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Film & TV

Jaco Film Explores "Highs and Lows" of Bass Legend's Life, Out on DVD Friday

Jaco, the stunningly real portrait of electric bass legend Jaco Pastorius, enjoyed a near-capacity draw at its South Florida debut during the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival earlier this month. The November 6 screening, which was held at a temporarily repurposed Hard Rock Live, drew producer and documentary champion Robert Trujillo away from recording duties for Metallica (he flew in on the redeye and was back at the band’s Northern California HQ/studios shortly after) and was attended by director/editor Paul Marchand and the late bassist’s four children: daughter Mary, executive producer and eldest son John “Johnny” Francis Pastorius IV, and twin sons Felix and Julius.

“The goal was to reach a person that doesn’t know him at all."

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The documentary, which had been in the works for several years and is now making the rounds at SXSW, Filmfest Munchen, the Athens International Film Festival, and the Asbury Park Film Festival, has already garnered critical acclaim and a couple of awards. It features old footage of '50s and '60s Florida, mixed with new visuals and illustrations, interviews, and concert footage to great effect. According to Johnny, the biggest challenge getting the film made was “telling a story in a concise way and still maintaining the integrity of our father.” For those who have seen it, few would argue they did not succeed in a fashion befitting for the “world’s greatest bass player." The finished product is passionate, possesses “showtime” flair, and brims with groove.

The film is no walk though Holiday Park, which is where Pastorius lived at the end of his life, a pariah in the music industry he had turned on its ear just a decade before, destitute and beaten to near-death by a bouncer outside of a Wilton Manors nightclub. He died a few days later from injuries sustained there. Included are several painful-to-watch clips of the man during his decline, at times intoxicated and at others during a manic phase of his bipolar disease. The family felt “a responsibility to represent our dad honestly and at the same time entertain and not glamorize what happened — to tell the most balanced story,” says Johnny. “We wanted to show the highs and the lows, not getting caught in either of those too much.”

In Jaco, which is released on DVD November 27, a musical cavalcade is assembled to sing the praises of the man who is to jazz bass what Jimi Hendrix is to rock guitar, Charlie Parker to alto sax, or John Coltrane to tenor sax in jazz. Sting, Flea, Bootsy Collins, Geddy Lee, and Carlos Santana join Pastorius collaborators Joni Mitchell (who quips, “I like originals. Jaco was an original.”), Wayne Shorter, Peter Erskine and Bobby Thomas Jr., who mesmerized FLIFF premiere attendees with a solo performance on an exotic Swiss percussion instrument called the hang drum. 

“Besides anything he’s done with the project, he will always be my friend."

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The process of making the film was at times challenging, and the role of Trujillo in cementing Jaco’s legacy cannot be understated. The idea for it sprang shortly after the artist’s passing and really started to come together when the eldest son met Trujillo nearly 20 years ago, growing ever closer to him over the years. “He had just gotten the gig with Ozzy [Osbourne], and he said to me, ‘You gotta do a movie on your dad, man. You have no idea how many people I meet that are huge fans. I’m talking the biggest stars in rock, the Fleas, Geddy Lees, all these guys. We all talk about your dad.’”

Trujillo indeed laid the groundwork for what would solidify into the 117-minute music doc. “He would come to town a couple of times a year and say ‘I met so-and-so’ or introduce me to key people or tell me to go to a concert or keep on the people like Geddy who would want to sit for an interview for the documentary,” says Johnny. Apart from ponying up his own money, Trujillo also successfully spearheaded a PledgeMusic campaign that raised 161 percent of its targeted amount.

When asked what the famous bass player-cum-film producer has meant to him and his family, Johnny offers: “Besides anything he’s done with the project, he will always be my friend. When the first attempt with the previous director ended, we weren’t happy. To his credit, it wasn’t even an option — he knew that [bringing in another director] would mean more money would have to be invested, but there was never a question. He was like, ‘OK, you’re not happy? We’re going to keep going.’ We ended up going for another two years. Because of him being a good dude and being solid, the Jerry Jemmott interview came, which is basically a vein throughout the whole film, going in and out from the original instructional video. That would have never been there. The Joni Mitchell interview [and the music they made together in the mid- to late '70s] would have never been there — another huge get.”

The original soundtrack, also being issued November 27 (from which already two tracks have been released: Mass Mental’s “Come On, Come Over”), features Trujillo, Flea, and others, plus Rodrigo y Gabriela’s take on “Continuum,” and promises to be yet another aural feast for hungry Jaco-philes. Conceived by Johnny and Trujillo, the collection includes several of Jaco’s best solo compositions, like “Okonkole y Trompa," “Liberty City,” and “Portrait of Tracy,” along with Weather Report gems like the standard “Teen Town” and a live version of “River People."

On both the film and the soundtrack, Johnny also shares: “The goal was to reach a person that doesn’t know him at all. It’s a fine line between putting enough for the guy who knows everything and also making it palatable for someone who doesn’t know anything at all.”

One of the final scenes in the documentary shows a close-up of someone playing the Jaco standard “Continuum” on what looks to be Jaco's legendary “Bass of Doom.” Upon pan-out, the shot reveals that it's actually supremely prodigious Pastorius son Felix, eerily bridging the generational gap and bringing it all full circle. 

Preorder Jaco: A Documentary Film on DVD ($19.99) & Blu-Ray ($24.99) here
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Michael Mut
Contact: Michael Mut