Kyle Eastwood’s self-effacing, almost shy demeanor betrays his sharp showmanship, enduring talent and undeniable fame in the arguably niche world of jazz. But the composer, arranger, musician and occasional actor has been producing albums to solid acclaim for over 20 years and consistently touring for almost as long. His love of jazz began right here, where the oldest son of Clint Eastwood and Maggie Johnson grew up, exposed to his parents’ love of jazz music at home, and where young Kyle attended several memorable Monterey Jazz Festivals with his famous father. Back then, he studied piano and guitar before becoming best known as a bassist.
But it’s clear that fame is the least interesting part of the package for Eastwood, whose eyes light up over specific annual festivals in the U.S. and abroad, where connections he’s forged with so many musicians he admires and the energy of the audience of so many familiar fans (though he seems reluctant to call them fans) fuel his passion.
But fans are numerous, especially in France, where Eastwood’s made his home for nearly two decades. Though he’d hardly say so himself, there, he’s an icon, frequently appearing on radio, TV and web shows, most recently in service of “Cinematic,” his 2019 album—its supporting tour was upended by the worldwide pandemic. When Carmel Magazine caught up with him at one of his neighborhood cafés in Paris, he was gracious when a fan stopped at the table and asked for a selfie, while gushing about how Eastwood’s music had influenced his own. Eastwood took time to ask the nervous musician about his music.
“Cinematic” is full of artistic collaborations on numbers old and new, with nods to film composers that have come before. Eastwood’s study and love of cinema and film music led him to compose the scores to several of his father’s and his sister Alison’s films and to pepper his own albums with interpretations of iconic pieces, including the James Bond theme “Skyfall,” and music from “Taxi Driver,” which appear on his aptly titled album “Cinematic.” Further illustrating Eastwood’s interest and desire to work with and interpret film scores, his tenth album, which he’ll begin recording this October, will feature music from Clint Eastwood’s films performed by a full orchestra, along with the London based Kyle Eastwood Group.
Eager to rejoin his group, Eastwood says that, more than anything, the pandemic made him realize how much he missed the energy of connection in person. “That’s what I’ve always liked the most about being in the studio: playing with others,” he says. He consistently heaps praise and positive words on his band, his family and everything that’s made it possible for him to continue touring worldwide and producing albums. He often does this via his Instagram and Facebook pages, where he offers glimpses of performances, audio mixing sessions and frequent messages of gratitude—both in English and excellent French—to his audience, bandmates, collaborators and venues that host his band. As happy as Eastwood was to return to in-person performances, it’s clear his fans were just as eager to see him again too.
In February 2020, the band was scheduled to play Shanghai and Beijing. They had already traveled to Japan and played Tokyo when, due to the outbreak of COVID, they were called back to the U.S. From there, it was back to Eastwood’s home base in Paris to play the first two dates of that leg of the tour in early March, only to be sidetracked again when COVID shut down travel and touring for an extended period of time and Eastwood and his wife, Cynthia, opted to return to the U.S.
Ever the optimist, Eastwood smiles and says, “We got a chance to visit,” of his family, which all live in California. He spent time in his hometown of Carmel, and the family was all together for father Clint’s big 90th birthday in May of 2020. “We had wanted to do something really special for his birthday like a big gathering,” Eastwood says. While that was not to be, given the circumstances, he’s grateful the whole family was able to be together nonetheless.
Then it was a bit of a roller coaster, he says, getting back to touring in France and salvaging some beloved annual European venues during the summer of 2021, as a few festivals began to open back up and the band was able to play here and there. Finally, this past May, Eastwood and his band finished up the European leg of the “Cinematic” tour in France, including dates at Paris’ venerable Saint-Germain-des-Pres Jazz Festival and the Versailles Jazz Festival.
It feels fitting now, as the “Cinematic” tour winds down, for Eastwood to once again come back home in a literal and symbolic way—with some U.S. dates, including one very special evening, September 25th, when he’ll grace the Garden Stage at the Monterey Jazz Festival, which will be back in full swing with outdoor stages after a virtual festival in 2020 and a reduced-capacity festival last year.
Artistic Director Tim Jackson says musicians are as excited as the patrons to come back. “They’re anxious to get back to communicating and collaborating with other artists,” he says.
“Whenever we can have Kyle back, we’re grateful. He’s an outstanding musician and always has an interesting band and an interesting concept,” says Jackson. “We consider Kyle as part of the Monterey Jazz Festival family,” he says, adding, “He’s played on all the different stages over the last 25 years or so, starting in probably the mid-90s and he even went to school with Managing Director Colleen Bailey.”
Memories of growing up on the peninsula, and plans to return, energize the conversation with the affable and upbeat Eastwood, who says he’s excited to return to play here and also to visit his old haunts. He’ll have limited time, as he’s travelling through between dates at Napa’s famous Blue Note and Yoshi’s in Oakland. His pace quickens as he wistfully lists the many places he treasures, some of which he won’t possibly be able to fit in on such a tight schedule.
“I always love to go to Big Sur, Pfeiffer Park,” Eastwood says. “I went there a lot as a kid. And I always drop by the Mission Ranch to say ‘hi’ to everyone and watch a sunset once or twice.” He’s most excited, it’s evident in his voice, “to see my folks, because they both still live there,” and “to catch up with a few friends who are still in the area.
Recalling his younger years growing up in Carmel, Eastwood says, “I spent a lot of time with my parents around the tennis courts at the Beach Club at Pebble Beach and I used to go out to John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch. I did two summers of summer camp out there in the early eighties.”
By the time the elder Eastwood ran and served a term as mayor of Carmel in 1985, Eastwood had already graduated from Stevenson School in Pebble Beach. “I kind of missed the whole thing because I went to Los Angeles (to study film). I missed a lot of the hoopla,” he laughs, but recalls reading the news, and remembers the funny merchandise, including the “Go ahead, make me mayor” T-shirts.
Eastwood has also made his own understated mark on Carmel merchandise, with a signature coffee from Carmel Roasting Company. “It was during COVID, and we were visiting with (owners) Janet and Dean McAthie. I’m a big espresso drinker and I tried to recreate an Italian espresso as close as I could,” he says. And thus the organic “Eastwood—Kyle’s Signature Blend” was born, and is still available today at the coffee shop and online. It seems even when it’s not musical, this spirit of collaboration in search of a perfect and delicious, familiar-yet-nascent blend—in other words, the essence of jazz—is what Kyle Eastwood is all about.
The Kyle Eastwood Group will grace the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Garden Stage on Sunday, September 25th at 6 PM. For more information, visit www.kyleeastwood.com.