This month sees the long-awaited release of JACO – the documentary on the life and music of revered former Weather Report bassist Jaco Pastorius who died in 1987 aged 35 in tragic circumstances – but who unequivocally changed the sound and perception of the bass guitar forever. This much-anticipated film has been produced by Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo and directed by documentary filmmaker Paul Marchand, and features extensive archive footage of Jaco and contributions from the likes of Herbie Hancock, Vinnie White, Joni Mitchell, Sting, Flea and Bobby Colomby in a hugely evocative portrait of the late great bassist.
Ahead of its release on DVD later this month on 27 November, along with an accompanying CD, Jaco: Original Soundtrack (Legacy Recordings), the film will be screened as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival at the Barbican cinema on 16 November. Mike Flynn spoke to the film’s director Paul Marchand about how this huge project came together:
When did you first start making this film and how did you begin the process?
For me it began in a Santa Monica sushi restaurant in 2011. I met Robert Trujillo (below with Marchand) and the first director, Stephen Kijak for dinner. I had assumed Robert would be at least 30 minutes late, being a rockstar and all, but he was early, eager and passionate about the project he had in front of him. I was hooked immediately and signed on as editor. I set up shop in the back cottage of Robert’s Venice Beach house and we began to interview over 70 of Jaco’s closest family and friends, which resulted in close to 300 hours of interview footage. After a year Stephen Kijak left the project to direct a documentary on the Backstreet Boys and I doubled down as director/editor. Over the next three years Robert and I whittled down the footage and scored some big interviews with Joni Mitchell and Jerry Jemmott and others that allowed us to reconceptualise our film. Our cinematographer, Roger De Giacomi, who is responsible for all the beautiful interview footage also made the long production possible.
This is an amazingly detailed piece of work – for instance how did you get hold of the recordings of Jaco and his father talking on the phone and all the archive footage of Jaco as a boy etc?
The Pastorius family and mainly John Pastorius IV (Jaco’s eldest son) were close collaborators through each step of the process. Also Bob Bobbing, a friend of the Jaco & his family, was instrumental in providing us with a large archive he had collected through the years. Bob had a warehouse in Florida with various tapes, photographs and hard drives of anything he could find relating to Jaco. In that archive were these heartbreaking answering machine recordings that Jack Pastorius (Jaco’s father) had recorded. No one knows exactly why he recorded the calls Jaco made to him, but the result was an amazingly emotional document of the very nuanced relationship between a father and his eldest son. The 8mm footage was given to us by Jaco’s brothers Gregory and Rory. I received them in a metal tackle box and quickly transferred them all to HD video at a professional facility in Hollywood. The great thing about the wealth of 8mm footage from the Pastorius family is that much of it was shot by Gregory Pastorius. Gregory is a visual artist, sculptor and painter and he shot home videos with an artistry that I had never seen from that period. For me, this beautiful archive is what makes the film feel experiential and alive.
The flow from his rise to fame to the sadness of his later years was beautifully handled but an over-arching commentary might have diluted some of the atmosphere – was there a conscious decision about letting the music and imagery (and comments from the contributors) do the talking?
Yes. In fact, we had made that mistake in one of the many edits of this film. I believe that at certain point good filmmaking, and particularly filmmaking about music, becomes like songwriting. If the emotion of the truth is not conveyed to the first time viewer or listener, then the details are meaningless. Our goal was to elicit emotion from the viewer that let them understand Jaco as an artist and a family man, who struggled with a complex illness. We found that the more we let people contextualise his experience, the further our film travelled from his emotional journey. The balance between information and emotional cinema was definitely the most challenging part of editing the film. Robert Trujillo, being a songwriter himself, was the perfect collaborator and a perfectionist with regard to tone and pace. Also the family was there to pull us back to the truth of the story if we ever went too far off course.
It’s over 25 years since Jaco died did you feel that this film will help consolidate his place as one of the greats in music history? Perhaps reminding, or even educating a younger generation – who might not have even heard of Jaco – about his musical legacy?
I’m 34, just a couple years younger than Jaco’s oldest son. I heard Jaco’s music as child, but before I started the project I knew him only as an amazingly emotive bass player with a tragic story. I leave the project thinking of him as a complete musician, and fascinated by the mystery of his compositions. My creative journey through music and film is all about exposure. I hope that we’ve “exposed” people to some of the truths of Jaco’s life that shed light on the genius of his art.
Do you feel that Jaco and many of his contemporaries came to prominence at a special time in music – a time that we are unlikely to see again…?
I think it was an amazing time for music. People were pushing the envelope in every direction and the only trend was to “be different.” I think we’ll have a time like that again. It may not be on the commercial scale that it was in the 1960’s and 70s but further we get away from real instruments the more we pine for them. The pendulum will swing.
What do you hope people will take away from the film?
I think all of the collaborators see the film differently as I’m sure all the audience members will. For me, I want people to believe in and admire Jaco’s artistic integrity. I think the world needs much more of that… and I think that’s the missing ingredient that will get creators back to a time like Jaco’s. He played the music that was in his head… and if the label didn’t want it… well f*ck them. Also I think it’s good for many families who struggle with mental illness. Unlike the many stories that have floated around about Jaco for years, he wasn’t just another drug using musician. He had a illness, and one that was treatable. I know in my own life I can think of a handful of troubled people that Jaco’s story makes me want to try harder for. Also buy his albums! The entire human experience is in his music.