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Clint Eastwood Make's His Day Keeping Jazz Alive!


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Last week, I happened to view for the 20th time the film “Bird." In case you have yet to see this film, it is a brief biography about one of the most prolific jazz musicians in history, Charles “Yardbird" Parker, aka “Bird." Parker's life was one of ups and downs, so I imagine it was difficult to capture it all on film. However, credit should be given to the one and only “Dirty Harry" or as he's sometimes known as Clint Eastwood, movie star, film producer, film director, and sometimes jazz musician. This column will focus on Eastwood's contribution to the survival of jazz music. If we, who are involved with jazz had more enthusiasts like Eastwood, jazz music would most likely be either ahead of or running neck and neck with that of other music; i.e. smooth jazz and hip hop. Unfortunately, jazz is running a close third place behind those two other genres of music. Fortunately, Eastwood's reputation as an actor and Oscar- winning director and producer has allowed him to demonstrate his commitment to the music by using the many various resources at his disposal.

Eastwood produced and directed the film biography of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker in the movie “Bird." However, when production of another jazz film was halted because of a lack of funding, little is known about Eastwood coming to the financial aid of the film “Straight No Chaser," a documentary about jazz icon pianist Thelonious Monk. Eastwood was instrumental in obtaining an investor who stepped in with funds to finish the project. There have been other works featuring jazz in films that have been saved by Eastwood, including “Tony Bennett: The Music Never Ends."

You can't help but wonder how someone with Eastwood's movie, directing and producing talents became involved with jazz. Having been raised in Oakland, Calif., Eastwood was introduced to the music scene early in life. As a youngster, he was exposed to Dixieland jazz and traditional jazz. When “Bebop" first began to come into the light, Eastwood had the opportunity to see jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie with a big band in San Francisco. He says that this was when he was drawn into the whole improvisational element. Eastwood's musical education continued with his interest in the “Blues." At the time, there was a lot of blues being played around Oakland, and Eastwood listened to his fair share. There were blues musicians like Ivory Joe Hunter, Joe Houston, Wynonie Harris, and Louis Jordan. Sometime, in 1946, Eastwood attended one of the Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts to listen to tenor saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Flip Phillips. To his pleasant surprise Charlie Parker was also on the bill and played as only he could play. Eastwood says that at the time he did not understand what Parker was playing but became interested in finding out.

As Eastwood musically matured, he began to delve deeper and deeper into the sound world of jazz and became a regular at the popular San Francisco jazz club the Blackhawk. It was there that he started listening to baritone saxophone player Gerry Mulligan and jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, pianist Dave Brubeck and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. Then, in the early 1950s while in the military service and stationed at Fort Ord, Calif., Eastwood got to meet jazz musicians who were also stationed there, such as pianist Andre Previn and alto saxophone player Lennie Niehaus. In 1958, Eastwood was able to attend his first Monterey Jazz Festival.

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