Groundbreaking work with Weather Report, Joni Mitchell, Ian Hunter, Pat Metheny, and his own Word of Mouth Big Band extended Jaco Pastorius’ influence well beyond the bass world. Photo by Brian Risner
You conducted over 75 interviews for the film. Were there any particular challenges to editing that much material?
A film like this takes time—you could never make it in one year. There was a lot of trial and error. We had multiple edits over the years. At one point I sat for six months with a clipboard at the director of photography’s house watching cuts, taking notes, and reviewing all of the interviews, just to see what was there.
There was also a time when we thought we were finished with the film, but then we received a box of audio cassettes of never-before-heard Jaco interviews from Conrad Silvert at DownBeat—this was from their archives. And then we also got photos from the Sony vault—outtakes from the first album—that had never been seen before. And then Joni Mitchell came onboard a couple of years ago. We had tried to reach out to her for four years and there was nothing. And then I met her randomly at a Grammy party. So, we really had to narrow it all down to an overview of his life, his musical accomplishments, and the bipolar disorder.
Is there a story you can share that didn’t make it into the film?
I met a guy in New Zealand who was Jaco’s bass tech for a couple of years at the tail end of Weather Report. He had some great, funny stories. Jaco liked putting live crabs in his pockets before going on a flight. Back then you didn’t have the security that you have now, so he would unleash the crabs onboard and everybody would run around screaming. Jaco called these pranks “wipes.” He’d pull “wipes” on people, like lighting a firecracker and putting it in someone’s pocket when they weren’t looking.
There are several excerpts from the Modern Electric Bass instructional video. Why was that so important to this film?
Jerry Jemmott was Jaco’s favorite bass player and Jaco wanted him there [in the video] to make that statement. At the time, Jaco couldn’t get a gig playing in a band or recording. So the grand statement for him was to make this video to help other people. In his mind, he probably thought it would bring money in to help his situation and help his family. He also felt the need to educate people in the best way he could.
There’s a scene in the movie where you’re onstage with Metallica playing Jaco’s now-infamous “Bass of Doom.” How did it come to be in your possession?
It’s a story in itself and I don’t know all of the details. The bass went missing for over 20 years. Some say it was stolen, which is what Jaco said, and some say he gave it away or traded it. All I know is that the bass reappeared in New York City, a legal dispute erupted, and attorney bills were the only thing going down. It was a situation that would have put JPI [Jaco Pastorius, Inc.] into bankruptcy. I felt there was a lot of emotion and tension around this situation. I’m not a collector, but I felt that I could help. So, I sponsored the money to get the bass out of the situation that it was in. The bass is in NYC with Felix Pastorius [Jaco’s son from his second marriage] most of the time these days.
There seemed to be a lot of conflicting reports about what was actually going down at the time.
People think that I found out who had it and I went there with a lot of cash and said, “Here, I want that bass.” That’s not the case at all. I just felt the need to help with the situation. You have to understand that the instrument meant a lot to Johnny and Mary [Jaco’s children from his first marriage]. It was a really important part of their life.
“I’ve come to really believe that Jaco wasn’t about wanting people to do exactly what he did or to learn his songs,” Robert Trujillo explains. “It was about being free, creatively, and using the tools he provided to compose in all styles of music.” Photo by Brian Risner
How does it play?
It is a beautiful instrument. It has a personality in itself. There could be a movie just about the bass alone, like the Red Violin, because it had a life of its own, even beyond the years with Jaco. Where did it go? What happened to it in those 20 years? No one really knows.
Did you ever see Jaco play live?
I did see Jaco play four times. I’m 51 years old and I was very lucky, as a young teenager, to have seen him play and witness the brilliance.
Did he have any influence on your gear preferences?
Gear-wise, there was a time when Jaco often used a chorused-out sound that was very dynamic and, though I don’t use it that much anymore, I did use it quite a bit with Suicidal Tendencies.
What influence did he have on you as a player and songwriter?
There are some melodic quotes I do on the fretless bass that were inspired by Jaco, like the intro to “You Can’t Bring Me Down” [from Lights… Camera… Revolution! by Suicidal Tendencies]. There was a lot of that influence on The Art of Rebellion as well. With Infectious Grooves, because I was the main writer, every song we ever did was inspired by Jaco. Yeah, there were moments of Anthony Jackson or Parliament-Funkadelic—we were taking influences from everyone. But for me, Jaco was always the main influence.
What was it in particular that was so inspiring?
I wasn’t necessarily trying to play Jaco compositions note-for-note. I was more into taking the technique or the feel and creating a song around that. It was about composition—using harmonics, for example, but using them in a song formula. That was how I used the tools he provided.
After going through this journey with this project, I’ve come to really believe that Jaco wasn’t about wanting people to do exactly what he did or to learn his songs. It was about being free, creatively, and using the tools he provided to compose in all styles of music. In that way, he was a huge inspiration.
In this brief, tantalizing trailer, Joni Mitchell, Bootsy Collins, Flea, Herbie Hancock, Jonas Hellborg, and Wayne Shorter offer insights into Jaco’s life, legacy, and creative genius.