Metallica's Robert Trujillo Honors a Bass Legend with Jaco: The Film

Poster for Jaco: The Film
Poster for Jaco: The Film
Courtesy of the Grammy Museum

The name Jaco Pastorius looms large in the brief history of the electric bass. In just a few years, the wild child musician showed the limitless potential for the instrument with his fleet-fingered technique and insatiable appetite for boundary-busting experimentation. He was also an emotional firecracker who died at the age of 35 in a tragic and unlikely way.

Twenty-eight years after his death, Metallica bassist turned film producer Robert Trujillo is putting the finishing touches on a five year long project called Jaco: The Film.

The modest and engaging Trujillo served as the thrashing low-end for Suicidal Tendencies, Ozzy Osbourne and his own Infectious Grooves before taking on one of the most lucrative heavy metal bass gigs ever with Metallica. Growing up in Venice Beach, he listened to everything that came his way, from Motown to Black Sabbath, but found something to emulate in the sounds and style of Pastorius.

“I went to jazz school. Not to say I’m a great jazz musician, but I studied under some great teachers. It was an important part of my life.” Trujillo says by phone.

He attended the famed Dick Grove School of Music, a 20-year experiment in music education that aimed to produce musicians who could support themselves professionally, not just shine in the spotlight. He saw Pastorius perform with Weather Report at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1979 and was forever changed.

“You take a look at that crowd," he recalls. "That was a mixed group of people — my surfer buddies, jazz conservatives, skaters.”

Pastorius had a slight build and looked like a Telegraph Avenue incense dealer, in headbands and long hair. His thumb of steel had an unmatched dexterity. His 1976 debut solo album featured a congas-and-bass excursion on one of bebop master Charlie Parker’s most complicated melodies, “Donna Lee,” followed immediately by a guest appearance from Stax mainstays Sam and Dave.

He worked extensively with Joni Mitchell and Weather Report in the late '70s before his bipolar disorder overcame him. When he died after an altercation with a bouncer in Florida in 1987, his erratic behavior had already cost him most of his livelihood.

Trujillo and directors Stephen Kijak and Paul Marchand have been working on this passion project for half a decade, in between their higher-profile, paying gigs. “Every year we thought we were done and then a new treasure would come up, whether it was a box of cassettes with interviews, or Sony Music would find photographs from Jaco’s first session. Then we’d have to re-edit,” says Trujillo.

Those roadblocks were also blessings, because they meant added participation from luminaries like Mitchell. The final product will also boast interviews from an all-star team of bass players: Flea, Sting, Bootsy Collins, Jerry Jemmott and Geddy Lee.

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“When you are trying to do it right,“ Trujillo says of filmmaking, “it’s costly. I’ve been a part of this film for five years. I’ve spent a huge chunk of money. It’s great because I feel it needs to be done, but I have [other] responsibilities, too."

Of his financial commitment to the project, Trujillo adds, "People don’t understand. I didn’t write ‘Enter Sandman.’ It’s a little different for me.”

Trujillo will be screening and discussing a “work-in-progress” version of Jaco: The Film tonight at the Grammy Museum. Tickets and more info available at www.grammymuseum.org.


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