Metallica's Robert Trujillo On Documentary Focusing On His Hero, Jaco Pastorius "People tried to call him just a jazz cat, but he was beyond that." Trujillo speaks with Michel Martin about a new documentary on the man sometimes called the Hendrix of the bass.
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Metallica's Robert Trujillo On His Hero, Jaco Pastorius

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Metallica's Robert Trujillo On His Hero, Jaco Pastorius

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally today, we want to tell you about a man they called the Jimi Hendrix of the bass. Jaco Pastorius took an instrument normally confined to the rhythm section and brought it out front. He's probably best known for his work with the band Weather Report in the 1970s, when he helped define the jazz-fusion sound. But by the 1980s, bipolar disorder would damage his relationships, both business and personal. A man who had filled stadiums ended up on the streets, homeless. Jaco Pastorius died violently at the age of 35, beaten into a coma as he tried to sneak into a rock club. A new documentary about his life just came out. It's called "Jaco," and the film's producer is someone who modeled his own playing after Jaco's. From the bands Suicidal Tendencies and Metallica, it's none other than Robert Trujillo.

ROBERT TRUJILLO: Jaco Pastorius, people try to call him just, like, a jazz cat, but he was beyond that. You know, he was rock 'n' roll, he was jazz, he was everything. He was funky. The guy was the funkiest bass player on the planet, I mean, hands down. To see a person take command of the stage and the audience, specifically a bass player, that was really exciting. He was doing backflips on stage - you know, that's hugely rock 'n' rollers. When I saw him at the Santa Monica Civic, he had put his bass on one side of the stage and he did a running start, he slid into his instrument like it was home plate, you know? And I had never seen anyone do that. I still haven't seen anyone do that.

MARTIN: I still haven't seen anybody do that - yeah, me neither. (Laughter).

TRUJILLO: Yeah, it was really great.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: A lot of people are interested in how an artist kind of comes into his own. And there's a great story in the film about Jaco finding his voice after the birth of his first child, Mary.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY FILM, "JACO")

GREGORY PASTORIUS: The day she was born, Jaco and I went to the hospital and we're looking at her through the glass. She's in there in a bassinet. Jaco looks at me and goes, Gregory, I got to do something on the electric bass that's never been done before.

(MUSIC)

TRUJILLO: Jaco Pastorius gave the bass a new voice. I mean, he was very inspired by singers like Frank Sinatra. And in a lot of ways, maybe he wanted to be a singer himself. With the fretless bass, you have a different tone and a different sound, a different dynamic to the instrument. So you can really make it sing. You know, he could actually, you know, make it sing better than probably anybody. I always say that when I first heard "Portrait Of Tracy," it really changed my life because I didn't know what kind of instrument it was.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACO PASTORIUS SONG, "PORTRAIT OF TRACY")

MARTIN: The other big break came when the group Weather Report took off. And that band had a couple of, you know, jazz giants and former Miles Davis sidemen. I know Wayne Shorter was one of them, and Joe Zawinul. When did the bipolar disorder begin to change things for him?

TRUJILLO: Well, I would say probably around Weather Report, you know. When you're bringing in the alcohol and whatever else was going on, you know, that doesn't usually sit well with people that have that condition. He wasn't, like, a drug-addict type of guy or anything. That wasn't what was going on here, you know? There was just not that awareness. And then at the same time, people tried to help, you know, and he was just such a determined individual that he didn't want help, you know?

MARTIN: You know, in the film, though, Wayne Shorter suggests that maybe his bipolar disorder was a part of his genius. And I know that that's a kind of a controversial thing - that's the kind of thing that a lot of people - families even - might argue about. As an artist yourself, what do you think about that?

TRUJILLO: Well, I mean, you know, some say that without that, maybe there would be either distractions or more sort of walls and barriers against what you will try to do. You know, a lot of times, whether it's in sports or art or music, it's the ones who people say, oh, that person's crazy - it's not that, it's the fact that they're the ones that are actually going for it. They're trying to do something new. And they're fearless, and Jaco was that, he was fearless, you know? If he wanted to learn something, he was determined. So he would go to the best to learn it. He would show up, you know, at someone's doorstep if he knew that they could teach him. And the next thing you know, he's staying with that person for a week or so, and he's learning from them and jamming and becoming better, becoming great. So putting yourself in those types of situations, you know, some would say that's a part of bipolar disorder or whatever, you know, maybe, maybe not. But I believe that you are more daring and more fearless sometimes with that.

MARTIN: Well, you talk about the fact that - the film - it is a wonderful film. It has some amazing interviews and some amazing footage. But it also is - it's deeply sad. Let me play one of the sad ones. One of his bandmates, Bobby Thomas, recounts a conversation in the film that they had when they were both pretty young. I'll just play that clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY FILM, "JACO")

BOBBY THOMAS: He starts crying. And I said, well, what's wrong? What's wrong, man? And he says, well, listen, I'm going to die when I turn 34. And I would like you to look after my babies, so I said you got it. You got it. Sometimes you see things you don't want to know, especially about yourself. And this was one of those times for Jaco.

MARTIN: And he did die young. I mean, he died on September 21, 1987. What happened?

TRUJILLO: Well, you know, Jaco was beaten to death. And what led up to that, just before that happened, we're not so sure. There's different accounts, so it's a bit of a mystery. But, you know, sometimes artists, you know, they die young and we don't know exactly why. And this is only my personal opinion on it and my take, I think that in life you have these special individuals, whether it's Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin, you know, or Kurt Cobain - you know, they're on this journey, they're on this Earth to change things, to make things incredible. And then they're not with us anymore, you know? And Jaco - not just recreated the instrument - I mean, he was so special and he was such a genius and a true talent. Sometimes it's just so much, there's just so much there. And I don't know why, but they can't stay with us. You know, it's just one of those things. And Jaco was a part of that legion, you know? He came from that mold.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACO PASTORIUS SONG, "PORTRAIT OF TRACY")

MARTIN: That's Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo. He's produced a new documentary about fellow bass player Jaco Pastorius. It's called "Jaco."

Robert Trujillo, thanks so much for speaking with us.

TRUJILLO: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACO PASTORIUS SONG, "PORTRAIT OF TRACY")

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