There’s something I feel the need to get off my chest: I’m not really qualified not review a movie about music or musicians. Sure, I love music just like anyone, and I have the most profound respect for anyone who can make it, but I don’t play, nor have studied, nor do I completely understand it. In fact, though I knew of Jaco Pastorious’s reputation as “the greatest bass player who ever lived,” I hadn’t heard any of his music until I watched this biographical documentary about him. But, maybe that’s what proves how good JACO is; because, though I don’t really understand the music, I was compelled by the story of the man. It’s a well told story, a tragedy really, of conviction, perseverance, and the sad fact that skill, talent, and genius don’t always breed success.
The doc traces Pastorius’s life as the son of singer Jack Pastorius, as a member of the acclaimed jazz fusion band Weather Report; his collaborations with a diverse swath of artists (from Herbie Hancock to Joni Mitchell); his struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, and bipolar disorder; and, his untimely death at the age of 35. Interviews with various musicians, including well regarded bass players including Sting, Bootsy Collins, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Robert Trujillo of Metallica (who also serves as one of JACO‘s producers) play throughout, and help the viewer unlearned in the ways of jazz bass playing (read: me) understand the reverence people had, and still have for the man. One of my favorite little anecdotes to come out of these interviews is about how some bass players would break their thumbs so they could bend them back as far as Jaco could.
Interestingly, one of the themes covered in JACO was also explored in some of the panels I attended: artists want or need validation for their work. Pastorius often sought approval from jazz keyboardist and Weather Report leader, Joe Zawinul. It was actually heartbreaking to learn that Zawinul (apparently a musical father-figure to Jaco), was often dismissive of Jaco’s work – particularly one of his innovative solo albums.
So, bass player or enthusiast or not, jazz player or enthusiast or not, music player or enthusiast or not, JACO likely has something you’ll enjoy.