It’s hard to overestimate how eagerly fusion fans anticipated JACO, the first full-length documentary on Jaco Pastorius, the game-changing electric bass virtuoso and gifted composer. Directed by Paul Marchand and Stephen Kijak, the film-nearly six years in the making-became a reality thanks to its producer and cowriter, Metallica bassist and Pastorius superfan Robert Trujillo.
It’s mostly worth the wait, as viewers get a clear understanding of how the fretless bass monster came by his musical influences and gained jazz-world stardom. But there are probably few revelations here for anyone who read the definitive biography by Bill Milkowski (interviewed in the film) or closely followed Pastorius’ work.
From the get-go, the film thrusts us into the initially enchanting world of the man who “changed the rules of what’s possible on the bass,” as Red Hot Chili Peppers bass player Flea puts it near the start of JACO. Growing up in the tropical climes of South Florida, Pastorius heard the swanky big-band music of his dad, Jack, listened to late-night AM broadcasts from Cuba, saved paper-route money to buy his first set of drums, and as a teenager played R&B in local outfit Las Olas Brass and with blue-eyed-soulman Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders. Then came his astonishingly assured 1976 self-titled debut album, produced by Blood, Sweat & Tears drummer Bobby Colomby, who says, “My goal was to bring Jaco to as many people as possible.”
Jaco himself took his music to Joe Zawinul, who engaged in creative and personal sparring with the younger man as he watched him evolve into one of three equals in Weather Report, along with saxophonist Wayne Shorter. JACO faithfully follows the bassist’s rapid rise, his brilliance as a player, writer and arranger and, inevitably, his struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction. During one of those down-and-out periods, in September 1987, Pastorius was brutally beaten into a coma by a nightclub manager and died.
The film itself is short on interview footage featuring its subject; the most meaningful conversation with Pastorius comes from his landmark instructional bass video of 1985, hosted by R&B session ace Jerry Jemmott. Still, JACO is packed with sometimes insightful interviews with Pastorius’ musical colleagues and collaborators-Zawinul, Shorter, Peter Erskine, Joni Mitchell, Mike Stern (but, oddly, not Pat Metheny)-as well as family, friends and admirers. The abundant personal photos and rare performance footage, not to mention one especially affecting phone recording, are a bonus. The DVD/Blu-ray’s second disc offers even more interviews and concert video. Trujillo’s labor of love is impossible not to like.