In 1971, Clint Eastwood, actor, became Clint Eastwood, director. Then five years ago, with “Mystic River,” Eastwood added “score composer” to his credit block.
What is not generally known is that Eastwood — amateur jazz pianist and occasional singer (“Paint Your Wagon”) — has been contributing piano pieces and occasional themes for his movies as far back as “Tightrope” (1984). Recently, he scored his own film “Changeling” and co-wrote the title song for his follow-up, “Gran Torino.”
“I don’t like in-your-face scores,” says Eastwood, referring to his simple, often melancholy “Changeling” music. “I like (the music) to stay subservient. If people go out humming it, that’s fine, but not to the detriment of the film.”
Eastwood says he often thinks about music at the script stage, or during shooting, but the actual creation of the theme usually comes later.
“A lot of times when we’re in the editing process,” he explains, “I’ll go out in the afternoon, while the editors are catching up, and record something. Maybe it’ll only be a piano or guitar or something very simple. I’ll bring it back and say, ‘Let’s try this in that scene.’ That’s how scores like ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and ‘Changeling’ came about.”
Eastwood works with his jazz bassist son Kyle Eastwood and his guitarist partner Michael Stevens, who often arrange Eastwood’s themes for small ensemble or “mock-up” demos of the score with synthesizers. Then veteran composer Lennie Niehaus (who has scored several Eastwood pics) will orchestrate and conduct the full orchestra. “I give them the nucleus and then everybody puts in their contribution,” says Eastwood.
“You’re getting the score you want,” notes the director. “A lot of times I will bring in (a composer), but on these last few films, it seems like I just wanted my interpretation (musically).”
On “Gran Torino,” Eastwood worked with Kyle, Stevens and Brit jazz singer-pianist Jamie Cullum on the title song.
Eastwood says he wanted a “more intimate” approach for the song and asked Cullum to “sing it more introspectively, more ‘in your thoughts’ as opposed to a performance in a nightclub or music hall.”