Behind Blue Eyes: Kyle Eastwood Brings His Unique Perspective to "The View from Here"

July 1, 2013
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THERE’S MUCH TO READ INTO THE TITLE OF KYLE Eastwood’s latest CD, The View From Here. The 45-year-old bassist/ composer has certainly had a unique career, gaining cult status as much for being the son of film icon Clint Eastwood as for the six sturdy solo CDs he has released since 1998. That’s just fine with Eastwood, a friendly but taciturn sort who has never sought fame or a high profile, and lets his music do the talking. Reflected in the disc’s 11 tracks is Eastwood’s lifelong liaison with jazz and cinema (he has composed or contributed to the scores of five of his father’s films), and his longtime European home base. From ballad to burner, his quintet’s two-horn front line evokes stark imagery contrasted by the world music colors splashed about by his savvy rhythm section. On the bottom, Eastwood moves deftly from electric to upright, as the music dictates, thoughtful in support, expressive in solos, and, like his bandmates, always yearning to explore.

Born on May 19, 1968 in Los Angeles, and raised in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, Kyle Eastwood had his initial encounter with bass and music when his dad taught him a boogie-woogie bass line on piano, leading to formal lessons and then to guitar (for a role in his father’s film Honkytonk Man). He didn’t return to bass until high school, when his friends needed a bass player. Purchasing a Japanese P-Bass copy, he dug into the grooves of Motown, Memphis/Stax, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, and reggae. Soon after, his deep love of jazz—bornw from regular trips to the nearby Monterey Jazz Festival as a child—resulted in him taking on upright bass, as well. Lessons with Ray Brown and Bunny Brunel solidified his musicianship, and although he entered USC to study film, his passion for music won out. He left school, formed his own jazz band in L.A., and eventually moved to New York City, as he began his solo path.

Your new CD has a noticeable rhythmic focus and seems to be more of a collaborative effort.

The rhythmic aspect wasn’t conscious, but it’s probably the result of my listening to a lot of North and West African music of late, as well as having traveled to South Africa to research music for [the film] Invictus. I wrote “Une Nuit Au Senegal” after immersing myself in Senegalese music, and “Sirocco” is built on a hand-drum loop inspired by listening to Middle Eastern and Asian hand drummers. The title track started as a rhythmic idea; I envisioned it as a Wayne Shorter type of tune, with a busy bass line and groove contrasted by a simple, long-tone melody in the horns.

The CD is more collaborative. I came up with sketches and ideas for the songs, and then I got together with my pianist, Andrew McCormack, and we fleshed them out further. Then we brought them to rehearsals and soundchecks where the horn players added some parts and melodies to help us finish them up. I’ve been fortunate to have a great London-based band for six or seven years now, and I write with them in mind. The entire CD was recorded live, except for us editing out one chorus of a song because it was too long.

For your last three solo records, you seem to have dialed in on a signature sound, featuring a two-horn lineup.

Yes, it’s what I’ve been working on and developing the past six years. I’ve always loved the two-horn sound, from Miles Davis’ bands in the ’50s and early ’60s, and Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. I like the challenge of writing for two horns; you can imply and cover quite a bit of harmony and get some interesting sounds if you pick the right two notes. As much as I enjoy records that are bass-tastic, featuring the instrument in all kinds of technical ways, for me it has always been important to have a good balance of composition and improvisation that features all of the instruments in the band.

There’s a cinematic quality to your writing, as well. “The Promise” needs a great movie behind it!

Yeah, I thought that, too [laughs]. Again, it’s not a conscious choice, but from studying and being around a lot of great film music, and writing for film, it seeps in there naturally. Writing a score can be a bit more restrictive because you’re composing for what’s onscreen, and there are edits you have to make that are not natural musically, but we’ve adapted some of my film pieces in the band. Andrew and I wrote “The Promise” on piano and bass at my apartment, and it had more of a Spanish, Paco de Lucia flavor, but it took a different direction when we added the full band.

What’s your composing process?

Generally I write at the piano, trying to come up with a chord progression, or a melodic or rhythmic motif. I wrote “Song for M.E.,” which is for my mother, Maggie, on electric bass utilizing open strings; then we finished it as a band. I like the collaboration aspect because it gets you outside of your box. It’s inspiring to bring an idea to someone and see how they interpret it and take it somewhere that’s not exactly where you were thinking of going. It’s a more deliberate version of what happens onstage, when you’re supporting and dialoguing with the soloist.

How do you come up with bass parts and decide whether to play electric or acoustic bass on a song?

Typically, I have a chord progression and I cycle it and see what develops when I play along. Other parts are more composed, with Andrew doubling the bass line with his left hand on piano. As for choosing which instrument, I can usually hear either one working on most tunes, and I often try both; I could have played “From Rio to Havana” on upright. I kind of let the song and the groove decide. If it swings, I tend toward the upright, and if it’s in the R&B realm I’ll think electric—but I also love playing funk on upright, as I did on “Route de la Buissonne.”

Do you favor electric or acoustic bass, and what have you brought to each instrument from the other?

Having split my time on both over the past six years or so, I love them equally; I like having the different colors to apply. Although I started on electric, there was a point in my early jazz bands in L.A. and when I lived in New York, when I was playing upright 95% of the time; now it’s 50/50. Much of the transference for me has been bringing electric bass concepts to the upright, like playing 16th-notebased funk lines with a sharper attack and short note duration. Conversely, working to get a sound out of my hands for upright has affected my tone and touch on the electric. In a broader sense, it’s all about the function of the instrument—playing with the drummer and making the groove happen, first and foremost.

Who are the important influences for you on upright and electric bass, and who are some of your current favorites?

On electric it was James Jamerson, Duck Dunn, Chuck Rainey, Paul Jackson, John Paul Jones; then of course, Jaco, Stanley Clarke on both instruments, my teacher, Bunny Brunel, Anthony Jackson, Jimmy Johnson. For the upright, obviously Ray Brown, whom I studied with, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Israel Crosby, Oscar Pettiford, Mingus, Scott LaFaro, Dave Holland—I used to transcribe their lines. More recently, I’ve been into Avashai Cohen—I like his playing and writing—and Esperanza Spalding and Marcus Miller.

How would you describe your dad’s musical influence on you?

He, along with my mom, brought music into my life and gave me my love of music, from the piano we had in the house and the classic jazz and blues records he would play, to bringing me to the Monterey Jazz Festival, where I got to see and meet so many jazz greats. I can remember watching the Count Basie Big Band from backstage, near the drummer, and being drawn to the rhythm section. Throughout my development, my dad has always been encouraging and supportive of my music career, and he comes to see the band if we’re in the same city. Our schedules haven’t matched up of late, but he’s due to start another film project later this year and eventually we’ll work on the music for it.

You’ve been living in Paris for a while.

It’s an amazing city and there are a lot of great opportunities to play at festivals and clubs throughout Europe. The rail travel is very together, so you don’t have to deal with airports all the time. And the audiences are more open to different kinds of music, especially jazz, which they love. As a result, top musicians from all over the world come to live in Europe, which is a great learning opportunity for me.

What’s ahead for you?

The rest of this year is pretty much devoted to promoting and supporting my CD, finishing my U.S. dates, and then touring Europe and Japan. Going forward, I hope to keep doing what I do—writing and releasing music, growing as a bassist and a composer, and making a living as a musician. For me, it’s the greatest job in the world.

KYLE EASTWOOD’S WORLDVIEW

KYLE EASTWOOD APPROACHES HIS bass lines, support lines behind soloists, and his solos with a composer’s sensibility, making melody and subtle harmonic and rhythmic variation ever-present, welcome ingredients. Examples 1a and 1b are taken from Kyle’s budding bass guitar anthem “Hot Box,” from his 2009 CD, Metropolitain. He remembers, “[Drummer] Martyn Kaine and I were jamming in his London studio, thinking about the Headhunters and the Meters. I came up with a line that ended up being the bass part and the melody.” Example 1a shows the A section line (complete with a Paul Jackson-esque hammer in bar 2). For the B section, shown in Ex. 1b, Kyle varies the line slightly to fit the harmony, and later drops down an octave and stretches a bit behind a keyboard solo over the same chord change. He advises, “The line perpetually feels like it wants to get faster, so you actually need to sit back a bit.”

Example 2 shows the two-bar main upright bass line of “The Way Home,” from The View From Here. Says Kyle, “We cycled the groove and I came up with this ostinato. It has that tricky little pause at the end of the first measure, which makes the downbeat of bar 2 feel a bit awkward because so many of the other notes are pushed. Keep repeating the phrase until it feels settled.”

Examples 3a and 3b are from “Une Nuit Au Sénégal,” on The View From Here. To open the track and at two later points, Kyle plays a fourbar double-stop figure on his 5-string, as shown in Ex. 3a. Example 3b contains the main bass line, doubled by pianist Andrew McCormack, as it’s heard in the solo sections. For both, Kyle notes, “The key with West African grooves like this is that the space between the notes is very exacting, and has to be in just the right place for the feel to work; the rests are as important as the notes. Listen to West African musicians play 12/8 feels, and try to breathe like that here.”

INFO

LISTEN

Kyle Eastwood, The View From Here [Jazz Village, 2013], Songs From the Chateau [Mack Avenue, 2011], Metropolitain [Rendezvous, 2009]; Invictus (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [Milan, 2009]; Gran Torino (Original Theme Song From the Motion Picture) [New Line, 2007]; Letters From Iwo Jima (Music from the Motion Picture) [Milan, 2007]; Paris Blue [Rendezvous, 2005]

EQUIP

Electric basses “I play fretted and fretless 5-strings that are custom protoypes designed by Bunny Brunel; they were built by Roger Geffen over 20 years ago for a series Gibson was going to produce, that didn’t happen. I have two, and Bunny has a couple. They’re active, with Bartolini P/J pickups; I’ve gotten so used to them, and I haven’t found anything I like better.”
Strings La Bella M42B Hard Rockin’ Steels, .040–.128
Upright basses Czech-Ease travel bass with Gage Realist pickup system, French-style bow, and La Bella Steel Core strings; 70-year-old Pöllmann (3/4-size)
Rig Phil Jones Suitcase Combo and 4B extension cabinet
Effects DigiTech BP-200 Bass Multi- Effects Processor (for reverb and EQ)
Recording The View From Here Bass guitars direct through a tube D.I. and a miked Phil Jones Suitcase Combo; Czech-Ease direct via the Realist and live via two mics (by the bridge and by the ƒ-hole on the G-string side)

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