Jazz has always been filled with tributes. Theme albums spotlighting the work of an individual have been around as long as recorded jazz itself. Festivals and gala concerts have paid homage to jazz musicians the world round. Even movies have been made in an attempt to honor the contribution of some of the giants of the jazz world. But the discs reviewed here break from the typical jazz tribute protocol in one very significant way: the man being paid tribute to here is not a jazz musician, at least not by profession. No, the honoree of the concert from which these two discs were compiled is Clint Eastwood. Clint Eastwood the actor, director, producer, and perhaps most importantly, jazz fan.
Eastwood After Hours is a two disc set taken from an October 1996 concert at Carnegie Hall to honor Clint Eastwood for all of the work he has done on behalf of the world of jazz. What work, you may ask? Well, in addition to directing the biographical movie Bird, Eastwood was also instrumental in raising the financing for another classic jazz film, the Lester Young tribute 'Round Midnight. Also, Eastwood served as the executive producer for the Thelonious Monk documentary Straight No Chaser. However, Eastwood's contributions to the jazz world go beyond his efforts in jazz oriented films. A fan of jazz from the age of 16, Eastwood has never forgotten the music he loves, and has quietly used it in most of his films. In fact, much of the credit for the rebirth in interest in Dinah Washington and Johnny Hartman can be attributed to Eastwood's prominent use of their music in his film adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County.
And so it is to this man that the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, along with several very esteemed and talented guests, gathered to paid homage with a concert, featuring music from several of Eastwood's projects. The results are spectacular. Directed by Gillespie protege Jon Faddis, The Carnegie Hall Jazz Band just might be the roaring Basie band to modern Lincoln Center's Ellingtonesque jazz orchestra. However, as great as the main band is in its namesake venue, the real star performances here are turned in by the guests.
Disc 1 opens with Kenny Barron and Barry Harris playing a piano duet of the classic Erroll Garner tune "Misty," and from there the program runs through a gamut of standards, each receiving wonderful treatments by this all-star band. The one and only Jimmy Scott tears your heart out, applying his unique vocal styling to "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," and Jay McShann leads a rousing romp through "Hootie's Blues." The Kyle Eastwood Quartet (Clint's son) lends a track, and Kevin Mahogany (see the review of Kevin's new album Another Time Another Place in this month's reviews) accompanies the full Carnegie Hall Band on "Satin Doll."
The second half of the first disc is subtitled "Eastwood - After Hour (Suite)" and is arranged and conducted by Clint's personal friend, Lennie Nichaus. Nichaus flows a few of Clint's own compositions together with a few songs from some of Eastwood's more famous projects to create a compositional montage of Eastwood's career highlights. As fitting a tribute as one could ask for, to my thinking. The band is in fine form, and the overwhelming tone of the playing is jubilant tempered with a respectful dourness that reflects so many of Eastwood's characters.
Disc 2 is more of the all-star jam that most tribute concerts inevitably turn into. Joshua Redman, T.S. Monk, Roy Hargrove, Charles McPherson, Christian McBride, James Carter, James Moody, and Kenny Washington all join in for some spirited versions of "'Round Midnight," "Cherokee," "Parker's Mood," and "Lester Leaps In." Particularly impressive is McPherson's alto work on "Cherokee" and Carter's seductively sweet tenor on Johnny Mercer's classic ballad "Laura." An extra treat is also included on the disc's closing number, " After Hours / C.E. Blues," where Eastwood himself addresses the crowd and plays piano with the band.
Overall, this package is a real treat. The liner notes are an education for those unfamiliar with Eastwood's long history with jazz, and some wonderful black & whites are included of the musicians back stage. The track listings go over who's playing what on each song, and also note which film project it was taken from. A quality product all around, this set is not only a fitting tribute to Eastwood, but outstanding entertainment for the jazz listener as well. Perhaps that is the most fitting tribute to Clint of all.
Kenny Barron, Barry Harris, Matt McGuire, Renee Rosnes, Clint Eastwood, - piano; Jimmy Scott, Jay McShann, Kevin Mahogany, Gary LeMel - vocal; Christian McBride, Kyle Eastwood, Peter Washington - bass; Kenny Washington, Kendall Kay, T.S. Monk Jr. - drums; Doug Webb, James Rivers, James Carter, Joshua Redman, Charles McPherson, James Moody, Flip Philips, Lennie Nichaus - saxophone; Jon Faddis, Roy Hargrove - trumpet; Dennis Wilson - trombone; Claude Williams - violin;
Record Label: Warner Bros.