be able to mix with, so I used the DB 751 and the DB 212.

Are there any other projects that you have in the works? I know Jeff Coffin released an album…

Yeah, Jeff put out a Mu’tet album last year. We’ve been incorporating a lot of recording the last few times that I’ve gone out to see him – he is working on a new album and it sound great, a lot of cool stuff going on. We want to play live again soon but his schedule with the Dave Matthews Band this year has been pretty intense!

And then I have some stuff going on here. Whenever I’m in town, I have friends that I play with – there’s Hipster Assassins with myself and Mike Bendy both on six-string bass! It’s a lot of fun. We’re going to try to book more shows with them. And then I have another group, a quartet, we play closer to standards and have been working on originals so I’m trying to stay busy when I’m off the road.

And then there’s more dates with the ‘Jackets – mostly stateside with some overseas shows as well.

It was so great talking with you today Felix! Best of luck with the new album and thank you for letting us be a part of your tone!

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