Film Review: JACO – A Documentary Film

2014 Passion Pictures

Take a moment to put Weather Report’s Heavy Weather on the turntable. As we move the tone arm to the beginning of side one we hear that synthesizer bass bouncing right in to lead the song; but then everybody gets busy and the tune starts jammin’; we then hear this melodic arpeggio coming from some instrument and can’t seem to discern what it is. Is it a guitar, is it another synthesizer, or is it a bass; the latter would be the answer. It was that iconic playing on that song which heralded in a whole new era of the four string instrument that was better known to simply hold down the low-end. Yes you had Geddy Lee, John Paul Jones, John Entwistle, & Jack Bruce; but these guys were in the bands that were bound by the sum of all their parts; in short Jaco Pastorus himself was the first solo bass star.

A widely misunderstood personality, he was known to be everybody’s friend and was highly animated, often dancing James Brown like as he would play; but he also had a dark side, one that lurked deep inside his mind where even today, many people are trying to figure out what was going through the jagged roadmap of his psyche.

Produced by Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo & John Battsek and directed by Paul Marchand and Stephen Kijak, JACO is an in depth look at what would light the fuse for a new generation of bass players. But as you take a moment to begin the cerebral approach, you have to remove the veil of what swept him away into the abyss and take a look back to what melded his iconic stature.

So we begin in sunny South Florida, as the son of a father who himself was a Sinatra type performer. All of us get a look at his childhood and how he grew to love wide spectrum of music that introduced us to him; from his first gig playing in a Tijuana brass style band complete everybody wearing matching tuxedos to sitting in on the Chitin Circuit to eventually getting his record deal with Epic that led to bigger things. It’s one thing to take note that his love for Cuban/Latin music which often featured horn sections as well as his love for Sinatra was something that could have been seen as a surprise; no there is no mention of being obessed with Jimmy Page or Hendrix.

It’s funny, a big factor in his style was that he played in jazz bands as he did not really play in rock bands, nor did he play in a heavy metal band; so it’s amazing how he gravitated towards jazz. Sticking to that music almost with a vengeance is what made him the bass player he was. Pastorius  might have gotten lost in the shuffle within hard rock’s big beginning, yet that didn’t stop many a rock bassist from admiring him. Many players such as Bootsy Collins, Flea, Geddy Lee, guitarist Al Di Meola among many others including his former bandmates whom speak very fondly of his memory. And as Collins will say, “bass playing didn’t exist until he happened.” The eccentric edginess to his personality is what eventually ended him, and unfortunatly during his time of fame there was not proper psychological help available as studies were not necessary available for people like Pastorus, who was believed to have bipolar disorder; and it’s with great sorrow that many acknowledge that if appropriate help was available, he might still be with us.

There is a deep look into personal issues such as being on tour and being away from his family, the inability to juggle that life in the first place, leading to divorce. Plus he had a resentment towards actually playing the bass considering how many people were treating him in the press and starting rumors by word-of-mouth, plus warring factors with other musicians and producers are even seen on video or also talked about in detail.

But the one issue that comes up is his love hate relationship with Joe Zawinul the founder of Weather Report. It was the keyboards of Zaninul that (were supposed to lead) the band and he hated sharing the spotlight was Pastorus and often criticized his playing. But regardless, Jaco felt that he was a father figure and took a lot of his criticism to heart and with that rejection from someone he had felt so close to, came a lot of stress and depression that only enhanced his dark mindset. it. Joni Mitchell (who got involved in the eleventh hour) is also someone who brings his personlity to life, having tried so many bass players who couldn’t play what she wanted for the Heijera album, Mitchell finally found the musical companion that brought her a new breath of life during the late 70s.
His later cracks at further major label stardom as a solo artist, and of course the first hand look from those in the business who had to make the painful decisions gives us an understanding into the deterioration of his final years and how it cause him to dive head first into drug use – a another element that would prove deadly. The bassist is also on a diffrent pedestal as you can see during many of the final videos of him that this was a guy who was tired, literally worn out just like John Belushi’s characters in his final movies such as Neighbors and Continental Divide, you see someone deteriorating very quickly but his playing never seems to suffer; even towards the end he started playing a lot of keyboards (there is footage of an amazing performance tickling the ivories); you realize just how much a versatile musician he is was and how great he was at just about any instrument you could throw in front of them.

In the end, Nobody knows what really happened after getting expelled from a Santana gig that fateful evening of September, 21st of 1985. His death was ruled a homicide, committed by a bouncer still. Even today, this issue comes under scrutiny by urban legends and people who might of been able to prevent it.

During a panel which featured his son, Trujillo, and drummer Peter Erskine among many others, a lady came up to ask the final question, and stated that she was a therapist herself and also knew about how that type of mental illness had gone untreated for years; but she also mentions about how that illness in particular might have created something in his brain that made him so creative; like Rocky Erickson, Elliott Smith, and Daniel Johnston who are/were also known to have their demons, we see where this pattern of eccentric geniuses come from. Concluding at that same panel/seminar, Erskine got emotional and made the statement that viewing the film itself was a visit from a friend that he truly misses, and that can be said for all of us who take a look into the man who revolutionized the four string monster.

The Review – Copyright & Publishing: 2015 Tommy Hash for


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