That old "what defines genius" discussion

TwangTwang New
in Gypsy Jazz 101 Posts: 417

I was watching a Youtube documentary on Jaco Pastorius today. It was called "the lost tapes" or something. It got me thinking about the definition of genius and the whole idea of labelling artists as geniuses. I found myself getting irritated by how the musicians interviewed expounded on Jaco's genius, never getting specific and using lots of flowery nondescript adjectives. I have heard and read so many of these kinds of interviews.

I considered some of the boxes that Jaco ticked that I think have helped to raise him to this status.

It all happened a while ago in a golden musical period

He looks very cool most of the time

He was at the forefront of something new with the bass

He came to a tragic end, living life on the edge with many problems

I am a huge Jaco fan but was he, along with many other artists, a genius? I'm not sure he was the first to rip the frets out of his bass. This is contested but he was the first to be widely recognised with the instrument. I think other players would have been doing this before long. It was an inevitable evolution of the instrument. He did amazing stuff with false harmonics but guitarists had been exploring them for years before Jaco. Django and a whole raft of classical composers.

Take these things and his stage charisma away and we have a very fine musician with a great ear, technical facility, sense of rhythm and some creativity. I've met a lot of them. None of them will ever be called a genius. At one point Peter Erskine was raving about how good his intonation was but Jaco could see where the frets had been on his bass! His solos often sound incoherent to me with a lot of showboating. Was he a genius?

I'm not looking to offend anyone. I know it doesn't sound like it but I'm a massive Jaco fan. I've picked on Jaco but I could have chosen a number of other "genius"musicians. I'm interested in what others think and look forward to being put in my place.

I'll justify this discussion on the forum by saying that Jaco worked with Birelli. So Jaco was almost one of us 😉



  • ChrisMartinChrisMartin Shellharbour NSW Australia✭✭ Di Mauro x2, Petrarca, Genovesi, Burns, Kremona Zornitsa & Paul Beuscher resonator.
    Posts: 959

    I would not take such things so seriously Mr Twang.

    The word genius probably lost its true meaning long ago. It is defined in the Cambridge dictionary as:

    very great and rare natural ability or skillespecially in a particular area such as science or art, or a person who has this:

    In that context I think when referring to musicians it now just means 'someone who is very clever, who can do things that I can't', or even worse in today's common usage, just anyone who is above average.

    But a more subtle meaning could be taken from a second entry in the Mirriam-Webster dictionary:

    an attendant spirit of a person or place,

    or also:

    a person who influences another for good or bad.

    These last two interpretations could be more flexible and certainly could be applied to Jaco in that irrespective of who did what first, he did popularise a certain style that became widely copied; therefore fulfilling the 'influence' part of the latter definition.

  • swing68swing68 Poznan, Poland✭✭✭ Manouche Modele Orchestre, JWC Catania Swing
    Posts: 121

    Change the J in Jaco to P, and we're good to go.

    The war on Am7 and Cmaj7 begins here ...
  • TwangTwang New
    edited July 2021 Posts: 417

    “Mr” Twang. Glad I'm finally getting some respect around here 😁

  • Posts: 283

    People have a tendency to use hyperbole. But according to the dictionary definition, I guess he is a genius. Doesn't do anything for me musically though.

  • bbwood_98bbwood_98 Brooklyn, NyProdigy Vladimir music! Les Effes. . Its the best!
    Posts: 676

    "Mr." Twang -

    Interesting thread . . How many times have we all heard that so and so was a genius because of their mental expansion with various substances. . .or various trauma's in their lives. I have an issue with this - often these artists/musicians are superb in spite of their addictions or trauma. Jaco certainly fits into this mold. Great player, creative, and talented. Just because a player/band/art is lauded doesn't mean it's interesting to me - aesthetics are always personal.

    I have one quick final comment: Years ago I was working with a coach and asked about two members of our team, with very, very good results. He said the older one was more talented, but the younger one will always do better over time - because she had a better work ethic! Natural ability is no substitute for hard work y'all!



  • TwangTwang New
    Posts: 417

    Yeah, and what's the deal with Robert Johnson? Again, there is a whole string of stuff that draws people to his music, and to be completely honest, me too! He lived this life of a drinking, womanising drifter against the backdrop of the great depression. He sold his soul to the Devil but still couldn't keep time (so that wasn't much of a deal). He was supposedly poisoned by a jealous husband and hardly anything is known about him.

    Yet listen to Eric Clapton or the Rolling stones go on about his genius.

  • pdgpdg ✭✭
    Posts: 472

    Not sure if this defines genius, but the most moving performers seem to have a direct connection from their emotions to their music and to the listeners' own emotional response.

    Sort of like a "transparent" sounding mic, etc.

  • WillieWillie HamburgNew
    Posts: 839

    Was it Thomas Alva Edison who said:

    Genius Is One Percent Inspiration, Ninety-Nine Percent Perspiration

  • Posts: 4,816

    "Genius" is thrown all over the place with no effort in people's conversations all the time. Not unlike "mojo" that Chris is so fond of. Both can be tricky to explain in clear terms. I didn't watch the docu so don't know the details but attributing a genius to artistic talent and musical achievements is so very subjective. Much easier to use it in science. He was certainly a musical treasure at the time and still is. I saw a docu which Robert Trujillo produced, Jaco was a man with issues to put it lightly, met a sad and unnecessary end.

    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • ChrisMartinChrisMartin Shellharbour NSW Australia✭✭ Di Mauro x2, Petrarca, Genovesi, Burns, Kremona Zornitsa & Paul Beuscher resonator.
    edited July 2021 Posts: 959

    Indeed, and yes I am Captain Pedantic (if not quite Henry Higgins) when it comes to clumsy misuse of the English language. Yes, Mojo is a good example of how a word can get hijacked for some other, presumably slang, purpose. Last I knew it meant some magical supernatural power to people who practice voodoo superstitions and it migrated from the Caribbean Islands to Louisiana, and from there to a Muddy Waters record, thus reaching a new audience outside of those geographical boundaries. Later taken for the title of a UK based music magazine, it apparently now is used in guitar marketing speak to mean some wear and tear or damage, with the unspoken implication that said damage has been acquired magically, or bestows some magical powers on the guitar, and possibly even the player; one step up from 'relic' maybe?

    Then there is the habit of ethnic groups or especially teenagers to invent their own 'street' language, sometimes even taking a word to mean the opposite of its original definition; so wicked now means good.

    Genius though, which would have originally been reserved for the likes of Galileo, Einstein or Bach is now just an overused adjective for anyone (or anything they have done) above average. Similarly, particularly in the USA the word awesome has come to mean anything even slightly agreeable when it once was only used for something truly exceptional.

    By the way, I am old enough to remember when something awesome would have been said to be groovy !

    Carry on........

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