Cotswold Character: Kyle Eastwood
Jazz bassist Kyle Eastwood doesn't mind being asked about his famous father; but he'd rather you asked about his music. Katie Jarvis spoke to him ahead of his appearance at Cheltenham Jazz Festival
“Would you be prepared to go to Paris to interview Kyle Eastwood?” I’m asked.
Errm... Well, it’s a hardship, but I’m willing to make that sacrifice, yes.
“Actually,” I’m told a few days later, “he’ll be in Japan.” (Sadly, no request for me to jet off to Tokyo: one of a whole range of sacrifices I’d equally have been prepared to make.) “You can do a phone interview.”
And finally, “He’s now going to be in Hawaii. You can call him on Friday at 9pm UK time, 11am local.”
Who is this guy who makes the Scarlet Pimpernel look like a couch potato? Well, if my phone conversation is anything to go by, he’s a soft-spoken, laid-back musician, who makes as little capital as possible out of the fact that he’s the son of one of the most talented actor/directors to have graced our screens.
He doesn’t even bridle when the inevitable famous-dad question surfaces. So let’s get it out of the way. “It’s a big shadow, obviously, to try and come out from under,” he says, (with such courteous consideration, I’m half-tempted to believe he’s never been asked about his stellar relation before). “But I try not to really worry about all of that. If anybody was ever sceptical, usually once they heard me play, that was dispelled. I just get on and make music the best I can.”
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You don’t get invited to Japan and Europe on the basis of the fact that your dad made Gran Torino. You get invited because your music is so mellow, you couldn’t get stressed to it if you tried. With a traditional jazz warp, he weaves through wefts of funk, R&B and soul to create a tapestry that can be invigorating, swinging, funky and haunting – sometimes all at the same time. His appearance at this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival comes in the middle of a tour that will see Kyle and his band in Tokyo’s Cotton Club – a homage to the legendary Harlem nightclub of the ‘20s and ‘30s – and Ronnie Scott’s in Soho, as well as festivals in Spain, France, Germany and Holland. Along the way, they’ll be promoting their new CD, out this month.
“Yeah, it can be hard work but it’s fun, too” he says. “We get to play in places like The Blue Note in Tokyo, which is one of the nicest clubs we’ve ever played in – amazing-sounding room, and they treat you like royalty. You get spoiled, actually, when you play there for four or five nights.
“It’s kind of the adrenaline when you get up on stage that keeps you going. You can be dog-tired and you get up to do it - and suddenly you get a second wind, third wind or fourth wind. If you’ve got a lot of one-nighters, you try and rest a bit and not stay up too late but sometimes it’s hard when you come off stage and try to go off to sleep straight away.”
It’s not surprising Cheltenham is on his list. This year’s guest director is Jamie Cullum who, along with his musician-brother Ben, is both a friend and sometime colleague. “I met Jamie initially I guess it was when I was living in London, five or six years ago. I think he was just playing a little private gig somewhere. I’d heard of him and he’d actually just done his first record for the label I’m on – Candid Records. We became friends and, through him, I met Ben and we started doing some writing together.”
Are the brothers very different characters?
“They’re both really talented musicians. Obviously, Jamie’s a little more an outgoing sort of stage-performer musician, whereas Ben likes to work in the studio.”
Kyle last played at Cheltenham in 2007, when he and his band electrified The Daffodil. In the intimacy of such a venue, it’s easy to see the likeness between father and son: those same Clint good looks, but softened around the edges. Clint, of course, is also a composer and serious jazz fan. “He has always been a big music aficionado and plays himself a bit,” Kyle says. “I think in his 20s, if you’d asked him what he wanted to do, he probably would have told you he wanted to be a pianist before he stumbled into doing acting.”
Thanks to his parents’ love of jazz, Kyle has been listening to it “since before I can remember”. He grew up in Carmel, a small coastal town in Monterey County, California, where Clint was mayor for two years in the 1980s. It was at the famous Monterey Jazz Festival that he bumped into some of the greats. “My father obviously knew a lot of musicians from following them and listening to them for years. I remember meeting Count Basie and some of the members of his band, as well as Stan Getz. I was pretty young so it sort of became more apparent to me how completely influential they were when I was in my teens and my 20s. I was about nine the first time I went.”
It’s an unusual sound for a young boy to fall in love with...
“I got into a lot of different kinds of music, but the very first concert I remember going to was Count Basie big band. It was the first time I’d ever really seen a live concert; you’re standing by the side of the stage and that was a pretty swinging, pretty powerful big band at the time – or any time. I just remember being impressed by the sheer swing and power of them – 20 musicians. I was particularly attracted by the drums.”
His father taught him some simple piano tunes – an early memory is of Clint showing him the left-hand bass line of Boogie-woogie while he played the right hand solo over the top -
and started proper music lessons at the age of 10. “I learned some guitar for a film I did with my father [Honky Tonk Man]; and when I was 13 or 14, I started playing bass.”
There’s no doubt that having a famous father helped him meet those influential musicians; but despite growing up in one of California’s more affluent areas, he enjoyed a low-key family life.
“Carmel is a pretty small town and definitely not in the Hollywood limelight or anything like that. I’m glad. My parents kept my sister and I away from that whole thing: I went to a really small school. In Carmel and around Pebble Beach, everybody knows everybody or knows somebody who knows everybody. It was not like growing up in Los Angeles.”
He started off considering film directing as a career option and enrolled in the University of Southern California; but during his two years’ study, he was drawn more and more to music. He took a year off to pursue playing and never went back. Since then, however, the two have come together at various times: he’s composed, performed and arranged music for various film scores, including Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino and Invictus.
It’s a career that’s taken him all over the place, with stints living in London and New York. When his daughter, Graylen, started school in Paris, that’s where he moved, too. She’s now back finishing high school in New York, but the love affair with the French capital continues. It’s convenient – his band members all live in England – “And it’s a great city, you know. It’s big but it doesn’t have the same hustle-bustle feel of London or New York.”
His new album, which follows the highly-acclaimed Metropolitain of 2009, was recorded last year in Bordeaux. “We’d just finished the summer tour and we went down to a friend of a friend of mine, who has a working vineyard-chateau in Bordeaux. He and his family were off on vacation for a few weeks so he let us move into this 500-year-old house and set up in the living room. We recorded the album over three days and three nights there.
“It features songs I wrote or co-wrote with the band members so it’s a collective effort. It’s very ‘live’; we did a couple of takes or two of each track and recorded it live as we played it in this chateau.”
Right now, he’s in another glamorous location – Hawaii – taking a few days off, in the company of his mother (the model Maggie Johnson), his sister (the actress, model and fashion designer Alison Eastwood) and some friends, before the frenetic days of touring begin.
“In a few minutes, I’ll be in the ocean,” he laughs, sounding as mellow as the music that has made his name.
The Kyle Eastwood Band will be appearing in the J6 Jazz Arena at Cheltenham Jazz Festival from 6-7.15pm on April 29, price �13. For more information, visit cheltenhamfestivals.com