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Piano Blues
Director Interview
Fats Domino came to the plains of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming when we were making Any Which Way You Can. He started playing one of his songs, "I Want to Walk You Home," on a grand piano. All of a sudden everyone stopped and looked over the side of the hill and there were about ten elk. They were all standing there with their heads tilted to where the sounds were coming from — as soon as Fats stopped playing, they left. They were fascinated. Everybody likes the blues.

I think music plays a very important part in a movie by punctuating the drama, and it is important that it enhances the drama and does not intrude upon it. There are moments when silence in a film can play a very important part as well. To me the complications of the theme are dictated according to what the story calls for. I've done a lot of movies where I have been lucky enough to incorporate jazz and the blues — two of America's great art forms.

When I was a kid music was a constant. After Fats Waller died, my mother brought home a whole collection of his records, saying that they would be the last of his music to be available. I learned to play the piano by listening to his records and trying to imitate other jazz and blues artists of that era. I taught myself to play a little stride piano and a three-chord, eight-beat thing. I became interested in boogie-woogie, jazz, and bebop. I was telling stories on the piano long before I ever directed a movie. In my movies, I like the image of the piano player: The piano player sits down, plays, tells his story, and then gets up and leaves, letting the music speak for itself.

My love for the blues continued while growing up in Oakland, California. On the radio and on records, I heard great piano players, like Art Tatum, George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, and Erroll Garner, as well as the boogie-woogie piano players, such as Clarence "Pine Top" Smith, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade "Lux" Lewis, and Jay McShann. There was a musical scene that allowed all kinds of styles to flourish, including gospel, which is where I think much of the blues started in the churches of the South.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of being on a program with Jay McShann at Carnegie Hall. I was playing "After Hours" by Avery Parrish on the piano, and I hadn't played this song in many years. The deal was Jay was going to come in and take over. I had said, "I don't know if I know all of it . . . be sure and make certain McShann comes in and takes over." So, there I am playing on stage at Carnegie Hall and all of a sudden I am coming to the end of my repertoire and Jay wasn't there. Afterward, Jay said, "Well, you seem to be doing OK, I just thought I'd let you go."

Recently I asked Jay McShann, "Would you describe yourself as happy?" He told me, "Pretty much, but sometimes you can't see from lookin'." In doing the movie about piano blues I want the camera to look but not get in the way of seeing.

—Clint Eastwood

Read an archived version of singer and pianist Marcia Ball's Washington Post online chat.


 

 
 
 
 
 
 
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