Hallowed Ground at Modern Music

By the time I started taking weekly bass guitar lessons at Modern Music, it was anything but modern. Having opened for business in 1970, it was well past its prime by the time I started going there in 2003. Modern Music sold new and used guitars (it was a Fender retailer), amplifiers, PA systems, sheet music, and all kinds of music accessories. In addition, it rented band equipment to both individuals and schools and sound systems to churches. It was an “old school” place, with a retro vibe that included a musty smell, a floor that always looked like it needed mopping, and old fashioned glass display cases, one of which was topped by a cash register. To the uninitiated observer, such as yours truly, it looked unremarkable. That impression changed for me one day, when I learned from John, an amazing guitar player who worked at the store, that the late great bassist, Jaco Pastorius, was a member of the informal “hang” for many years. John and Jaco were friends since childhood and John was delighted to tell me as many stories of time spent with Jaco as I wanted to hear. One day, John said, “Melissa, see that spot where you are standing? That was Jaco’s favorite place in the store and the place where he came to write songs, such as ‘Teen Town.’” Needless to say, I was amazed to be standing on the hallowed ground where every bass player’s idol, Jaco, composed some of his famous songs. Having been a huge fan of Weather Report since the 1970s, as well as a fan of Jaco’s, it was a thrill to know that Modern Music played an integral role in musical history. Although Modern Music closed many years ago, it will always have a special place in the hearts of many of us who went there. I still wave at the storefront where it used to be each time I pass!

It is amazing to think of all that Melissa and I have learned based on the decision I made to get her a bass guitar.  It was time for her to do what she’d always told me she regretted not being able to do when she was a teen.  Modern Music has been one of the experiences along the way.  Even large, corporate music stores seem accommodating of the musicians who frequent them.  Picking up a bass or other instrument to try is the norm.  But, Modern Music was a throwback to a time before the corporate type stores came to dominate.  As such, it is probably not surprising that a superstar like Jaco, who lived nearby, would be a regular.  I don’t recall that Modern Music had autographed celebrity photos on the walls.  I have to confess not knowing much about him or Weather Report until the bass monster I created, a/k/a Melissa, educated me.  I had heard of Jaco and the band Weather Report, but knew few details.  I now know that Jaco lived, and tragically died, within a few miles of Modern Music.  In Oakland Park, there is a city park named after Jaco with a cool mural of him and his “bass of doom” painted on the wall.  In fact, we recently attended a concert in the park and enjoyed it under Jaco’s watchful gaze.  All of this is to say, one just never knows what connections there are in a place that seems otherwise ordinary.    

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