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ALL THAT JAZZ

Beyond 'Bridges': Eastwood Label Plans for More Jazz

June 28, 1996|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Clint Eastwood's Malpaso record label has only had one release so far, but it's been a big one. The soundtrack from "The Bridges of Madison County," featuring the Johnny Hartman vocals that played such a major role in the film, has been at the top of the jazz charts for more than a year.

Now, to accompany the videotape release of the movie, Malpaso has issued a follow-up album, "Remembering Madison County." Once again, it showcases Hartman's sensual vocals on such standards as "I Could Write a Book" and "I See Your Face Before Me," with two additional instrumental tracks by Ahmad Jamal.

"Some of the songs were in the picture," Eastwood says, "and some were tunes that hadn't been released before--'Moonlight in Vermont' was one, a really nice rendition of the song. But the important thing was that it was music that we thought Francesca and Robert [the main characters] might have listened to."

Eastwood, a perennial jazz fan, chose the relatively obscure Johnny Hartman songs for the film because "everyone seems to use Sinatra or Nat Cole or Tony Bennett. But Hartman is a guy who you're not going to hear every day."

Equally important, he is a singer Eastwood remembers from his youth.

"I caught him on several occasions," he recalls. "Once when I went to see the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra in San Francisco and Hartman was the band singer. And another time when I was a young kid wearing a white dinner jacket with a date, giving her a corsage and doing the whole thing. We were all knocked out by his voice because he had such a distinctive sound."

Eastwood's future plans for Malpaso are driven by similarly personal memories. The first project in the works is a retrospective collection of music from the Monterey Jazz Festival, an event he has been close to for years (he serves on the board of directors).

"We're going into the archives of the past 40 years to pull out a set of albums, and we'll put them out in conjunction with the festival. As you can imagine, there's a lot to pick from."

Another project touches another early Eastwood jazz experience, the first time he heard Lester Young and Charlie Parker at a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert, the legendary jam sessions that brought together the jazz stars of the '40s and '50s.

"Lester Young was my absolute most favorite saxophone player when I was growing up," he says. "That was, to me, the epitome of tenor sax playing. I saw him a few times, but that first time was at a JATP concert in Oakland in the mid-'40s. And he was playing in a lineup with Bird, Coleman Hawkins and Flip Phillips. A rather overwhelming group."

Eastwood plans to record a Carnegie Hall concert in October that will combine surviving JATP veterans, including Phillips, Hank Jones and Illinois Jacquet, with younger players like Joshua Redman in a "sort of jam session" format.

"It'll be a kind of real melding of a lot of different things," he says. "Jon Faddis will have the Carnegie Hall Orchestra there to do some numbers.

"And [saxophonist and composer] Lennie Niehaus is writing a piece," Eastwood adds with a chuckle, "that's going to be called 'After Hours With Clint Eastwood.' Should be a lot of fun."

It's not nearly as minimal a set of releases as one might expect, given his desire to have Malpaso "stay small and boutique--not go out and put out a lot of stuff." But it's also not surprising, given Eastwood's great affection for jazz and his tendency to sneak it into even the most unlikely of places. (Remember his piano-playing Secret Service agent in "In the Line of Fire"?)

Although he says he has not addressed it yet, his production of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," still on the horizon, will "probably have a Johnny Mercer-oriented score because of his tie-in with Savannah. You know, he's just a local guy who made good." As Eastwood well knows, it would be hard to imagine any music related to Mercer that wasn't in some way tinged with jazz.

"The important thing," he says, "is that I have to feel that it fits. I've done movies with Merle Haggard, and I've done movies with classical music and everything you can imagine. I like it all. But I have to admit there's something about jazz that I have a great affection for.

"There's something about the independence of jazz," Eastwood adds, "and the fact that great players are willing to indulge in it. That's amazing to me. And when you think that jazz continues to attract such great players, when lesser musicians make so much money with other forms of music, it's got to make you optimistic about this music. You have to be. It's a great heritage."

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