Kyle Eastwood: A fistful of quavers

Having a famous father hasn't proved a handicap to Kyle Eastwood. The jazz bassist is too busy gathering fans on his own merits, Sholto Byrnes discovers
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To the short, and not always particularly honourable, list of bass player leaders in jazz, a new name has been added. Kyle Eastwood, a Californian now partially based in London, has just signed to Candid Records, the label responsible for bringing Jamie Cullum and Clare Teal to the nation's attention. And so far, he has avoided the pitfalls that can be associated with leading a band from the back of the rhythm section.

To the short, and not always particularly honourable, list of bass player leaders in jazz, a new name has been added. Kyle Eastwood, a Californian now partially based in London, has just signed to Candid Records, the label responsible for bringing Jamie Cullum and Clare Teal to the nation's attention. And so far, he has avoided the pitfalls that can be associated with leading a band from the back of the rhythm section.

For every Charles Mingus, a shining example of how a double bassist can front a group without giving in to shameless self-indulgence, there is a Ron Carter out there - a peerless sideman whose sense of taste and restraint goes out the window the moment he enters the recording studio to head his own session.

But Kyle Eastwood is an admirably discreet leader, possessed of a good technique and a pleasant sound that underpins his band while never hogging the limelight. But then a laconic disposition runs in the family. Yes, Kyle is a relation - he's the eldest son of Clint Eastwood, who is at least partially responsible for his firstborn pursuing a career that will never bring the Hollywood wealth and fame that he has long enjoyed.

"My father originally entertained ideas of being a musician himself," Kyle tells me over a beer at a Fulham Road bar. "Long before he stumbled into acting, he used to play piano in bars in Oakland, California, where he grew up."

Clint Eastwood's love of jazz is well-known. In his debut as director, Play Misty for Me, he took the role of a jazz DJ, and later directed a biopic about Charlie Parker, Bird. So Kyle's childhood had jazz as its soundtrack, and he credits his father with introducing him to the joys of the bass line. "The first thing my father showed me," he says, "was how to play boogie-woogie on the piano. He taught me the left-hand part, so I'd play that and he'd play the right hand. That was probably my earliest playing of a bass line."

After learning the piano, which he says he was never very serious about, Kyle started playing electric bass in his teens. "I had a lot of friends who were musicians at high school in Carmel, people who played trumpet, saxophone, guitar and drums. But there were no bass players. Someone loaned me an electric bass, and it came easily to me. Then later I started studying and playing the upright." He went on to take a film studies course at UCLA (as a 14-year-old, he had appeared in the film Honkytonk Man with his father), but left after a year to concentrate solely on music.

Kyle wears the mantle of inherited fame very lightly. The physical resemblance is there to see: tall and lean, he has his father's eyes and hair; the concision in speech is familiar, too. The name helps, but it might also lead some to doubt his ability as a player. "Usually if they hear me play or if I play with them then we've got past that," he says. After years of gigging in Los Angeles and New York, 36-year-old Kyle has certainly paid his dues, recording his first album for Sony in 1998. But has he ever had to face musicians with an attitude about his dad? "I've just met some musicians who had attitude problems in general," he jokes. "But honestly, I haven't run into too many people who've been difficult about it. The best thing is if it turns someone on to the music who wouldn't normally listen to it."

Kyle's new album, Paris Blue, has more of a pop sensibility than any British jazz musician would either want or dare to make part of their sound. It takes someone from a country where studio veterans like Steve Gadd and Hiram Bullock are celebrated as much for their pop proficiency as for their jazz chops to have the confidence to carry such an approach off - and without sounding like Jazz FM mush. "I wanted to focus this album on not having wide-open choruses of blowing," Kyle says, "to have more of an overall structure. We stretch out a little more when we're playing live."

In the UK, Kyle counts the established players Mark Mondesir on drums and the tenor saxophonist Dave O'Higgins as part of his band, as well as up-and-coming pianist Gwilym Simcock. Paris Blue was recorded in France, where his wife and daughter live. It also features his father whistling on the opening track, a version of the old Bob Haggart tune, "Big Noise from Winnetka". How did that come about?

"My dad played me the tune about 15 years ago," says Kyle, "and then a few years ago he had his old 78 of it out, and he said, 'You should record a new version of this tune, it's a really cool bass feature.' I wrote these bop riffs for it and I had a sample of the whistling on the 78. But the original was running slow, so it wasn't quite in tune. I thought it'd be kind of fun to have the whistling. My sister did a pass on it, I did a pass on it, and my dad did too. And that was the one that made the cut."

Eastwood father and son work together on films, too, with Kyle providing music for Clint's recent film, Mystic River, and also for his next, Million Dollar Baby. "I've always enjoyed working with him," says Kyle. "He's direct. If he asks my opinion and he doesn't agree with it - well, he's pretty much going to do what he wants anyway." Kyle laughs again. He seems extraordinarily unscathed by the experience of having grown up as the son of such a famous man. A model for children of celebrities. And not bad as a model for bass player leaders, either.

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