Jazz: Any which way you can

Kyle Eastwood got a good start in jazz - his dad's an aficionado of no small fame. But that's where the family ties end. Eastwood Jr really can play bass.
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The Independent Culture
Having a famous father might ensure celebrity by proxy, but for a serious jazz musician it's not necessarily an advantage. When the bassist Kyle Eastwood - son of Clint - first played London eight years ago with a semi-pro Californian jazz-fusion group, there were very few people in the small club, but all of them had come especially to see the chip off Clint's granite block.

The very young Kyle was just the bloke at the back with a Fender bass and a look of extreme concentration, but nothing - not least the group's rather muso-ish noodlings - could prevent a Hello!-style air of vicarious celeb-snooping. A Daily Mail photographer spent the entire performance snapping Kyle without even pretending to take the picture of anyone else in the band, and I wrote the accompanying story. It was shamelessly tacky, flagrantly ignoring Kyle's impressive slap-bass technique in favour of comparing his cheekbones to those of the young Clint in Rawhide.

Next week, Kyle Eastwood, now aged 30, is back in London again, playing the Pizza Express in Soho, but a number of things have changed in the interim. He's now the leader of his own band; he's swapped the electric bass for a proper bass-fiddle, changing from fusion to real jazz in the process; and he has a new record contract with Sony. His debut album is a classy, expensive-sounding job which mixes rather old-fashioned, Gil Evans-style, big band arrangements (by Vince Mendoza) with R&B grooves, and it features guest appearances by Joni Mitchell and Julia Fordham.

In the years between his London engagements, Kyle has also got married to the Spanish actress, Laura Gomez, had a daughter, Graylen, now aged four, and moved from LA to New York. He remains endearingly shy, and very sensitive to the fact that questions about his own work have a habit of trying to pull his father into the story too.

Kyle's father is, of course, famous not only for his films but also for his love of jazz, which was celebrated three years ago by a star-studded Carnegie Hall concert (in which Kyle played), that became the album, Eastwood After Hours. As well as playing a little jazz piano himself, Clint Eastwood has directed the Charlie Parker biopic, Bird, employed the late Art Pepper and other notable jazz musicians for soundtracks to his movies, and acted as a formidable campaigner for jazz education.

Unsurprisingly, it was his father who first exposed Kyle - who lived with his mother after his parent's divorce - to jazz, by taking him to the annual Monterey jazz festival. "Monterey was maybe 15 minutes from my home and my earliest memories of jazz are of seeing artists like Dave Brubeck, Errol Garner, Billy Eckstine and Ahmad Jamal there," Kyle says. "It helped give me my first taste when I was growing up, and we always listened to jazz in the house. When I was very young, I remember my father introducing me to Miles Davis at the festival, and him being very intimidating."

He started playing the bass in high school. "It came easy, playing reggae and Motown, and also I had a lot of friends in bands and there weren't that many bass players around." While Kyle was performing as a bass guitarist, he was also learning the double bass, and his father arranged for him to study in Paris with Bunny Brunei. "Even when I played in London the first time I was also playing double bass, but it wasn't really the type of music for it," he says. "It's definitely a different instrument, with a more personal sound."

The album includes a very effective version of the Tom Waits song "I Beg Your Pardon", in which Kyle's double bass plays the melody line, adding a marvellously lugubrious flavour to what is already a very melancholy tune. Typically, he's rather embarrassed about taking the spotlight himself. "I like to feature myself, but not with a solo in every tune," he says. Joni Mitchell's guest appearance as the vocalist on a version of Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" came about, he insists, more by luck than through judgement. "I didn't really set out to get her. Larry Klein - who's her ex - was the producer, and he suggested it to her. She's a big Marvin Gaye fan, and it wasn't an opportunity to pass up. We kept the version very R&B, which happens to be my second favourite music next to jazz."

Although he's now living in New York, a much more competitive environment for jazz than LA, Eastwood says he hasn't met any real resentment because of who he, or his father, is. "Not really, no. Most of the musicians have been cool. Once they hear me play, it dispels any doubts they might have. I was tired of LA, and I didn't want my daughter to grow up there."

He also denies any ambition to make films. "A film score would be of interest, and I played on a few of my dad's movies when I was in the Musician's Union in LA. But I don't ever want to quit playing bass."

The Kyle Eastwood Quintet play Pizza Express, Soho, from Tuesday to Saturday. Booking: 0171-439 8722