Kyle Eastwood Is a Bassist in Search of His Own Groove
Son of famed filmmaker is making it on his own terms
At age 43, double bassist Kyle Eastwood has a foot firmly planted in each of two worlds: jazz performance and film composition. He has written music for such Oscar-winning movies as Million Dollar Baby, directed by his father Clint Eastwood. Yet playing and performing give him the greatest satisfaction. “It’s the most musically fulfilling,” he says. “I love working in the studio and composing, but playing live ise most magic.”
Not long after concluding a tour of Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, Eastwood in early November took a breather in New York for a few days before launching a US tour with his Kyle Eastwood Band. On the itinerary were stops in ten cities, including shows at Blue Note Jazz Club in New York and Blues Alley in Washington, DC. On the playlist were many of his film works as well as original pieces from his growing discography, including an upcoming disc expected to be released this summer on the independent British label Candid Records.
Bicontinental, Eastwood shuttles between residences in France and California and juggles two bands, one with European colleagues for his gigs in Europe and the other with US-based players for stateside shows. With his Europe-based group, he recorded the upcoming CD last August at a chateau, complete with a producing vineyard, in Bordeaux, France. “We brought over equipment from the studio and set up in the living room,” Eastwood says. “We ate well for a few days, drank wine, and recorded.”
The new CD will include a mix of Eastwood’s trademark jazz melodies, some of which reflect his work in film. “I wrote some music for the movie Invictus, and some of it wasn’t used, so I took part of the melody and changed it and used it on the album,” says Eastwood, adding that it’s “kind of jazzy, with a little bit of an African touch to it, too.”
Another track, to be titled “Tonic,” features a repeating acoustic-bass motif under prepared piano, saxophone, and trumpet.
Eastwood’s playing has been well received. The BBC, for one, wrote in a review of Metropolitain, his most recent album: “Kyle Eastwood’s band are a hot live act. Driven by Eastwood’s bass guitar, they inject life into audiences, getting them moving and grooving. . . . Throughout, Eastwood is central to the music, providing its vital pulse and focus. History shows that being a band’s leader and its bassist can be a difficult combination. To his credit, Eastwood manages it with style.”
Originally from Carmel, California, Eastwood grew up surrounded by the sounds of jazz. His father is a jazz enthusiast and self-taught pianist, and Eastwood as a youngster listened to the music of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, and others. First attending the legendary Monterey Jazz Festival at about age eight, Eastwood saw the Count Basie Orchestra up close and personal. “I was with Dad and we were off to the side of the stage,” he recalls. “It was the first concert I’d been to, and it made an impression, with my standing that close. Afterwards, I kept going to the festival and saw musicians play and that’s where I got my desire.”
His first visits to the jazz festival coincided with Eastwood’s introduction to playing music himself. “My dad taught me a boogie-woogie,” he says. “He showed me the left hand and he played the right hand.” Following a brief stint with guitar at age 12 to take a role in his father’s film Honkytonk Man, Eastwood took up electric bass. “I had friends in high school who were musicians and needed a bass player, so I picked it up and jammed,” he says. He then gravitated to the double bass, studying in classes at school and privately.
Eastwood enrolled at the University of Southern California, intending to major in film, although he was still studying bass. “I started getting more serious about music and playing more and more. I was meeting a lot of musicians,” he says.
He snagged a few gigs to play in contract orchestras recording for films. “That’s how I got exposed to film music and saw it done, for my dad and other directors as well,” he says. “It was a lot of fun.”
He dropped out of school to pursue music and never went back. At times, Eastwood took several lessons a week, studying with a few teachers, most notably Bunny Brunel, with whom he worked for five years. In his bass study, Eastwood played plenty of jazz, which he calls his “first love,” but he didn’t neglect classical work, studying Bach “for getting technique down.”
This year, Eastwood expects to hit the road again with a tour of the United Kingdom, Spain, and France. Asked who is his biggest hero in the bass world, Eastwood pauses and finally cites Charles Mingus for his talents as a composer, bassist, and bandleader. But Eastwood is determined to stick to his own groove as he performs and tours around the world. “I’ve tried to listen to a lot of musicians, and bassists especially, but hopefully make music of my own, contemporary jazz playing with R&B and funk elements,” he says. “It’s music I love and am steeped in."
“It feels natural to me."