Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m jealous of Kyle Eastwood. It’s not because he’s an accomplished musician and composer with five discs to his name, and who’s written music for films like “Million Dollar Baby” and “Gran Torino.” And it’s not because he’s younger than me, or better looking than me, or lives part of the year in France. I’d been to France twice before I was seven years old; the “young” thing is happening more and more lately; and we’re talking about movie icon Clint Eastwood’s son and actress/singer/film director Alison Eastwood’s brother. To put it mildly, my genes don’t stand a chance!
Nope, I’m jealous of Kyle Eastwood because he grew up with the Monterey Jazz Festival basically in his backyard, just a few miles up the road from his boyhood home in Carmel, CA. For non-jazzheads, that’s like having Bonnaroo or Glastonbury happen in the town next to yours – every single year! To put it mildly, that thought just… BURNS! Even so, I overcame my personal issues and asked Eastwood for an interview, which he was kind enough to give me:
Q: People may not know this, but you come from a pretty musical family: Your father plays piano, and anyone who saw “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” knows your sister Alison is a singer. Is music something you gravitated to naturally, or was it something your father put in front of you and said, “Here, give this a try”?
A: Music was something that I gravitated to very naturally. There was always music around the house, particularly jazz. My mother and father both play, so I got interested at a young age.
Q: Was acting ever a possibility for you as a career, or was music always what you were going to do for a living?
A: I was never really bitten by the “acting bug,” as they say. I was – and still am – very interested in film, and I think I would have tried to be a director if I went into the film business. I didn’t really think about being a professional musician until I was 18 or 19 years old.
Q: Has it always been the bass for you, or did you start out on other instruments? Also, can you remember the first time you heard/saw a bass player and said, “Yeah, that’s what I want to play!”
A: I started out taking piano lessons when I was around six or seven, and then learned some guitar when I was 12 for the film ‘Honky Tonk Man.’ I was always interested in the rhythm section – the drums and bass – since I was young, and when I picked up the bass when I was 14, it came very naturally. I was hooked.
Q: For anyone who’s never experienced it, how would you describe the Monterey Jazz Festival?
A: It’s really a great festival. It is still held at the Monterey fair grounds, where it has been since it started in 1958. It is a beautiful setting, the main stage holds just under 2,000. The audiences are big jazz lovers, there to hear great music.
Q: Who’s the biggest legend you talked to backstage at Monterey, and how old were you at the time?
A: I briefly met Count Basie the first time my father took me around ’76 or ’77. I was about eight or nine. I also met Sarah Vaughn and Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie.
Q: You’ve both recorded and lived in France – in fact, your latest disc “Songs from the Chateau” was recorded in a 15th-century chateau in Bordeaux country. When were you first exposed to France, and what made you decide to live there?
A: I first came to Paris in the mid ’70s with my parents. I started to visit more often and play in France in the late ’90s. In 2002, I decided to move there for work, and put my daughter in school in Paris.
Q: It’s an old saw that jazz gets more love in Europe than it does in the United States. Do you find that’s the case?
A: I find that people in general – in France and Europe, as well – are open to many styles of music. When you see someone’s collection of music in France, they have a very wide spectrum of musical styles, from jazz to pop and rock, to reggae and African and Middle Eastern music.
Q: Talk a little about “Songs from the Chateau.” Which came first: The songs, or the chateau?
A: I started writing the music for the album with my band early last year before our spring and summer tour in Europe. We started to work the tunes into the set, so the arrangements got pretty tight. I decided to record in a place that was a little less ‘clinical’ than the typical recording studio. A friend of mine has this beautiful vineyard and chateau in the Bordeaux wine country, with a nice sized living room which we set up and recorded in. We just played as if we were doing a gig, and that’s what you hear on the album.
Q: Everything I’ve ever read about your father’s directing style mentions the relaxed atmosphere he fosters on his sets. Is that something you take a cue from when you record?
A: Most definitely. That’s why I chose to record in the chateau. I wanted to go somewhere where we would all be relaxed and we could move in and stay for a few days.
Q: You’ve been writing and arranging music for films since 2003. What’s the difference between writing for films and writing for your own recordings? Does the film itself inspire you, or is it like a contracting thing – i.e. the director says, “Okay, I need this, this, and this…”
A: They are two very different things. You have a lot more freedom when you are writing and recording your own music, particularly jazz, which is the point. When writing film music, the director usually has an idea about what he wants, but you have to be inspired by the film. Usually I pick the key moments or characters that need music (and) start from there.
Jazz at the Lake happens this weekend at Shepard Park in Lake George, and Kyle Eastwood and his band play the closing set on Sunday afternoon. Nippertown will provide wall-to-wall coverage (or, more accurately, tree-to-tree coverage) of the festival, so I’ll definitely be there. I’ll be easy to find: Just look for the guy in the Hawaiian shirt who’s turning a deep shade of green.
Story by J Hunter