Robert Trujillo Presents: Jaco

Compelling portrait of a troubled innovator.

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“I’m John Francis Pastorius III, and I’m the greatest bass player in the world!” says a pushy kid to Weather Report’s Joe Zawinul, prompting the veteran heard‑it‑all-before keyboard player to reply, “Get the fuck outta here.” A short while later, though, Jaco joins the band and is on his way to stardom.

The dynamic of that meeting, recounted in this enthralling 110-minute documentary, is repeated many times by those who knew or worked with the man: scepticism at first, followed by incredulity upon hearing what he could do with just four strings.

His death in 1987, following a beating by a nightclub bouncer, snuffed out a true innovator. Traditionally part of the backline in a band, Jaco put the bass guitar centre stage, with the spotlight on his fluid style and inventive use of glittering harmonics. In doing so, he irrevocably altered the way in which almost every bassist on the planet thought about or played their chosen instrument.

An enthralling celebration of a brilliant musician.

The irrepressible buoyancy of his phenomenal technique allowed him to not only underpin a piece but also enabled him to play lead melody as well. Drummer Bob Moses notes that as a young man in his early 20s, Jaco was already at a point that most jazz musicians only achieved over an entire career. There are also perceptive observations from Geddy Lee, Sting, Flea and numerous other admirers. Joni Mitchell, in the main feature and on a bonus disc of outtakes, provides especially eloquent testimony on the pros and cons of sharing a stage in Jaco’s company.

As fame propelled him into the homes of many thousands of fans, it also took him from those he loved. The Super-8 footage of Jaco growing up in Florida makes for bittersweet viewing, knowing that his own father, also a musician, left the family home for the road. Watching Jaco as a dad with his own kids in their home movies, and hearing his children, now adults themselves, talk about the father they lost, is deeply moving.

Jaco’s slide into substance abuse and bipolar disorder is treated sensitively, but without shying away from the grim truth of his decline. There’s harrowing video of a visibly incoherent Jaco, stumbling through an interview; a man who had entertained so many in stadiums reduced to busking for change and sleeping rough in the park.

While profoundly sad in places, this documentary, with its pristine 5.1 soundtrack, celebrates a brilliant musician and the magical spark generated when his fingers connected with the fretboard and jumped into the lives of his listeners.