Jazz musician Kyle Eastwood has appeared in several recent films, usually as the bassist in a band playing in the background while the actors chew scenery on the dance floor.
It’s been 40 years, however, since his big moment as an above-the-title co-star; he was 12 years old when he played a Depression-era rascal in the country music drama Honkytonk Man.
Prior to that, Eastwood had made brief, uncredited appearances in The Outlaw Josey Wales and Bronco Billy.
The surname might be a dead giveaway. Kyle’s father is none other than Clint Eastwood, who starred in, and directed, all three films.
Eastwood the younger is the son of the cinema legend and his first wife, Margaret Neville Johnson.
Music, not acting, has always been central to him, and as part of a short American tour he and his band – saxophone, trumpet, piano, drums and bass – will perform Monday and Tuesday (Sept 19 and 20) on the Palladium Theater’s Side Door stage.
“Both my parents are big jazz fans, and they both play piano,” Eastwood, who grew up in Carmel, California, tells the Catalyst. “There was always a lot of music around the house. They also listened the R&B, and Ray Charles – and the odd Johnny Cash record here and there, things like that.
“Growing up in the ‘70s, I was listening to the radio all the time, so I was very much into rock and pop music. A lot of R&B and funk music as well. I just always loved music, really.”
His earliest memories are of the sounds of Basie, Ellington, Brubeck and Sinatra wafting through the family home. “And the first concert I remember going to was the Count Basie Big Band, in Monterey, in 1977 I think it was. When Count Basie was still alive and playing with the band.”
He’d started, like a lot of kids, by taking piano lessons. During the Honkytonk Man shoot, he learned to play the guitar.
In the days of Zeppelin and Van Halen, however, “I had a lot of friends in high school that were musicians … but of course, none of them were bass players. They were always getting together and playing, and they always needed someone to play bass.”
Eventually, the jazz bug bit him (again), and told him to learn how to play acoustic upright bass. After years of study, and dues-paying, he released his first album, From There to Here, in 1998. Ten more have followed.
As a composer, his film scores include two of Dad’s, Invictus and Letters From Iwo Jima; his music was also featured on the soundtracks of Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Gran Torino. J. Edgar and others.
His most recent album, Cinematic, is a re-imagining of classic movie themes, everything from Bullitt and The Eiger Sanction to Gran Torino and Skyfall.
“I haven’t really done any dates in America since just before Covid,” explains Eastwood, who spends most of the year in Europe. “Cinematic came out just before that, so we never really got a chance to come out and play music over here.
Nevertheless, he spent this summer in California, working on arrangements for Symphonic, orchestral/jazz versions of tunes from his father’s films, which he’ll take across the pond for a selection of shows before recording it in Prague for eventual album release.
“I love playing music by great composers,” he says. “And I like doing original material – I more or less have, predominantly, on a lot of my records. Cinematic was a tribute to some of my favorite film composers. There was one or two in there that I had something to do with, but all the rest were by some of the greats.
“The same thing with the Symphonic thing – it’s going to be some Lalo Schifrin pieces, some Ennio Morricone music, and one or two that I had my hand on.”
Everywhere he goes, Kyle Eastwood gets asked: What was it like living in Clint’s shadow? “That’s a pretty big shadow,” he laughs.
“Obviously, when you’re related to somebody that famous, it has its advantages and its disadvantages, like anything, I suppose.
“I’ve just always tried to stay focused on music, and being as good a musician as I can be. If it does garner some attention, hopefully people will judge the music on its own merit, and not worry so much about everything else.”
Find tickets for the Palladium shows here.