"LADIES AND gentleman, I am Clint Eastwood, and I like jazz."
For simple testimonials, that one can't be beat. Eastwood is on stage at Carnegie Hall, Oct. 17, 1996. James Moody, Roy Hargrove, James Carter and a host of others have just wound up a wild "Lester Leaps In." It's quite a moment.
And the biggest surprise is to come. For the final number, the blues "After Hours," Eastwood himself sits down at the piano. He lays down a blues scale in the right hand, and with his left starts shyly thumping out a bass line.
There's something beautiful about it. Stars have such opportunities open to them. They can have access to almost anyone they want. Yet, from Madonna to Princess Diana, they continually disappoint us. Faced with the world's treasures, they choose the rhinestones of the collection -- rock stars, models and fashion designers. It's gratifying to see someone like Eastwood using his influence to land himself on stage with James Carter and Joshua Redman.
Eastwood's son, Kyle Eastwood, is a jazz bassist. (He's good, too, and earns his place on this album.) But Clint Eastwood's love for jazz goes way back. "Play Misty for Me" was set against the florid backdrop of Errol Garner's ballad. In "The Bridges of Madison County," he nixed the country music referred to in the novel, and changed it to jazz.
In between, Eastwood produced the Thelonious Monk documentary "Straight, No Chaser." He assisted with other jazz-oriented releases, including the Kansas City documentary "The Last of the Blue Devils" and " 'Round Midnight," starring Dexter Gordon. There was also "Bird," Eastwood's look at the life of Charlie Parker.
What's touching about Eastwood's jazz fixation is his sincerity, his unselfish drive to bring artists he admires into the spotlight. When he used "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" in "Play Misty for Me," he launched the career of Roberta Flack. ("Misty" was played by Garner himself.) In "The Bridges of Madison County," we heard standards sung by Dinah Washington (instead of a new reworking by Sting or somebody).
This sincerity runs through "Eastwood After Hours," a CD commemorating a specially arranged concert in Carnegie Hall.
"Eastwood After Hours" is a lot of fun. The musicians clearly were chosen for their talent, not their commercial appeal. And every piece has something to do with Clint Eastwood. There's even a bombastic "Eastwood: After Hours (Suite)" played by the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, directed by Jon Faddis. It includes the themes from "Unforgiven," "Tightrope," "Rawhide" and, of course, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."
Other highlights of the record:
James Carter leading a sultry "Laura." ("Laura" was a main theme in the movie "Bird.")
Jimmy Scott singing "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," featured in "Misty." With his strange falsetto voice, Scott has an almost unbearable intensity.
"San Antonio Rose," a exuberant fiddle number featuring violinist Claude Williams. This danceable confection comes to us courtesy of "Honkytonk Man."
"These Foolish Things" played by Joshua Redman against a backdrop of strings. The strings give a nod toward an earlier era without getting corny. Redman's improvisations are unhurried and understated -- a tribute to Lester Young, Eastwood's supreme idol.
A raucous, exuberantly cacophonous "Lester Leaps In," beginning with a kind of canon effect, as James Carter, Joshua Redman, etc., come in one by one.
At the end, Eastwood recalls the thrill of recording Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson and Benny Goodman. "They were great musicians," he says. "But none better than this."
One complaint about the CD: Listeners will be continually checking the notes to see who's playing with whom, and the microscopic print -- white on a red background, no less -- is an absolute torture to read. Rating: ****.
"Eastwood: After Hours" isn't the only sign of the Man With No Name using his clout for all the right reasons. A three-CD set called "40 Years of the Monterey Jazz Festival" is a treat that only a powerful movie star could have arranged. Here are live recordings from decades of the festival, from in 1958 to 1996.
It's a great history lesson as well as great music. The outdoor informality gives the cuts a special charm -- legends like Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus address the crowd, and even Sarah Vaughan clowns as she starts "If You Could See Me Now."
The festival's first year begins with a square announcement: "Welcome to the Monterey Jazz Festival. Now, if you will all stand, we'll bring you our national anthem." (No '50s live jazz recording is complete without a square announcement.) "The Star-Spangled Banner" is played by Dizzy Gillespie, solo, with a cute jauntiness.
The first festival caught the twilight of Billie Holiday, who, the notes explain, sat around mumbling, "It sure is beautiful here." She had only a few more months to live. We hear her crooning the sensuous "Fine and Mellow."
Dave Brubeck's "For All We Know" follows, and this is a famous take: A jet roars overhead, and Brubeck trips into "Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder." The crowd screams.
Here's an interesting chance to track jazz fashions through the decades. Gerry Mulligan's "Blueport" (1958) typifies his ultra-cool style. In 1960, Cannonball Adderley appears with "Blue Daniel." Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" (1964) finds the master in good form.
There's no topping the suave, sublime Paul Gonsalves, though, as in 1965 he and the rest of the Duke Ellington Orchestra played "Chelsea Bridge." This is the sweet side of Gonsalves, who had blown Newport away in 1956 with the explosive "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue."
Ellington's orchestra was timeless, and the Basie band hammered it home in 1977 that it was, too. One of the best blues pianists of all time, Basie didn't hit a lot of notes, but he hit the absolute right ones. Joe Williams joins him for the nervy old Jimmy Rushing shout blues "Goin' to Chicago."
There are calm interludes: Oscar Peterson's frothy "Younger Than Springtime" (1971); the Modern Jazz Quartet's coy " 'Round Midnight" ('73); Bill Evans' "Up With the Lark" ('75).
One great moment: Sonny Rollins honking through "Keep Hold of Yourself" (1994). The earthy feel, the bluesy beat summon up perfectly the breeziness of this famous festival. Are the rest of these performances locked in a vault somewhere? It's a tantalizing thought. If they are, it'll take someone like Clint Eastwood to get them out. Rating: **** 1/2 .
EASTWOOD AFTER HOURS (Malpaso/Warner, two discs, 9-46546-2).
40 YEARS OF THE MONTEREY JAZZ FESTIVAL (Warner, three discs, 9-46703-2).