Beloved bassist leaves behind a rich musical legacy
By David Sands
November 11, 2016
A sad note is ringing out across the music world today. The talented and respected Victor Bailey, who served as Weather Report’s bassist during the jazz/fusion band’s final years, has died.
The bass player passed on due to complications from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a neurological condition similar to muscular dystrophy that he’d been struggling with for several decades. He was 56.
Bailey wore many hats: sideman, composer, solo artist, educator. In addition to his work with Weather Report, he also performed and recorded with an extraordinary list of artists and musicians that includes Carlos Santana, Mary J. Blige, Billy Cobham, Lady Gaga, Pharoah Sanders, Chick Corea, Kevin Eubanks, Sean “Puffy” Combs and Madonna.
Born in Philadelphia in 1960, Bailey grew up in a highly musical atmosphere. His father was a composer who wrote songs for groups like the Stylistics and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. His uncle, Donald Bailey, was a jazz drummer with the Jimmy Smith Trio. A natural musician, Bailey started off a drummer but came to love the bass when he was tasked with replacing a bassist for a neighborhood band. He described the experience in a 2010 interview with FBPO:
“Although I had never played before, I instantly understood the instrument. I not only played all the songs, but added fills, or “runs,” as we called them. My father, who never came downstairs to listen to any of my bands, came charging down the stairs yelling, ‘Who’s playing bass? Who’s playing bass?’ When he saw it was me he said, ‘You should be a bass player.’ I said, ‘I know.’ My days as a drummer were over.”
After an attempt to join the U.S. Navy was turned down because he had asthma, Bailey enrolled at Berklee College of Music. He later found work with trumpeter Hugh Masekela, which led to him becoming a hot bass player in New York CIty. From 1982 to 1986, he served as the bass player for Weather Report, replacing Jaco Pastorius.
In 1988, Bailey embarked on a career as a solo artist, eventually releasing seven albums, the last being 2010’s Slippin’ n’ Trippin’. Later in his life, he also worked as an instructor at the Berklee, sharing his craft and insight with a new generation of up-and-coming musicians.
FBPO interview with Victor Bailey
Jaco Pastorius Feature (with Robert Trujillo)
10 (More) bands that changed bass players … and what happened next!