Though he was born into film royalty, Kyle Eastwood decided to pursue the second Eastwood family passion — jazz music. As a bassist and bandleader he boasts five albums with a sixth on the way. As a film composer and arranger, Eastwood boasts work on films like ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ ‘Invictus,’ and ‘Gran Torino,” among others. Read on below for some insight into the process of composing music for big-budget films, the Eastwood family jam sessions, and more! Also be sure to check out the Kyle Eastwood Group touring the US in 2013.
Tell me about how you got started playing music as a kid.
I started studying piano when I was pretty young and I kind of got into music I guess because my father plays piano and my mother plays a bit. They’re big jazz fans, so that was the music I grew up hearing around the house. They started taking me to the Monterey Jazz Festival when I was about 9 or 10. That’s how I got interested in jazz really.
After that I started learning some guitar for film. I did it with my father when I was 12 or 13. I picked up the bass after that. It came naturally for me; I was always interested in bass and drums really. Bass was a little easier to practice around the house I suppose.
Did you originally pick up the upright or electric?
I started on the electric because I had studied piano for a while and then learned a little guitar, so I began with the electric. I started on the upright probably one or two years after that.
And you studied with the legendary Bunny Brunel for a while, right?
Yeah, I did! I studied with him for about four or five years. He’s a great teacher. He’s definitely one of my more important teachers. He was the one who forced me to learn to read music and I think he really helped me be a well-rounded player.
You were involved in music from a young age, but at what point did you really decide music was something you wanted to pursue as a lifestyle and as a profession?
I’ve always been interested in music, but I think I was always interested in music and film on both sides. I went to USC for a short time as a film major. I was doing some music classes there as well, but I had the intention of going as a film major and maybe being a director. But about a year into USC I started really thinking that music was what I loved more. I decided to take a year off and just pursue music and practice. I started doing some gigs with people around the LA area and after the end of that year I decided that music was what it was for me. And I never went back [laughs].
There must have been some epic Eastwood family jams back in the day; do those still happen?
Yeah definitely! I’ve played with my dad and we still play together occasionally, though not as much anymore. But yeah he taught me the first things I learned on piano. I took lessons after that, but yeah we’d have some bass and piano duets and stuff like that. It was mostly jazz and some blues. My dad is really into boogie-woogie and blues piano. We usually play tunes like that.
My daughter is actually a drummer, so now I play with her.
As far as film scoring, which was the first film you worked on?
Well, I started playing in orchestras for film scores and just playing the parts in the bass section and things like that. The first one I wrote something for I think was The Rookie. I co-wrote a tune for that. After that I started with Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby. I wrote pieces for both of those. I really got exposed to the process by playing in so many film orchestras on so many different scores.
What is the process like in writing music for film?
If I’m working with my father I usually have an opportunity to read the script first. That way I can kind of get an idea of what’s coming. But usually you sit down and just watch the film at least in a rough cut stage. You usually watch it through once or twice and write notes about which spots you think need the most music or the most musically important spots for a particular theme or a character that needs a theme. Then it’s just a matter of sitting down at the piano and coming up with something that fits.
What is it about a story that attracts you to work on certain films?
I think it’s fun to do all different kinds of things really. You have to be prepared to do whatever the film calls for. It is fun doing tension stuff because you can really do some out-there type of stuff with it. You can go anywhere and do some atonal stuff. It’s fun to work on anything though. I think that’s the most fun thing about film scoring; it’s a challenge to figure out what fits, what works with the film, and what supports what’s on the screen. You kind of have to watch out to not get in the way of certain things and you always have to think outside the box because things don’t exactly fit naturally in certain spaces. So you do some stuff that you wouldn’t normally do musically.
You’ve also gone into the studio and recorded a number of albums with your own group. What is the performance at the Blue Note going to be like?
I’ll be playing with my New York band that I’ve worked with quite a bit on and off over the years. That’s the group that I usually play with when I’m in the United States. That’s Rick Germanson playing piano, Jason Rigby playing saxophone, Alex Norris on trumpet, Joe Strasser on drums.
Do you have another record in the works at this point?
I just finished a new album in September, but it won’t be out until around the time of the Blue Note concert in March. I just recorded it in Provence, France. I spend quite a bit of time in Europe. I live half the year in Paris.
They have a lot of great studios in France. How was your experience recording there?
It was great. It’s a great studio; ECM does a lot of their stuff there. Manfred Eicher is there all the time. The main engineer is the guy who owns the studio. It’s a great sounding room and they have a beautiful piano. We stayed just a couple minutes down the road and it was right at the end of summer so it was quite a nice time of the year to be down there.
Who did you bring in to record with on this album?
This was kind of my usual band. They are mostly London musicians that I use — Andrew McCormack, Graeme Blevins, Quentin Collins, and Martyn Kaine. We’ve played together for about six or seven years now.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)