Metallica’s Robert Trujillo on the Joys of Jazz Great Jaco Pastorius
Metallica‘s Robert Trujillo has always wanted to see a documentary about the life of the late jazz virtuoso Jaco Pastorius, known for his funky improvisations. He’s wanted this so much so that when he first met Jaco’s son Johnny, he urged him to make one. Nearly two decades later, Jaco: A Documentary Film – which Trujillo co-produced – has begun making festival rounds, with a screening planned for the inaugural Asbury Park Music in Film Festival in April.
“This is not an instructional video,” Trujillo tells Rolling Stone. “This is deeper. This is a story.”
The film chronicles the ascent of the bass legend, who bridged boundaries between rock and jazz in the mid-Seventies with his inventive playing on albums by jazz-fusion mega-group Weather Report, Joni Mitchell and Ian Hunter, as well as on his own prolific solo releases. It also touches on how bipolar disease affected him later in his career.
Mostly, though, it’s a testament to how the bassist influenced an army of musicians before his 1987 death at the age of 35 from a brain hemorrhage; the result of a beating from a club bouncer.
The doc, which has been in production for the past five years, features appearances by numerous Pastorious disciples – Flea, Sting, Geddy Lee, Bootsy Collins – praising the bassist (whose name rhymes with “taco”), as well as people who jammed with him, including Jimmy Page and former Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum.
Above all, Trujillo wants people to see the passion people have for Pastorius. “It’s a very special film,” the Metallica bassist says. “I felt it was important to share his story.”
When did Jaco Pastorius change your life?
When I saw him play at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1979 when I was, like, 14. It really changed my world. I had not seen the bass presented as a melodic instrument at the forefront before. He was playing with Weather Report, which didn’t have a guitar player, and Jaco was the hippest guy up there. His stage presence was really powerful. It was almost his show. All kinds of people showed up to see him; people I knew from Venice Beach, a lot of my skateboarder friends, surfers, jazz people, heavy metallers – even John Belushi was there – and it seemed like a lot of these people were there to check him out.
“His stage presence was really powerful. All kinds of people – skateboarder friends, surfers, jazz people, heavy metallers – were there to check him out.”
Why is Jaco’s playing special?
Jaco was incredibly funky, but he could also be really, really heavy; he had a lot of growl and edge to his sound. I loved the way he is able to still have his unique sound – and his dynamic presence is felt through his instrument – but at the same time, he’s melodic, which is very rare for a lot of players, bass players especially.
What was so special for me was experiencing the music live and then discovering what he did with Joni Mitchell and Ian Hunter and of course his second solo album. He could do a song like “Teen Town,” which was really aggressive, and it’s just bass and drums – in fact, he’s playing drums on that song, too, which is crazy – then he’d do a song like “Portrait of Tracy,” which is a composition he created from harmonics. Chords on harmonics? On a bass? Who had ever heard of that?
What’s the best starting point for people just discovering Jaco?
Listen to the song “Come On, Come Over,” because I think it’s important to connect with the style of Jaco as a funky player. He was almost percussive with his fingers on the instrument, and it’s a very unique sound and that’s why players like Flea from the Chili Peppers, Geddy Lee and myself are drawn to him; his technique was really special. That’s the head-bopping, funkafied dance track that people should listen to and then, if you want to get into his abilities as an innovator in technique and everything, listen to “Portrait of Tracy.” To me, that’s like what Eddie Van Halen did with “Eruption,” but for bass. Also, “Havona” is a good one by Weather Report and then, if you’re into rock, “All-American Alien Boy” by Ian Hunter. That last song might possibly be one of the best bass solos that anyone’s ever heard.
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