Metallica’s Robert Trujillo eager to spread ‘Jaco’ love

from USA TODAY:

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. — After years of working on a documentary about the late jazz bass player Jaco Pastorius, Robert Trujillo felt he’d hit a wall.

Although the Metallica bassist was driven to complete his self-funded cinematic tribute, he felt the project didn’t have its narrative center. Then last January, Trujillo was at Clive Davis’ Pre-Grammy Gala and bumped into Joni Mitchell, whose deep collaboration with Pastorius is showcased on 1980’s Shadows and Light.

“We got to talking about music, and eventually she agreed to appear in the film,” says Trujillo, sitting on a couch at Metallica’s Bay Area headquarters. “That changed everything.”

Mitchell’s intimate interviews anchor Jaco, which debuts Oct. 6 in conjunction with the Mill Valley Film Festival. This year, the non-jury festival will celebrate the work of invitees Jason Reitman, Laura Dern and Hilary Swank, as well as feature a tribute to Robin Williams.

After the screening there will be a benefit concert — for the California Film Institute — at the Sweetwater Music Hall, co-owned by the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir. Tickets are $150; the concert features Trujillo, his Metallica bandmate Kirk Hammett, Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction and Mary and David Pastorius (Jaco’s daughter and nephew).

Trujillo says he expects final edits on Jaco to be completed “in time to get the film in other festivals, like Berlin and South By Southwest.” He says he’s in discussions with a few distributors for a spring 2015 theatrical release.

Some 75 musicians agreed to speak for the documentary (“I quickly found out, everyone has a Jaco story,” says Trujillo), including fellow bass players Sting, Flea, Bootsy Collins and Jerry Jemmott, as well as jazz greats Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

Most pivotal were Mitchell’s soulful explorations of the talented bass player, whose speed, inventiveness and mastery of harmonics blended into a distinct sound that instantly gave his bass lead-instrument status. But Pastorius also was troubled. His bipolar disorder left him emotionally distant and contributed to his substance abuse. Pastorius died at 35 after an altercation in a Florida bar in 1987.

“Joni gave us the plot points we needed,” says Jaco director and editor Paul Marchand (Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary, Good Hair). “Most of those center around Jaco’s motivations, which largely were a mystery. But Joni’s very spiritual inputs were key. Ultimately, the movie started to be about the nature and fragility of genius.”

Trujillo says he’s “learned a lot about bipolar disease through making this movie. You see that creative people can sometimes be out there, and that you need to be more patient with them sometimes.”

It might seem strange that the bass player for Metallica adores a man best known for his jazz fusion work in Weather Report. But Trujillo says Pastorius — the man and his music — defied compartmentalization.

“Here was this guy we kept hearing about with one name, four letters,” he says. “For us, Jaco and Jimi (Hendrix) were the twin towers of bass and guitar. When I saw him (in concert) in 1979, he had no shirt and long hair. So in many ways he was just like me and my wild surfing and skateboarding friends from Venice Beach. He was punk.”

Trujillo never spoke with Pastorius, but still vividly remembers seeing the legend perform in the mid-80s at a small guitar show in Los Angeles.

“The walls were shaking, we thought it was an earthquake,” he says. “Jaco looked at all of us but didn’t say a word, he just shredded. As if to say, ‘I’ve got you in the palm of my hand.’ ”

Trujillo says this is likely it for him when it comes to movie producing projects.

“This isn’t about Robert Trujillo of Metallica trying to put a spotlight on himself, it’s about Robert Trujillo the man trying to bring more awareness to Jaco Pastorius and his gifts,” he says. “I did this from the heart.”