The driver’s door closes with a satisfying thunk. Kyle Eastwood opens his eyes, closed to allow him to take in the all-important first auditory impression of the W 111 without any visual distractions. He’s now trying to find the right words to characterise the 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet, which dates back to 1970. They include powerful and luxurious, classic and elegant. “If I had to reduce my first impression to just one word, it would be quality,” says the jazz bass musician, 51, whose whole life has been focused on sound. Born in the US, he learned to play the piano as a small boy, followed by the guitar at twelve and soon afterwards by the double bass. He owes his talent and passion both to his grandmother, who was a singing teacher, and to his parents, who took him along with them every year to the Monterey Jazz Festival. “One advantage of having Clint Eastwood as your father is that you get to go backstage at such events,” says Kyle, whose father introduced him to jazz legends such as Miles Davis and Sarah Vaughan.
Kyle Eastwood calls the Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet powerful and luxurious, classic and elegant.
The musician strolls home. He has a concert to play in Spain tomorrow.
The son of Maggie Johnson and Clint Eastwood, he spent a rather sheltered childhood in Monterey, California, together with sister Alison. No different from any kids who didn’t have a famous father, Kyle believes: “He’s a very gentle, caring sort of guy,” says the musician of the actor, director and producer, now 89, who enjoyed a successful global career as a Western and action movie hero, for example as Dirty Harry in the eponymous 1971 film classic. There’s no one film that Kyle would immediately put forward as his favourite, although he admits to having seen “The Man Who Would Be King”, with Sean Connery, at least a dozen times.
And he, too, can see himself as the director of a film, one of these days. He broke off his film studies after a year, however, because he missed music, his jazz, too much. “Jazz was my first great love,” he says, shrugging his shoulders as if to justify giving up his studies. From that point on, in 1987 and 1988 he appeared only as a professional musician, first of all in Los Angeles, then in London and New York, before finding himself drawn by the music to Paris eleven years ago. “Paris is an amazing city, but it doesn’t feel quite as big as London or New York,” he says of his adopted home city, where he enjoys writing film scores, including for his father’s films. Having grown up not far from Pebble Beach, it is perhaps inevitable that another of his passions is for classic Mercedes-Benz models.
His father, too, was very attached to the brand and owns a small collection of his own. Kyle’s first memory of a car is of sitting in the back seat of a 300 SEL 6.3 from 1969, which was followed by a 450 SEL 6.9. This was in the late 1970s, with his famous father always behind the wheel. “I find the whole aura of Mercedes-Benz classic cars just so fascinating. That sublime feeling. However uneven the road surface, I feel as if I’m floating,” says Kyle, laughing at his own rapturous language. A dismissive wave of the hand. That’s enough talk. Time to fire up the powerful eight-cylinder engine of the car parked outside the Café de l’Esplanade, just a few hundred metres from his apartment.
So much in Kyle Eastwood’s life is about sound. He also enjoys hearing the W 111.
Between 1969 and 1971 Daimler-Benz built just 1,232 of these Cabriolet models with the redesigned 3.5-litre V8 engine; a large part was delivered to the USA. The top-of-the-range model is easily identifiable by its lower and wider radiator grille, which earned it a nickname as the “flat radiator” model. “The engine sounds refined and cultured, not coarse. I like that,” says the bassist of the “three-point-five” even before he’s driven anywhere. The guests out on the terrace of his favourite café pull out their smartphones – a W 111 Cabriolet is not something you see too often here. Kyle runs his hand over the burr walnut of the dashboard which, together with chrome and grey leather, forms a successful synthesis of materials in the interior. Later, when he’s talking on the phone to his wife, Cynthia Ramirez – who has Spanish-Mexican roots – about the Cabriolet and its 200 PS, he will speak of classic, timeless elegance, of the finest craftsmanship and of an indescribable sound.
It’s not long before we are joined by his wife, 49, who works in the fashion industry; she duly admires the dark blue vehicle, gently caressing the grey leather of the seats. So many subtle details, colour code DB 904, as dark blue as the ocean at its coldest point. The Coupés and Cabriolets of the 111 series have only few components in common with the Saloons. Without the steel roof, the structure of the Cabriolet had need of other reinforcing elements. Kyle opens the soft top. The retractable, frameless side windows give the W 111 a particularly soothing silhouette. “A car like a sculpture,” comments Cynthia.
His debut album, “From There to Here”, was released 21 years ago and featured a guest appearance from, among others, Joni Mitchell. The album was well received and Kyle went on to play a whole series of gigs, moving with his then wife and their daughter, Graylen, to New York to allow him to work alongside some of the best musicians. “Apart from my family, music was always the only thing that ever really interested me,” is how Kyle sums up his life. His ninth album will be released shortly: “Cinematic”, named after his second great passion, film.
Wife Cynthia, with whom Kyle Eastwood has lived in Paris for several years, often makes the musician laugh.
“A car like a sculpture,” comments Cynthia.
For the tour that follows, he will be taking the film music onto the stage. He plays as part of a quintet made up of true aficionados of jazz on the saxophone, trumpet, piano and drums, with himself as the all-round bassist on double bass and electric bass guitar. Kyle, whose ancestors hailed from England, Ireland and Sweden, likes to spend the winter with Cynthia in the US, three or four months at a time, not least in order to be able to see his daughter Graylen. The 25-year-old with the Irish name lives in California and, like her father, is musical, plays the drums and acts. She spent six years with him in Paris, and he wishes she could be with him now, just as he used to enjoy sitting with his father in previous Mercedes-Benz cars.
Kyle has now stowed his double bass in the car. Although he only has a couple of kilometres to drive, he’s photographed at least 20 times as he stops at red lights. He parks outside the Duc des Lombards club, where he has played many times in the past and where live recordings have been made of musicians such as Laurent Coq, Richard Davis, Bob Mintzer and Christian Escoudé. They were all there at one time or another, immortalising themselves by carving their names in the bar.
The club is internationally renowned on the jazz scene and is situated right in the heart of Paris. Kyle has never seen the area around the club during the day and is quite surprised to see all the bars and sandwich stalls. Opening the door, he lifts out his double bass before taking the step up to the entrance. This is where he feels most at home. Somewhere where he can rehearse with his band, because the owners know him and hold him in high regard. The quartet around him is missing today and he’s going to be appearing solo on stage. Just him, an American jazz musician who lives in Paris because jazz is valued here so much more than in the US. Just him, a sensitive soul, at 1.93 metres the same height as his father, along with 20 kilos of superlative instrument, the lowest-pitched and largest of the string instruments. Four strings that can be plucked or played with a bow. His fingers slide over the strings, his eyes close. His face seems to go into soft focus as soon as he holds his double bass. Alternately standing and sitting.
He plays the theme from “The Pink Panther” and, as he plays the familiar track, he transforms into a different person. His body moves in time to the music and his hands become one with the instrument as he does what he does best: making music. Entertaining, playing, feeling. Just him and his bass. His style is direct, lyrical, melodious. Always cosmopolitan, always genuine, always elegant. And passionate. “If he’s had a series of gigs, one after the other, his fingers move as he sleeps. He’s making music, dreaming of jazz,” reveals Cynthia and smiles over at her husband at the wheel of the car. She met him more than 15 years ago in Los Angeles and, although she liked him a lot right from the start, she saw him all too rarely because he spent so much time making music in Europe. So one day she upped sticks, left California and moved to Paris. For love. She attends his concerts as often as she can. If she can’t make it, they speak on the phone before he goes on stage. When he has doubts, she says: “Now get out there and give them the show of your life.”
In France, Kyle Eastwood is the famous jazz musician.
She laughs and reveals that he can be very uptight sometimes on stage, with so many eyes focused on him. Being at the centre of attention is not really his thing. As she talks about her husband, she touches him now and then. “He has the kindest heart in the world and never has a bad word to say about anyone,” she affirms, a trait he has inherited from his father. The resemblance to his father is unmistakable. He is often approached and asked if he could possibly be “the son of…”.
He’s never known it any other way and isn’t unduly fazed by the attention, as he is only too proud of his father. In France, he is a star, the famous jazz musician. A fan recognises him as he lays the double bass back into the W 111, turns his bike round, dismounts and bows to the jazz star, who is quite moved by the gesture: “All I ever want is for my fans to love my music,” says Kyle, who enjoys listening to Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye when he can.
Darkness is gradually falling over the city on the Seine at the end of this wonderful summer’s day as he parks the deep blue cabriolet not far from his front door – and leaves the engine running. Tomorrow Kyle will once again be at the centre of attention. On stage. His plane leaves for Spain in just a few hours. He remains in his seat for a few minutes more, enjoying the sound of the eight-cylinder engine as it exhales before coming to rest. He gets out, smiling. And the driver’s door closes once more with a satisfying thunk.
Kyle remains in his seat for a few minutes listening to the “three-point-five” before getting out.