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Kyle Eastwood: Movies, Motown & Monterey

Bruce Lindsay By

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Bassist/composer Kyle Eastwood can whistle. It's a talent to which few musicians lay claim, but it's one which he puts to good use on his version of Bob Haggart's "Big Noise (From Winnetka)," a tune that serves as a popular encore to his live set. The fact that Eastwood whistles in concert says much about the man and his approach to jazz—slightly self-effacing, good-natured, with a quiet confidence in his own talent and an awareness of the importance of emotion in the making of great music. All of that translates into the creation of some beautifully melodic compositions, and the delivery of great concert performances.

Now in his early forties, Eastwood has over 20 years experience as a professional musician, with five albums as leader. Eastwood and his band are touring Songs From The Chateau (Candid Records, 2011) for most of 2011. The North American dates will be in September, but most of the early dates have been in Europe. In mid-May, Eastwood played a sellout gig at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, where this interview took place after the soundcheck, sitting in the warm evening sunshine outside the stage entrance to Norwich Playhouse.

As a member of a major Hollywood family it might have seemed logical that Eastwood would follow in his father Clint's footsteps and plan for a career in the movies. Indeed, that's initially how it was as Eastwood entered film school at the University of Southern California. But that particular period of study proved to be short-lived. As Eastwood explained, "I was doing more and more music so I decided after my first year to take a year off and concentrate on the music. I was starting to play gigs with a fusion band around Los Angeles, starting to write music of my own, so I thought I would take a bit of time out—and I never went back to film school." Eastwood not only didn't returned to film school, he never went back to formal study of any sort. "I did music at school, did piano lessons with private teachers, but never that formally" he says.

While he never immersed himself in a formal musical education, his informal education had started at a young age. Eastwood's early exposure to jazz, courtesy of his jazz enthusiast father, is well-documented. As a small child he would sit on his father's lap and play bass patterns on the piano while Clint played the melodies. Soon after, family trips to the Monterey Jazz Festival gave the young Eastwood his first experiences of live performance, often from major jazz legends. He would also go backstage with his father, gaining direct access to some of these giants of jazz: but was he excited about meeting these legendary figures, or did he simply see them as "Dad's friends"?

"My first trip was in '76 or '77, when I was seven or eight years old," Eastwood recalls. "I was probably the only kid around the place at night. But I do remember getting excited about it: it was cool to be brought along to somewhere that you wouldn't usually go along to as a kid. Some of the musicians I knew from seeing their records around my parents' house, some of them I didn't know but later I'd come to realize how important they were. I think the first band I remember seeing at Monterey was the Count Basie Orchestra—Basie was still playing. That was probably the first live music show I ever went to as well. It was a pretty amazing, powerful, big band. I remember being pretty impressed by that."

By his late teens, Eastwood was playing bass in covers bands that featured Led Zeppelin and Motown songs. So were Zeppelin's John Paul Jones and Motown's James Jamerson big influences on his style? Eastwood is emphatic: "Oh, definitely. That was the first stuff I played on bass. I'd played piano for a couple of years then I borrowed an electric bass and started to play around on it. I figured things out by listening to records and taught myself."

What makes the bass so attractive? "I don't know. I liked messing around on lots of instruments but when I picked up a bass guitar it just felt natural." The double-bass came later, after a year or two of work with the bass guitar: "I started to learn more seriously, began the upright bass and took lessons again. Proper classes, proper teaching." The move to double bass meant that jazz players became influences on Eastwood's approach. "Lots of them, but especially Ray Brown, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Dave Holland."

After film school Eastwood went on the road as a working musician. "I was playing around LA, working in a couple of different bands. I also did some film session work, playing in the bass section. Then two or three years before the debut album I put together my first jazz quartet. We were LA-based but played a little around the US. That was the band on the first album."

His debut, From There To Here (Sony), didn't appear until 1998, ten years after he turned professional. What influenced Eastwood's decision to make that first record? "We'd written some interesting things so we went into the studio and recorded—originals and standards. We got a tape together and took it around, and that's how it happened."

Chapter Index
  1. Working in Europe
  2. Music and Movies

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