In ‘Jersey Boys,’ Clint Eastwood Does it Again

I saw Jersey Boys only once, opening night on Broadway in 2005.

I was there since I was the first writer, I think, to write about the show with any kind of substance, enjoying a breakfast interview with Bob Gaudio at least a couple months before it opened, for Billboard. I mean, Rolling Stone had to be badgered into giving it any coverage—that’s how little the Four Seasons were regarded.

But I only saw the Broadway show that one time, and only remember that I thought it was great. But I know it couldn’t have been any better than Clint Eastwood’s screen version, which opens June 20.

I suppose a lot of people were surprised to learn that Clint was directing the film adaptation. I was, too, at first, but only because I wouldn’t have thought of him within the context of the Four Seasons and rock ‘n’ roll. I’d interviewed him a number of times, too, for Billboard, about how he put together the music for his movies, either choosing songs or composing his own movie themes.

In that respect, Clint long ago transcended Clint. There’s a quick incidental shot of him in his breakthrough TV role on Rawhide as cattle driver Rowdy Yates, which hews to the time period of the action, of course, but also points to the vast artistic territory Clint covered after leaving the show.

There were the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, obviously, and his own masterful western directorials that followed, then the action films of Dirty Harry and their like. But where he was once synonymous with westerns and action—and stereotyped for them—that was all so long ago. His film romance The Bridges of Madison County, which he starred in opposite Meryl Streep, was truly beautiful, and the took on as director another best seller in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

He successfully plied biography in Invictus (Nelson Mandela) and J. Edgar (Hoover), and his back-to-back World War II movies, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, make up a singular achievement in the history of cinema, being a look at the Battle of Iwo Jima from first the American point-of-view, then Japan’s.

And as an actor, starting with his masterpiece western Unforgiven, his performances have added subtle nuance to go with his aging character portrayals (In the Line of Fire, A Perfect World, Absolute Power, True Crime, Space Cowboys, Blood Work, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino and Trouble with the Curve).

Music, meanwhile, has remained a central thread of his films, from his singing role with Lee Marvin in the musical version of Broadway’s Paint Your Wagon to his directorial debut, Play Misty for Me, a thriller in which Clint, who had played jazz piano in an Oakland bar prior to being drafted into the Army in 1951 (in fact, he played a bit of jazz piano in In the Line of Fire, and in 2003 directed the documentary Piano Blues for Martin Scorcese’s The Blues documentary series) played a jazz radio DJ. From there he easily transitioned into playing a country-and-western singer in Honkytonk Man (also starring his son Kyle, who’s now a notable jazz bassist/bandleader and contributed to the Jersey Boys score); he also produced the documentary Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser and directed the  Charlie Parker biopic Bird, and composed the score for Grace is Gone, starring John Cusack.

In 1996, Clint was honored by a musical tribute at Carnegie Hall, later released on CD and DVD as Eastwood After Hours and featuring his performance along with those from numerous jazz luminaries. And when he walked up to the front of the Paris Theatre to introduce last night’s VIP screening of Jersey Boys, he reminded me of a fellow jazz great and ageless octogenarian, Tony Bennett, both of whom only get better with years.

He spoke briefly and softly, and after noting how films have long been adapted from Broadway musicals and more recently vice versa, said how he tried to use actors from three different versions of the staged musical, including the key original Broadway cast—and how much he loved them all and what a great pleasure it was for him to direct the film. And while ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll would not seem to be Clint’s forte, he could not have been more respectful of the Four Seasons and all of us who love them and their music.

And as always, Clint brings out the best in his actors and crew members. Jersey Boys is one gorgeous movie to watch—and hear. And whatever you do, don’t leave before the credits, for Clint ends it with what is essentially a joyous Bollywood video using the full cast as singers and dancers: Even Christopher Walken, who is superb in his gangster role, becomes a natural hoofer.

So now I beg you, Clint. Make my movie dream come true: An acting collaboration between the two greatest living actors, Clint Eastwood, 84, and Bollywood’s likewise incomparable Amitabh Bachchan (71).

Tales of Bessman: Why Not Jazz?

I’m weeping openly as the waitress pours what’s left of the bottle into the glass. Surely there is nothing more sad, really and truly and metaphorically.

Sad, too, watching the adorable kid with the illustration of a moose on her sweatshirt. It looks so much like Bullwinkle J. Moose but it can’t be. It would say so if it was, and if it were she wouldn’t know Bullwinkle J. Moose anyway.

“And is it ‘was’ or ‘were’?” I wonder sadly as I take the last gulp.

I’m at Whynot Jazz, a tiny basement jazz venue below Whynot Coffee & Wine in Greenwich Village, corner of Christopher and Gay. I’m sure he gets it all the time, but I still felt stupid asking  the guy in the newspaper stand at the Uptown Christopher Street #1 train entrance where Gay Street is. Good of him to tell me without snickering.

The little toddler in the moose sweatshirt (maybe she was three years old, tops) had a cute little Samurai topknot and might have been Japanese. She was dragging her mother over to the corner where Leni Stern was leading her trio, made up of Amanda Ruzza on bass, Alioune Faye on a djembe goblet drum with four metal rattles standing around the edge, and Stern herself, of course on guitar. All are magnificent musicians, all here from elsewhere.

German-born Stern is a longtime New York resident (she’s married to renowned jazz guitarist Mike Stern) and also plays n’goni, a traditional West African lute. Her latest album Jelell employs Senegal’s mbalax rhythms and features Faye, who hails from Senegal.

Ruzza is from Brazil and plays with everyone she can, from country music (she toured with Nashville-based country show band Mustang Sally before moving to New York) to jazz. She’ll be at City Winery next week in Jill Sobule’s band.

She was wearing a “Kiss Me I’m the Bass Player” t-shirt. It made me think of the classic “Kiss Me I’m Polish Polka,” that I always associate with my dear friend, the late Eddie Blazonczyk, king of the  Chicago Push-style Polish polka: “Kiss me, I’m Polish/How ‘bout a kiss?/Kiss me, I’m Polish/That is my wish.”

Don’t ask me to come up with a greater verse in the history of recorded music.

I was tempted to share it with Amanda, but didn’t, wisely, perhaps. As noted, she’s pretty broad-minded, but polka, sadly, remains a stretch even for the most musically adventurous.

As it turned out, I did not have my “Kiss Me, I’m a Freelance Writer” t-shirt on. Rather, I ran out with a frayed gray Five Points Academy martial arts class t-shirt on, with Five Points emblazoned in Thai script on the front. I made it to the ground floor of my fifth floor walk-up before rightly thinking I should dress more for the occasion, and ran back upstairs to put on my still intact black “Rector High School Helping Hands” t-shirt, which I got three years ago when I went to cover my pal and Rolling Stones savior Bill Carter’s Helping Hands Foundation in his tiny hometown of Rector, Arkansas.

Meanwhile, the little girl with the moose sweatshirt was squealing up a storm. Stern, however, was delighted, and whynot? It was just the girl, her mom and (presumably) her dad, me, the waitress and the club manager in the room–Whynot Jazz being a new venue.

Stern played directly to the kid. She told her a Malian story about a cat who stole the moon—at least I think that’s what it was about.

My hearing is bad. The last time it was checked was years ago in New Rochelle, at the Ladies Professional Golf Association’s JAL Big Apple Classic tournament at the Wykagyl Country Club.

I had friends at the LPGA back then, and had a Clubhouse Pass allowing me into the clubhouse—but not the locker room.

They were giving free hearing tests in the dining room, but there were no takers. The poor girl doing the testing pleaded with me to take it, so I did, with a feeling of dread.

I put on the headphones, and she started asking me standard questions, i.e., my name, address, etc. A couple minutes went by and she was still typing away, while I became more and more apprehensive.

I finally said, “You’ll let me know when the test begins, right?”

“It just ended,” she said. “You’d better see your doctor.”

I never did see my doctor. The JAL Big Apple Classic no longer exists.

I don’t know why the cat stole the moon—or if the cat stole the moon. Or if it was a cat and the moon.

But I still hear the little girl with the moose sweatshirt squealing.