By Gregory Crofton
People, especially people who play electric bass, can be worshipful of Jaco Pastorius. He’s their Hendrix.
Pastorius pried the metal frets off the neck of his guitar and slid straight into a new world, one where he plucked its fat strings with such rhythm and groove it was like he was playing a conga drum. Along the way Jaco succeeded in expanding the harmonic range of the bass and produced sounds that inspired budding musicians around the world.
One of the young players enthralled by Jaco was Robert Trujillo, the bass player for Metallica. He funded JACO: THE FILM, a documentary that screened earlier this month at the Chattanooga Film Festival and tells the story of Pastorius’ entire life.
Trujillo planned to appear at the festival but had trouble with his flight out of Los Angeles. He still managed to call in via Skype for a Q & A, and Paul Marchand, a co-director of the film, was in attendance.
“It’s been an insane journey,” said Trujillo, who noted that he ran out of money half way through the production process. “I can’t really tell you how wild it’s been. It’s a tremendous undertaking.”
He wasn’t complaining, but rather communicating how important it was to him to get the work done and get Jaco’s story out. Trujillo saw Pastorius four times in concert, and even had a chance to have a conversation with him after one show.
“It really did change my life,” said Trujillo, who in the film calls Jaco’s music “punk rock.”
It took about six years for Marchand and Trujillo to make the film. The two said they spoke at least once every day about the project. Essential was Gregory Pastorius, Jaco’s brother, sharing Super 8 home movies that had been sitting untouched in a metal box for 30 years. In the documentary there’s all sorts of personal images; footage of Jaco growing up on the beach in Florida, and eventually of Jaco hanging out with his own children.
Pastorius died young at the age 35. JACO: THE FILM reveals that the bassist predicted his own death, even asking a good friend to take care of his kids, saying he was likely to die around the time that he did. Probably part of the reason he could make such a prediction was because he sensed mental illness within him.
Jaco’s drug and alcohol abuse likely spurred the progression of his illness and eventually he couldn’t perform on tour. After some time homeless on the streets of New York City, he was treated for a brief time at a psychiatric hospital. He was diagnosed with hypomania and bi-polar depression. He returned to home to Florida, didn’t take his prescription medicines consistently, and died after being beaten by a club manager outside a Carlos Santana show.
Co-director Marchand said it was his job to “contextualize” Pastorius’ illness. That he had a responsibility not to be “too romantic or too clinical” about it.
“JACO: THE FILM, though its editing is a little choppy at times, succeeds on the reporting of his health issues and truly conveys the power of this great artist by succinctly tying together his manic life story. Most importantly the documentary leaves you ready to search out and listen to some of Jaco’s music.
The documentary on DVD, T-shirts and much more are available now at the film’s website.