Ironically, it was the height of Jaco Pastorius‘s success that brought out his worst demons. He had problems with drugs and alcohol, problems with his marriages, business problems, and the pressures of fame. It all took its toll on him.
The documentary spent a lot of time focusing on his technique and how it developed. His use of harmonics, fretless techniques, etc. were all things that Jaco used and redefined in unprecedented ways. But much of it focused on his downward spiral. The producers approached this with sensitivity, yet without the attempt to whitewash anything. Within the tragedy and pathos of the last years of his life, there were, however, moments of light.
Bass iconoclast Jaco Pastorius (seen here in 1986) is the subject of a new documentary produced by Metallica’s Robert Trujillo.
Legendary musicians like Jaco Pastorius are the stuff of which documentary makers dream. He was an unparalleled musical genius, innovator, outgoing public figure, and, sadly, self destructive tragic figure. Netflix recently released the eponymously titled documentary, produced by Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo.
The film opens with abstract visuals depicting jazz imagery to the subconscious mind, a swinging jazz piece in the background, and clips of a variety of people talking about what a bad cat Jaco was.
Much of this centered around his memories of his wife Francis. His drug use (both recreational and prescribed by doctors) caused him to drive her away, and sent his marriage into ruins. There were two scenes that were telling. The first was after he was beaten by the police in front of a club he was playing, after returning home, he tells Taylor to stop dancing. She is outraged by this, but eventually does so, to her eventual regret. This would seem to have been the beginning of the end of their marriage. But there was a hint at the catastrophe to come earlier in the story, after Davis and Taylor made love. She gets out of bed and, in post-coital ecstasy, begins to dance. Davis watches her a moment, then gets up, goes to the other room, picks up his trumpet and begins to play. The surface interpretation of this is that her dancing inspired this piece of music. But it’s possible that his gesture was a desire to escape any aspect of her that wasn’t focused on him. He couldn’t handle Taylor having or being something on her own.
In the end, while Davis clearly had no fear of man or beast, it was the fear of the uncomfortable truths about himself that drove him into darkness.
But the story has a happy ending. Expect no spoilers here. Suffice it to say that he emerges from his Dark Night of the Soul into a new inner and outer realm of both renewed musical genius, and something resembling inner peace.
Don Cheadle took upon himself a Herculean task of directing and starring in a biopic based on one of the most iconic figures in American music: Miles Davis. He co-wrote the script with Steven Baigelman, Stephen J. Rivele, and Christopher Wilkinson. The film also stars Emayatzy Corinealdi (as Francis Taylor), Evan McGregor (as Dave Brill), Michael Stuhlbarg (as Harper Hamilton), and Keith Stanfield (as Junior). Music composed by: Robert Glasper. The film takes its title from Davis’ 1957 album of the same name.