For well over twenty years Kyle Eastwood has built up an admirable reputation for his albums and his live music, regularly touring both the USA and Europe and playing to a growing number of jazz music fans. Born to a film star/director father in Los Angeles California and brought up in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Kyle was exposed to jazz music from an early age. Along with his parents he attended Monterey Jazz Festival from around the age of eight, often meeting some of the seminal musicians back stage.
I caught up with Kyle on his current UK tour in Durham City playing songs from his fifth album, Songs From The Chateau. I was interested to find out a little about his role as band leader, his success as a film composer and his strong connection with the UK jazz scene.
On the day I met up with Kyle, I had been sitting in the office all day looking out at a typically cold and grey English spring day. It had rained non stop for what seemed like weeks. I wondered how a native Californian would cope with the delights of touring in our changeable climate. I decided this would be the perfect ice breaker for the interview.
A few hours later as I headed down the motorway to Durham for our meeting, the sky was steely grey, threatening another downpour. I parked in the underground car park directly below the Gala Theatre and sat for a while preparing my questions. As the time of the interview drew near I took the elevator up to the Gala Theatre entrance. The lift doors opened onto the outdoor shopping mall beside the theatre and I was almost blinded by brilliant sunshine. I stepped out into the unfamiliar warmth. It seemed to me as I sat with a coke in the sunlit Gala cafe waiting for the sound check to conclude, that Kyle Eastwood probably takes that sunny Californian weather with him wherever he goes.
Back stage Kyle was in typically laid back mood when we met. With the sound check over he had about forty minutes to go before his performance and yet he was still relaxed and gracious, making no effort to hurry proceedings along.
TBU: You have travelled around the UK quite a bit.
KE: A few years back I lived for the better part of a year in London. That’s where I met most of these musicians.
TBU: I wanted to ask you about the English connection. Are all of your band English?
KE: Yes well Graeme (Blevins) was born in Australia but this is my main band that I recorded my last album with.
TBU: Your background has been well documented. There was a lot of Jazz played in your home and you regularly visited Monterey Jazz Festival when you were young. I wondered if you went through a teenage rebellious phase and said I don’t want to listen to jazz.
KE: I always listened to jazz. That’s what my parents were listening to. I always liked jazz. I never went through a period when I said “I don’t like it.” But there was a period where I listened to mostly other stuff and I still listen to all kinds of stuff. I have a couple of iPods and there can be anything from Benny Goodman to Bjork to Led Zeppelin. I went through a period of listening to a lot of Reggae in High school, to Peter Tosh. You know I listen to anything if it’s good. I like a lot of Middle Eastern music and Indian music.
TBU: Do you think that influences what you do?
KE: Yeah, I think travelling to new cities and hearing music from other cultures is an inspiring thing for me.
TBU: So are you working on new material while you are on the road?
KE: Sometimes if we have a little time off. We have been touring so much over the last six to eight months. But, yeah I’ve started writing the last few months and we’re doing some more writing together as a band in a few days, when we get a day off and hopefully we’re going to record the new album in September.
TBU: Where will you record that?
KE: Maybe in London or maybe in France. I’m not sure yet.
TBU: Tell me about the dynamics of the band. In jazz ensembles the players are notorious for doing their own thing. If you come up with ideas, how does that work out?
KE: Sometimes I will bring in an idea or myself and one of the other members will sit down and kind of work out some little idea. Then we will bring it in and the horn player will come up with another melody over the top. That’s when we have done band compositions. Other times I will come in with a whole tune.
TBU: I wondered if you have a specific idea and have to direct the other musicians towards it.
KE: Sometimes and sometimes not. You know it’s just a little idea which evolves and someone else can bring something to it and it wasn’t necessarily what you expected but it works and it goes off in that direction. Which is kind of like jazz anyway. But sometimes I will come up with a firm idea and other times not.
TBU: When you were growing up you lived in California.
KE: I did yeah, I was born and lived there until I was twenty four or twenty five.
TBU: Did you look towards places like New York or Paris as places you would eventually want to travel to and play?
KE: Well I used to travel with my parents quite a bit so I had visited most of those places at least once or twice. I’ve always enjoyed travelling, which is good if you’re a musician. If you can’t stand travelling it’s a tough one.
TBU: How do you manage living in hotels and on the road?
KE: It’s fine. I don’t mind it that much actually. Sometimes if you are out for weeks and weeks on end it gets a little weird.
TBU: How many months do you tour in a year?
KE: I never actually sat down and worked it out. Especially over the last two years we have done quite a bit. I have been on the road now for about a month and we’ve got two and a half more weeks.
TBU: You have your band and you have your movie work. How do you balance those commitments?
KE: That’s a tough one. I haven’t really done that much movie work as I have been focussing on the band. I did some music for a documentary last year. Since then I haven’t done any film music because you have to be in one place.
TBU: Do you have a number of ideas that you can draw upon when you need them for a film and think to yourself, yes I can use that for this part?
KE: Sometimes, yes definitely. I’ve done that before. Sometimes I’ll put things aside for a year or two.
TBU: Do you record a demo of those?
KE: Often I’ll remember them or record them but a lot of times I’ll remember them. Then someone else will come up with something and I will be like, “Oh yes that will fit with this.”
TBU: There was a period when you studied film for a couple of years.
KE: I did yes.
TBU: What made you go down the music route and not the film route?
KE: Film and music were always the things I loved most. At first, when I went to university I was probably trying to become a director. At that time I guess I was eighteen or nineteen. I just kept getting more and more involved in music. I took classes as well. I just said I’m going to take a year off going to school. I was just tired of going to school anyway. I was studying music privately with a couple of people and I started to do gigs around LA. I decided to take a year and see where that took me and (laughs) I’ve been doing it ever since. Something like twenty three years now.
TBU: You have built a successful career and reputation for your music. You don’t see yourself going back to film?
KE: Well I’m still involved in film through music and that’s nice but I think music’s what I really love the most. I mean I still love film, sitting watching films and working with my father or working with other people, it’s fun, but music’s where it’s at and where it’s going to stay for me.
Kyle has obviously learned one of the golden rules of band leaders going way back. Always surround yourself with brilliant players. The current line up looks like this; Kyle Eastwood on bass, Martyn Kaine on drums, Andrew McCormack on piano, Graeme Blevins on saxophone and Graeme Flowers on trumpet.
The Band deliver in every department and the classic five piece line up demonstrate how to get that perfect balance, allowing every player to shine without pushing the others into the background. Their music is at once accessible and yet still full of ambition and complexity.
For me, Kyle Eastwood stands at the crossroads and whether you come down the road towards the crossroads as an experienced jazz lover and want something fresh and exciting to discover or if you come to the crossroads from the opposite direction and you are a newcomer to jazz, then the Kyle Eastwood Band can lead the way. Through their music they can introduce you to the best modern jazz has to offer echoing the masters of the form and dazzling you with beautifully complex rhythms and melodies. While paying tribute to the greats of the past like Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker they also forge ahead, breaking new ground and bringing a wide range of musical influences to their sound.
With Kyle Eastwood and his band of carefully selected musicians you get the feeling that the future of modern Jazz is in safe hands.
So if you want to kick back and feel Kerouac cool, then get a little Jazz in your life. Get the Kyle Eastwood Band.
Check out Kyle’s Website at http://kyleeastwood.com/
2012 Tour Dates at http://kyleeastwood.com/2011/11/tour_schedule/