Kyle Eastwood, a hard-swinging bassist and gifted jazz and film score composer, continues to carve a brilliant career all his own, an ongoing success story that makes the day for his proud father, the legendary Hollywood actor/director, Clint Eastwood.
In his first appearance ever in Connecticut, Eastwood launches his U.S. tour to promote his fine new album, Time Pieces (Jazz Village), by leading his quintet in back-to-back evening appearances on Friday, March 27, and Saturday, March 28, at the popular Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme.
Since his debut album as a leader 17 years ago, the now 46-year-old Los Angeles native has established a name for himself from Europe, where he’s been based in Paris for almost nine years, to the States, where he returns for a few months every year to visit his parents, play jazz or work on film scores.
Unlike some frustrated offspring of universally famous artist/parents, Eastwood has found an expressive voice as a transatlantic jazz instrumentalist, composer, arranger, and bandleader. His music, for all its openness to everything from world music to contemporary pop influences, is deeply rooted in groove, beautiful melodies and sophisticated harmonies. Among his hallmarks, he leads quintets with a signature sound and a knack for soloing strength as well collective collaboration. As co-creators, he and his band mates continuously hone and fine-tune the quintet's material so that pieces continuously evolve from rehearsals to studio sessions.
Unavoidably, Eastwood’s celebrated surname resonates with an aura virtually everywhere in the global village. Interviewers inevitably ask him about whether having such a world-renowned dad is a double-edged sword when trying to establish his own identity as an artist.
Double-edged sword is a misleadingly violent sounding metaphor, particularly when you consider that both Eastwood’s father and his mother (Maggie Johnson whom Clint divorced when Kyle was ten) have always been loving, supportive parents.
Both are also jazz-loving pianists, and, in fact, are the very ones who, perhaps both genetically and environmentally, may well have set their musically talented son down the path to a lifetime commitment to jazz. Jazz won out rather than, say, acting or even directing, which Eastwood did study for a year as a student at the University of Southern California.
“Obviously, the Eastwood name draws attention sometimes. It has its drawbacks and its advantages,” he said of having a superstar dad. “I try to just focus on the music, and doing what I do, and not worry about that kind of stuff very much.”
Because he’s confident of his own skill and accomplishments, both as a jazz musician and as a highly regarded composer of film scores, Eastwood takes the whole “what’s in a name?” issue in stride in a calm, low-key manner. It’s just something, he feels, he often has to deal with before getting to talk about his real passion, which is creating music, whether in the studio or, best of all, when playing live and interacting with others, a time, he said, when “real magic happens.”
“When you’re related to someone who’s that well-known,” he said, “people are interested and questions will be asked. I understand that. I’m very proud of my father and what he’s accomplished. He’s had an amazing career, and deserves all the praise and accolades.”
A working piano player before he became a screen star, Clint Eastwood is one of Hollywood’s biggest jazz lovers and supporters. A great friend of the music, he was, of course, the director of one of the most widely known of all jazz bio-pics, "Bird", a dark yet deeply serious, sensitive portrait of the self-destructive bebop genius, Charlie Parker.
“I think if you had asked my father what he wanted to be before he was 20, he would have told you he wanted to be a jazz pianist,” Eastwood said of his father. Eastwood’s mother also played piano at home and loved jazz, and his maternal grandmother was a music teacher.
Not surprisingly, the Eastwood home in California’s Carmel-by-the-Sea was filled with the sound of recordings by such titans as Bird and Diz, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, and Count Basie. “When I was about nine or ten, my parents started taking me every year to the Monterey Jazz Festival, which is the first live music I remember going to hear,” Eastwood said. Backstage, young Eastwood got to actually meet some of the gods he’d been hearing and revering since early childhood: Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughan, and Dave Brubeck.
“I took piano lessons when I was seven or eight,” Eastwood said. “I picked up the guitar a little. ...Later, I picked up the bass. I had lots of friends in high school who were musicians, and they were always looking for a bass player when they’d get together and jam. ...It was mostly R&B stuff, Motown and Motown’s James Jamerson. Then as I started to get more serious about it, I began really studying and analyzing Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, of course, and then Ron Carter, Israel Crosby, Oscar Pettiford and all those guys,” he said.
You might think that with Eastwood's early acting experiences as a child and, later, his time as a young adult at USC, that acting or directing might have become his chosen field. “At USC I was more interested in directing than acting,” he said. “I was starting to get really serious about music. I just kind of took a year off from school and pursued playing jazz around Los Angeles. That was 28 years or so ago.”
While he left acting and any ideas about directing behind him, he has over the years enjoyed a successful parallel career as a film score composer. His screen credits include composing for his father’s Oscar-nominated films, “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby,” and “Letters from Iwo Jima." Just before going on the road to promote Time Pieces, Eastwood was in California composing a score for a new film by his sister, the filmmaker Alison Eastwood, writing, visiting and “soaking up some sun” before coming East to launch his U.S. tour in Old Lyme at The Side Door.
When Eastwood converted to jazz years ago, he found that, as always, his parents totally supported his choice. “They said, ‘If that’s what you really love and as long as you’re serious about it, we’re happy that you found something that you love to do.’ Actually, I think they would have been supportive of me no matter what I wanted to do,” he said.
On Time Pieces, Eastwood pays tribute to the classic modern jazz of the 1950s and ‘60s, the inspirational sounds of Art Blakey and Miles Davis, and other master cookers of the period. Not surprisingly, selections on Time Pieces include Eastwood’s hip homages to such early heroes as Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter, along with a celebration of his unstinting love for the deep, soulful, innovative spirit embodied by the Blue Note Records label of that era. Eastwood features his regular European contingent on the album: saxophonist Brandon Allen, pianist Andrew McCormack, trumpeter/flugelhornist Quentin Collins, and Cuban-born drummer Ernesto Simpson.
For the U.S. tour, Eastwood leads his working quintet in America: saxophonist Jason Rigby, trumpeter Alex Norris, pianist Rick Germanson, and drummer Joe Strasser. They’ll tap into material from his diverse earlier recordings as well as from groove-oriented and atmospheric selections from Time Pieces. These could range from the new CD’s imaginative covers of Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance” and Horace Silver’s “Blowin’ the Blues Away,” to such originals as the soulful “Peace of Silver” (a tribute to Silver who died while Eastwood was recording Time Pieces) and the elegantly elegiac “Letters from Iwo Jima,” a theme from the award-winning score that he co-wrote with his musical partner, Michael Stevens. Downbeat time for both shows on March 27 and March 28 is 8:30 pm. Tickets: $45.00. Information: thesidedoorjazz.com and (860) 434-0886.
Alexa’s A-List Ode to Heroes
Born in New York City, raised in Croatia and now making a splash Stateside, the young singer/songwriter Thana Alexa pays tribute to the heroes of her personal life and her musical life in her debut solo disc, Ode to Heroes (Jazz Village), a showcase for her diva-like dexterity and skills as a melodic song-maker and lyricist. With her horn-like style on straight lyrics and wordless passages, she embraces jazz seasoned with elements of pop, Latin and rock throughout her memoir-like CD, which, she said, recounts her path to artistic self-discovery.
Alexa, who returned to the States when she was 18, celebrates her new CD in Connecticut as she performs at 8:30 pm on Friday, March 20, at The Side Door Jazz Club, Old Lyme. Her backup band features special guest drummer Antonio Sanchez, who performed on and co-produced her new CD. Along with original takes inspired by classic pieces by her jazz heroes, Wayne Shorter, Charles Mingus and Paul Desmond. Alexa, who holds degrees in both jazz performance and psychology, contributes eight original compositions and amply displays her craft as a lyricist. Tickets: $28.50. See Side Door information above.
Celebrating the Cutting-Edge
If you’re keen on cutting-edge jazz, you’ve got well-honed, back-to-back servings coming up as Hartford’s Real Art Ways presents its Improvisations series at 7:00 pm on Sunday, March 22, and New Haven’s Uncertainty Music Series unfolds its next bold chapter at 8:00 pm on Monday, March 23, at Never Ending Books.
At RAW, the performing curators and creators of Improvisations, guitarist/bassist Joe Morris and cornetist Stephen Haynes, are joined in their ongoing celebration of free music by the noted, 75-year-old multi-instrumentalist/composer and theoretician, Joe McPhee. A venerable figure of the avant-garde, the iconoclastic, septuagenarian reed master has made more than 100 recordings, tours internationally and, after a half-century of strenuously creative subversion, still relentlessly pushes music to its outer limits. Admission: $15.00, general; $12.00, RAW members; $5.00 students. Information: realartways.org and (860) 232-1006.
Uncertainty Reigns at Never Ending Books
On the next night in the Elm City, composer Carl Testa's Uncertainty Music Series presents a concert featuring Jack Wright, saxophone; Michael Evans, percussion/electronics; Zach Darrup, guitar; and Matt Ingalls, clarinet. A composer, concert producer and computer music programmer, Ingalls is most active as a clarinetist, specializing in contemporary and experimental music. A prominent figure in the San Francisco Bay Area improv scene, he also has a good sense of humor, bragging facetiously, for example, on his website that he was once “reviled for his ‘shapeless sonic tinkering’ by the Los Angeles Times.” Suggested donation: $10.00. Information: uncertaintymusic.com.
Please submit press releases on upcoming jazz events at least two weeks before the publication date to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments left below are also most welcome.