Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Some people think that reviewers should never write up material that they suspect they may not like. If I know I don’t like Kevin Costner, it makes no sense for me to check out all his films, correct? Yes, but it’s not that simple. To make the site appealing to all, we need to cover a wide variety of titles, and since only two people write for DVD Movie Guide, inevitably one of us will need to watch something we’d otherwise skip.
And that’s why Eastwood After Hours: Live At Carnegie Hall entered my DVD player. While I love music, jazz has never been my cup of tea. Actually, that’s not totally true. During my first semester of college, I took a course in jazz appreciation, and it did give me a little more recognition of the form, at least briefly. I enjoyed the class and took a particular shine to the unusual meanderings of Thelonious Monk. I even went to a Wynton Marsalis show in December 1986.
However, I admit it - I was a poseur. I liked the idea of being a jazz fan, but the music just didn’t do it for me, and that’s not changed over the last 15 years. I like songs, and too much jazz is excessively loosey-goosey for my preference. I enjoy a well-constructed three or four minute pop or rock tune; to be sure, expansions are fine at times, but I think jazz relies too much on long and rambling free form explorations.
Jazz worships at the altar of the instrumentalist, and that’s my main problem with it. I prefer music that values the group over the individual. I’m sure some jazz aficionados will argue with me, but that’s how I see the genre; much of the time it offers showy and pointless soloing that seems to exist mainly to glorify the performer.
I’m not here to provide a discourse on what I interpret as the pros and cons of jazz, but I thought I needed to mention my opinions before I discussed Eastwood. Clearly my feelings about jazz would influence my thoughts about the program, so I felt it was appropriate to mention my predisposition.
Did anything about Eastwood change my mind? No. It offered a moderately pleasant experience, but it wasn’t anything I’d care to watch again. The DVD includes an October 1996 concert staged at New York’s Carnegie Hall. This performance saluted jazz fan and supporter Clint Eastwood. He often uses jazz in his movies, and that was the theme of the evening; most of the numbers played that evening also appeared in Eastwood flicks like In the Line of Fire and Play Misty For Me.
For the most part, the DVD consists of these performances. In addition, occasionally we see interview snippets from Eastwood between songs. He discusses tidbits such as his personal exposure to jazz, his use of the music in his movies, and his thoughts about various artists. In addition, scenes from the appropriate movies appear during the live performances.
The latter element is the worst misfire perpetrated by the filmmakers. When silent, the clips offer a distraction. No, the concert isn’t the liveliest visual experience imaginable, but so be it - the DVD should replicate the original performance. Nonetheless, I could live with simple photographic images. Unfortunately, the program often inserts soundbites from the flicks on top of the music! That’s a terrible mistake. The sound interferes with the concert and really becomes annoying at times.
On the other hand, the Eastwood interviews provide the best parts of the program. He seems relaxed and interested and he provides some quality information about his roots and his career. Unfortunately, we only find a few of these snippets. I like them a lot, but they pop up too infrequently.
That leaves the emphasis squarely on the music. As I already noted, nothing about Eastwood changed my mind about jazz. For better or for worse, the genre’s pros and cons seem to be on display here. Some people love the kind of flashy soloing evident during the medley of “Straight No Chaser” and “Now’s the Time” done by Joshua Redman and James Carter; I don’t. And who thought it was a good idea to do jazz versions of “Rawhide” and the theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly?
Probably my favorite number was also possibly the simplest: Jay McShann’s rendition of “Hootie’s Blues”. It’s a solid little blues number that stood out positively amidst the showier elements heard elsewhere.
Ironically, one of the concert’s sturdiest songs, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, provides easily the worst performance of the night. Singer Jimmy Scott’s frightfully stilted delivery - complemented by his awkward physical gestures - totally ruined a decent (if sappy) tune. Scott seemed permanently behind the tempo and couldn’t possibly have done a worse job. Gary LeMel’s version of “’Round Midnight” isn’t that much better; he seems better suited for some Vegas lounge.
Despite those misfires and my general apathy toward jazz, I will say that Eastwood After Hours offers a decent set of music. If nothing else, it’s a nice overview of a mix of styles, so folks who want to check out the genre may benefit from it. If you’re like me and you already know you don’t like jazz, however, don’t expect any revelations.