Jazz Lovers Series: Clint Eastwood
Finally, there is the aspect of Clint's sideline as a Jazz pianist and aficionado to be considered. I have always wondered what would have happened if Clint had dedicated himself to Jazz piano early on, and been the recipient of a few lucky breaks and a Louis Armstrong-level love of the herb. Would he have become a Jazz icon instead of a film icon? Or would he have languished as a reliable but unspectacular session player who lives out his golden years plinking shopworn standards in hotel lobbies? I tend to believe that, like most of us who have flirted with Jazz only to realize that our real talents lie elsewhere, Eastwood followed his true abilities to their ultimate ends and carried Jazz with him as a precious part of his personal journey. I came to that realization at the age of 19, knowing that I would only ever be, at best, a serviceable Jazz trombonist, but that my writing would be the conduit that would carry me to my place in the world. And besides, it is a known fact that writers are preferred 12-to-1 over Jazz trombonists among redheaded females between the ages of "hey, look at my new tattoo!" and "is it okay if I bring my son with us on our first date? He needs a male role model."
In respect to his love of Our Music, Eastwood has been afforded by his successes the ability to indulge his avocation. He can play piano for the sheer joy of it, and has the talent and self-restraint to not inflict his musical ambitions on the unsuspecting and unfortunate (unlike Shaq, who rapped about as well as he shot free throws, and Bruce Willis, who played harmonica about as well as Toots Thielemans shot free throws). He can more than competently score his own films when he takes a notion, play Carnegie Hall with an enviable line-up of Jazz musicians and not come off like he's renting out the place for his own vanity project, and even live down an album from his Rawhide days that keeps coming back to haunt him, on which he gamely slogged through a handful of cheesy cowboy songs. Eastwood has truly been able to fully live his passions and make an indelible mark on the world, creating a legacy that will live on even after he has passed on to the next life and gets into a fistfight with Charles Mingus over Clint's chord voicings in "Peggy's Blue Skylight."
Though he is most definitely a unique example of the pinnacles achieved by our fellow Jazz lovers, he is by no means an anomaly. Devotees of Our Music continue to distinguish themselves in all facets of human achievement; from the NBA's leading scorer, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who proved that intelligent and cultured men could still excel at sports (imagine Duke Ellington penning "Black and Tan Fantasy," and then dropping a skyhook over Bill Walton) to pioneering magazine publisher Hugh Hefner, who proved to American men that it was possible to see nice girls in various states of undress without having to buy them jewelry first.
It almost begs the question whether is it Jazz that inspires greatness from the merely good, or do those with greatness in them gravitate to Jazz because it speaks to them in ways no other form of creative expression can? For now, I will leave that for you to decide, since it is almost dinner time and I still have to return Trouble With the Curve to the Redbox machine before they hit me for another $1.50, because I'm not exactly made of money these days.
Till next time, kids, exit to your right and enjoy the rest of AAJ.