Under Investigation: Jaco's "Teen Town" for Guitar

PRESENT ANY MUSICIAN WITH A SET OF FOUR PARALLEL CHORDS AND ASK THEM TO CONSTRUCT A 16-BAR MELODY over said harmony using nothing but sixteenth-notes (plus an extra allowance of five eighth-notes), and you’ll be hard pressed to hear any result as creative, dexterous, and innovative as “Teen Town,” the late, great Jaco Pastorius’ compositional and instrumental showcase from Weather Report’s game-changing 1977 Heavy Weather album.
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PRESENT ANY MUSICIAN WITH A SET OF FOUR PARALLEL CHORDS AND ASK THEM TO CONSTRUCT A 16-BAR MELODY over said harmony using nothing but sixteenth-notes (plus an extra allowance of five eighth-notes), and you’ll be hard pressed to hear any result as creative, dexterous, and innovative as “Teen Town,” the late, great Jaco Pastorius’ compositional and instrumental showcase from Weather Report’s game-changing 1977 Heavy Weather album.

Of course, the fact that Jaco conceived and played the song’s head on a fretless Fender Jazz Bass significantly increased the public wow factor (he also laid down the killer drum track), but his strong, modern melodic lines, which often bring to mind the intervallic designs of Joe Diorio with whom Jaco once mentored, are applicable to—and sound just as amazing—on any instrument.

Tackling this virtuoso bass rite-of-passage on guitar isn’t for the faint of heart, and mastering it will undoubtedly garner respect from your peers—doubling it 8va with a hip bassist is an amazing, almost out-of-body experience—but the real payoff for all your hard work is your own personal insight into the rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic musical genius that was Jaco. Write it down!


Jaco’s bass is absent during the song’s fourbar intro, which features two sets parallel major sixth voicings played in tandem on keys and soprano sax by Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter along with Jaco’s propulsive open-and-closed-hi-hat groove. (Tip: Think “suc-co-tash, suc-co-tash, suc-co-tash, suc-co-tash.”) Ex. 1a illustrates the first half of the figure where the target C6 and A6 chords (note that these are a minor third, or three frets apart) alternate with parallel voicings played a whole step lower— C6 to Bb6, and A6 to G6. To complete the four-bar figure, simply substitute the parallel F6-to-Eb6 and D6-to-C6 chords diagrammed in Ex. 1b. The final touch is to add and accent the C9 voicing on the last two sixteenths of bar 4.

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Zawinul’s four parallel chords that frame Jaco’s upcoming 16-bar melody are derived from the first major sixth chord in each bar of the intro, but have been harmonically extended as thirteenth chords—C13, A13, F13, and D13. Ex. 2 presents three optional voicings for each chord. You can mix different fingerings, but Zawinul used the same voicing for each chord. Regardless of which ones you choose, play each chord as whole-note for one bar and recycle the four-bar progression four times to create the head’s ethereal chord progression that never seems to resolve. For further harmonic exploration, try viewing each thirteenth chord as a major-seven-flat five chord rooted one whole step lower— i.e., Bbmaj7b5 for C13—or as a minor six/ nine chord rooted a fifth higher (Gm6/9 for C13). The stage is set. The die is cast. Hold on to your hat.


The 16-bar melody in Ex. 3 has been arranged 8va (one octave higher) for guitar, but still maintains Jaco’s original fingerings on the bottom four strings, so you can also play it on bass. The best way to tackle a head of this complexity is to divide it into phrases and analyze how each one works with the chord of the moment. Following the previously described bass-free double C9 ensemble hits—think “Shut up!”—Jaco’s genius is evident from the get go. His opening two-bar phrase (bars 1 and 2) starts on the second sixteenth-note and percolates through three descending C7 chord tones—C, Bb, and G (the root, b7, and 5)— that bounce back and forth between a low pedal C, followed by a b3-to-3 slur into a C pentatonic major lick that perfectly anticipates the upcoming A13 change by nailing its 3 (C#) on the last sixteenth of beat four. This is capped with a suspended-sounding highly syncopated root-6-2/9 motif (A-F#-B) in bar 2. (Tip: Jaco often ended lines on the 2/9.)

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The next phrase (bars 3 and 4) also starts on the second sixteenth and begins with a measure of what can only be described as a straight-ahead country lick in F. (Yeehaw!) It’s filled with slurs and double-chromatic approaches to F13 chord tones, and dig into how Jaco drops an open-A passing tone on the second sixteenth of beat three to facilitate a quick position shift. The ambiguous “resolution” to D13 in bar 4 employs another pentatonic-major-based motif, this time utilizing the chord’s 2/9, 6/13, 5, and root (E, B, A, and D).

The third phrase (bars 5 and 6) begins the second cycle of the four-bar progression by starting on the second beat. Here, we’ve got a slurred b3-3-5 (Eb-E-G) motif that targets another pair of syncopated 2/9s (Ds) against C13 preceding the coolas- hell, growly F#-based blues run against A13. This works beautifully because F# (minor) is the relative minor of A major.) Now, take a break and practice until you can smoothly connect all three phrases. Begin slowly and then increase the tempo in gradual increments.


Continuing into bars 7, 8, and 9, Jaco extends his fourth phrase for an additional measure, which temporarily sets it off kilter with the chord progression in a really cool way. Jaco’s impeccable sense of time and rhythm should be obvious by now, as once again, we begin on beat two for bar 7’s F pentatonic major lick (D-C-F, or 6-5-root) played over (actually under) F13. The incredibly funky D13 run in bar 8 features double chromatic approaches to three chord tones (D, F#, and A, the root, 3, and 5), with each one targeted on the last sixteenth of beats two, three, and four. The C13-framed non-resolution occurs two sixteenth-notes later in bar 9 with a syncopated descending A blues scale fragment (Eb-D-C-A, the b5, 4, b3, and root of A also functioning as the b3, 2/9, root and 6/13 of C13.)

Bars 10, 11, and 12 contain another three-bar phrase, which also causes the next one to coincide with the top of the progression. Bar 10 paraphrases bar 8’s double-chromatic approaches and funky syncopations as applied to A13 (Note the reversal in direction on the last three notes to target G, the b7.) The F13 line in bar 11 could be viewed either as an A-bluesbased b5-4-b3 motif that targets F, or as a b7-6-5-root move in F. The third-bar, D13-based line in bar 12 is a streamlined 5-b7-root affair that wraps with—wait for it—a single-note reprise of the opening ensemble pickup to anticipate the return to C13. (“Shut up!)

We’re back to two-bar phrases and the top of the progression for the final four bars of this excerpt. In bar 13, Jaco plays a simple C pentatonic major lick beneath C13, and then whips out a very Charlie Parker-esque 5-root-6-4-3-2 (E-A-F#-D-C#-B) motif for the A13 in bar 14. (Tip: Try it over Bm7 or Dmaj7.) The final phrase begins with a fournote A-blues-based pickup (b7-b5-4-b3, or G-Eb-D-C) on beat four of bar 14 that leads first to a syncopated F-F#-G move under F13 (bar 15), and ultimately to another simple C pentatonic major wrap-up in bar 16. Got it? Now go back to the top, repeat bars 1 through 9, and then consult the original recording to learn the rest of the song. But we’re not done just yet…


Raising the “Teen Town” melody yet another octave (15ma above Jaco’s bass part) pushes it even further into lead guitar territory. The following examples are broken into the same two- and three-bar phrases as Ex. 3 and stay fairly true to Jaco’s original phrasing, but you are highly encouraged to experiment with different fingerings, string bends, and other phrasing techniques. The harmonic analysis remains the same, so you can refer to Ex. 3 as necessary. Here’s the play-by-play.

Ex. 4 transposes Jaco’s opening C13-to- A13 phrase (from bars 1 and 2) to the top four strings in fifth-position and embellishes it with some hybrid pick-and-middle- finger chicken pickin’. (Tip: Try playing it in the eighth-position C blues box with a string bend or two.) Ex. 5 portrays the raised version of bar 3 and 4’s F country lick and Diorio-style D13 (non-)resolution, which journeys from third to tenth position, again on the top four strings. In Ex. 6, I intentionally dropped the C13 portion of the third phrase (from bar 5) into third position to accommodate playing the ensuing F# blues lick over A13 (from bar 6) in the second-position F# blues box. Dig its slinky legato phrasing.

Ex. 7 adapts the first of a pair of threebar phrases (from bars 7, 8, and 9) to the top four strings in first, and then fifth positions to cover the F13, D13, and C13 changes. Moving Jaco’s lines up two octaves can yield startling results. For instance, the transposed version of bars 10, 11, and 12 shown in Ex. 8 comes off like a cross between James Brown and Alberts Lee and King when played 15ma against an eerie A13-F13-D13 harmonic background.

It’s back to two-bar phrases for Ex. 9’s transposed C13-A13 run from bars 13 and 14. Here, we begin in third position over C13 before slipping up a whole step to outline the Bm7/Dmaj7-shaped line that subs for A13. Finally, Ex. 10’s eighth-position adaptation of bars 15 and 16 (plus pickup) hits the fifth string for the first time before the whole deal starts over (up until bar 9). Timeless and still futuristic, this is what today’s dance music should sound like!