Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Kyle Eastwood: Go ahead, ask about my famous dad ... you will make my day

Being the son of a Hollywood legend isn't always easy, but jazz star Kyle Eastwood, son of Clint, hasn't let it hold him back, he tells Andrew Johnston ahead of a gig here

Every young guy likes to boast about their dad being bigger or tougher than the other kids’ dads. In Kyle Eastwood’s case, though, it’s pretty much true. Having said that, though, the 44-year-old son of Hollywood movie legend Clint Eastwood certainly hasn’t ridden on his famous father’s coat-tails.

While many actors' offspring have exploited their connections and followed them into the family business, Kyle – who continued to live with his mother, Eastwood's first wife Maggie Johnson, after his parents split when he was 10 – has carved out his own niche as a respected jazz musician.

Across a prolific 15-year career Eastwood has released six albums and mastered a variety of instruments, including acoustic and electric guitar, as well as his specialities – electric and upright bass.

While successful in his own right, Kyle understands the public's fascination with his lineage and, by his own admission, it has been something of a double-edged sword. Advantages include having been taken as a boy to see and meet many of jazz's since departed legends (Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan to name but three), while the main downside appears to be that it's all some journalists want to talk about. Having forged his own identity as a musician, does this frustrate him?

"I can understand that people are interested when you're related to someone who's that famous," he says.

"That's probably never going to go away. The name gets attention, but it can also give people preconceived ideas of you and what you're about. I just try to stay focused on making music and working hard at what I do. But I'm very proud of my dad and what he's accomplished, and I'm very happy to be able to work with him here and there, so I don't mind talking about him a little bit."

And as proud as he is of his father, Kyle reckons it goes both ways.

"I think he appreciates my music," the jazz man smiles. "We've written a few things together, and anytime we're in the same part of the world, he tries to come by and catch the band when he can. He's happy that I've found music and that I've dedicated myself to it."

Northern Ireland will soon get to see Kyle in action, when he returns to the City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival on May 3 to perform with his London-based quintet. Kyle previously played the festival in 2008, and is looking forward to coming back to the north west.

"I really enjoyed the last time we played Derry," he says. "It was a lot of fun. It's an amazing place for music."

Unsurprisingly, he's a massive fan of Northern Ireland's own Van Morrison.

"He's great," says Kyle, who also reveals some more distant connections with the truculent jazz master. "I've played with a few musicians who have played in his band before, and my sister [model and filmmaker Alison Eastwood] knows him. She used some of his music in a film she did a few years back."

The programme is set to feature an eclectic programme of sounds, ranging from jazz, blues and light rock to Kyle's beloved world music. The musician was born in Los Angeles, grew up on the Californian coast in Carmel-by-the-Sea – where his father served as mayor from 1986 to 1988 – later lived in London, and for the past eight years has called Paris home. Throughout his travels, he has passionately soaked up musical culture.

"I've always loved music from other countries," he says. "Living in France, you hear a lot of North African and Middle Eastern music, and you can hear some of those influences on my latest recording."

Despite the more prominent acting pedigree of his father (right, in Dirty Harry), music also seems to run in the family veins. His maternal grandmother was a music teacher, while both his parents played piano. In fact, Kyle reckons his dad might have preferred to be a musician than an Oscar-winning actor/director.

"I think if you'd asked him when he was 17 or 18 what he wanted to do, he probably would have told you a piano player," he chuckles. "But he seems to have done pretty well for himself in his chosen profession. "But I mean, he loves music and especially jazz. He's always sitting down playing when he has the time."

So, with mum and dad tinkling the ivories, what made Kyle take up the bass?

"I started on piano, but I was always interested in the rhythm section when I was young," he explains. "My parents weren't keen to buy a drum set, so I picked up the bass when I was about 14 or so, and started teaching myself how to play it, just from what I knew of music theory. It came kind of easily and naturally to me."

However, he doesn't necessarily buy into the oft-stated notion that musical ability is inherited. "There's some natural talent to it," he considers, "but there's also a lot of practice needed and the desire to really want to play an instrument. No matter how much natural ability you have, to become really, really good and proficient, it takes a lot of dedication."

Before he fully discovered his love of music, the young Kyle had small roles alongside his father in the likes of The Outlaw Josey Wales, Bronco Billy and Honkytonk Man, and was even in the frame to play the lead role in 1980s favourite The Karate Kid.

Although The Outlaw Josey Wales remains Kyle's favourite of his father's films and he had a memorable experience making it, acting was not something he wanted to do full-time.

"I guess I just loved music more," Kyle shrugs."I've always loved music and film – I grew up watching films being made – but after weighing up the two, I realised that music was the one I loved the most. But I've been able to stay involved in movies a little bit, through making music for them."

Indeed, Kyle has worked with his father on a string of soundtracks for several of his movies, including Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Changeling and Invictus.

"It's challenging, but it's fun and I enjoy it," Kyle says. "There's a lot of trial and error, and editing, and sitting at the computer and seeing what fits.

"For me, the most musically satisfying thing is playing live and playing with musicians – making your own music. Jazz is all about freedom of expression. Doing film scores is totally different."

Kyle Eastwood plays the Spiegeltent in Guildhall Square, Londonderry, on Saturday, May 3. For details, visit www.cityofderryjazzfestival.com

NOT FOLLOWING IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS ...

Other stars' offspring who have chosen to go their own way include:

* Ronan Farrow – the son of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow has no time for showbusiness. Though estranged from his father, Ronan has a similar genius-level IQ, which has led to prestigious jobs as a UNICEF spokesperson and a humanitarian special adviser in the Obama administration

* Duncan Jones – known as Zowie as a kid, he now more soberly-monikered Duncan Jones has gravitated towards a career as a film director.

The spacey influence of his father, rock icon David Bowie, shines through, though; Jones's biggest hit is the BAFTA-winning, experimental sci-fi flick Moon

* Max Brooks – Blazing Saddles filmmaker Mel Brooks is renowned for his over-the-top comedic style, but his son Max, from his marriage to actress Anne Bancroft, has parlayed the Brooks' sensibilities into a string of cult horror books, including World War Z

* Rashida Jones (left) – hanging out with Michael Jackson as a youngster may have helped prepare her for starring alongside the Muppets in 2011, but the daughter of record producer, Quincy Jones, has also acted in more awards-friendly fare, such as The Social Network.

* Rain Pryor – her father Richard was the wild man of stand-up comedy, but Rain Pryor has carved out a multifaceted career as an acclaimed jazz/blues vocalist and artistic director of a theatre

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