Arts & Life
Sun May 25, 2014
Jeff Goldblum Plays A Jazz Show Almost Every Week. No, Really.
Originally published on Sun May 25, 2014 4:57 pm
Did you know the theme music to Jurassic Park has lyrics?
Well, according to Jeff Goldblum, who played "Dr. Ian Malcolm" in the film, here they are:
In Jurassic Park
Scary in the dark
I'm so scared that I'll be eaten.
At least that's what Goldblum said — or, rather, sang — at a recent performance of the jazz show he plays in Los Angeles almost every week. He's been playing there since the 1990s.
Goldblum's long-time hobby might come as a surprise to his fans.
The actor, now 61 years old, has been performing in movies, television, and on stage for more than four decades. In addition to Jurassic Park, he's acted in Independence Day, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Big Chill, The Fly and dozens of other films and TV shows, where he provides that uniquely wry, charming, and unpredictable edge.
But before Jeff Goldblum was an actor, he played piano.
"I'm from Pittsburgh, and I played piano when I was a kid," Goldblum says before a recent performance. "I got the idea to play out and about in cocktail lounges when I was, like, 15, and got a job or two."
Ever since, whenever he's not playing a character on set, he's playing a piano at home.
"These days and for many years, I just hardly spend a day where I don't pass a piano in my place and just play for as long as I can," he says.
Meet The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra
Sometime in the 1990s — and he can't recall exactly when — Goldblum got a band together through a friend of a friend named John Mastro, who had connections in the local music scene.
"We just started playing," says Mastro, who still manages the band. There was "no advertising or anything. It was just something to do."
The semi-regular group of professional jazz players that perform with Goldblum even took on a name, The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. They're named for a friend of Goldblum's family back in Pittsburgh.
Goldblum says he still prioritizes his acting career, so the shows have not always been exactly weekly. But when he's not busy, he'll get his band together for the very loose, improvised three-hour show at an L.A. club called Rockwell.
"So we have a kind of hootenanny, or be-in, or some kind of a jam session is what they call it," Goldblum says, "and people seem to enjoy it."
Working The Room
A big part of the audience's enjoyment comes from the joy Goldblum takes in working a room full of Goldblum acolytes and fans.
"I consider myself a social lubricant as much as a musician really," Goldblum says.
During a recent show, Goldblum meets two musicians in the audience, Ryan Thorn and Jessica Hall. The three spontaneously start singing the aria, "Caro Mio Ben" together.
"This is the greatest moment ever," says Hall.
"This is the greatest moment of my life," Goldblum shoots back.
Goldblum's willingness to interact with everyone, taking photos, and playing little games with people in the audience, tends to put many of the very nervous fans at ease.
"After hundreds of shows, I'm amused every time," says Mastro, as Goldblum takes photo after photo with people in the audience. "Nobody works the room like Jeff Goldblum."
'Exactly How He Is In The Movies'
For many of the fans, the show has nothing to do with jazz.
"Jurassic Park was my favorite movie since I was a little kid," says Jay Salahi. "I've probably seen that movie 200 times."
The generation of people who grew up watching Goldblum star in 1990s blockbusters have embraced the actor.
"As someone born in the 80s," says Lucy Shanahan in between songs, "Jurassic Park was kind of up there in terms of life moments."
And at least for fan Zach Johnson, Goldblum makes good on those expectations.
"His persona, his stage presence, how he is in person," Johnson says, are "exactly how he is in the movies."
The Show Comes First
For the rotating group of musicians that plays with Goldblum, it's been an odd but fun ride.
They perform loose, improvised versions of jazz standards like "Summertime," "Watermelon Man" or "The Sidewinder."
"I actually like to play things that I'm surprised that I'm playing, have never played before," Goldblum says. "I like to cold read stuff and kind of, you know, make it up."
In fact, Goldblum says, until very recently, The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra never rehearsed.
Between songs, Goldblum banters with the audience, plays the movie game, or assures people that he tied his bow tie himself. "I can undo it right now and show you," he says of a green Brooks Brothers number. "It's not a clip-on!"
What the group might lack in technical discipline, bassist Tim Emmons says, they make up in showmanship.
"Jeff's much more personable than most band leaders," Emmons says. "I go sometimes to play jazz gigs, and the people [in the band] don't talk to the audience."
Drummer Kenny Elliott says Goldblum provides a welcome shot of joy to the local jazz scene. When he got the call to perform with the group, he says, "I jumped out of my pants to do it!"
'I Just Like To Play'
Goldblum makes clear that he has no "careerist ambitions" about his music. "I just like to play," he says. At the end of the show, he's fairly unassuming about the three-hour performance.
"I had no idea what we were gonna do, actually," he says. "It was kind of fun, wasn't it?"
He stays after the final set to chat with fans, take photos and say his goodbyes.
And if he's not up to anything else, Goldblum will be out there again next Wednesday, working the room.
Tom Dreisbach is an associate producer with NPR's weekend All Things Considered. NPR's Daniel Hajek also contributed to this story.
ARUN RATH, HOST:
If you're just joining us, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. He doesn't seem to age but Jeff Goldblum has been acting in movies and on TV for 40 years. You've probably seen him in Annie Hall...
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE ANNIE HALL)
JEFF GOLDBLUM: (as himself) I forgot my mantra.
RATH: ...The Big Chill...
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE THE BIG CHILL)
GOLDBLUM: (as Michael Gold) Well, where I work we have only one editorial rule; you can't write anything longer than the average person can read during the average crap.
RATH: ...Jurassic Park...
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE JURASSIC PARK)
GOLDBLUM: (as Dr. Ian Malcolm) Must go faster.
RATH: ...or dozens of other movies over the years. But here's a side of Jeff Goldblum that you might never have heard before.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GOLDBLUM: (Singing) I want to take you on a slow boat to China all to myself...
RATH: There he is on the piano playing at his weekly, yes, weekly jazz show in Los Angeles that he's been doing for more than 15 years. We sent NPR's Tom Dreisbach to find out more.
GOLDBLUM: My name is Jeff Goldblum and, geez, I'm an actor. And as a hobby I've always played piano.
TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: He's also a total people person.
GOLDBLUM: I consider myself a social lubricant as much as a musician really.
DREISBACH: To set the scene here, Jeff Goldblum is wearing a white button-down shirt, this green bow tie, tight blue pants and slightly tinted glasses. We're in a kind of club slash dining room with a small stage setup with a piano, with double bass, some drums, a guitar. And Jeff Goldblum is taking me around in this sort of pre-show routine...
GOLDBLUM: Let's go, come on.
DREISBACH: ...meeting fans like Ryan Thorn and Jessica Hall.
GOLDBLUM: What do you guys do?
RYAN THORN: We're musicians actually.
GOLDBLUM: Really? Here, let's sing something together.
(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
GOLDBLUM: How about that?
DREISBACH: And these fans who come to the show are often so nervous to meet him, but by the end of their interaction with Jeff Goldblum, they act like they're best friends.
GOLDBLUM: She looks like a young - wait a minute...
DREISBACH: He does this one thing to break the ice with people. He guesses which celebrities they look like.
GOLDBLUM: Who's the lady statuesque, a beautiful lady who starred with Al Pacino in "Serpico?"
DREISBACH: I think he actually always says the young version of whatever celebrity he picks.
GOLDBLUM: So many people, speaking of the game we were just playing, come up to me and say, hey, my whole life people have told me that I look like you. I have to tell you, this is a wide range of people in the looks department. But I always say the same thing, oh my gosh, well, that's so flattering to me.
DREISBACH: That's a good answer. I think that is the only acceptable answer.
GOLDBLUM: Yes, it is. Yeah, ya, I believe in courtesy.
DREISBACH: At one point during all this I get to talking with the manager of Jeff's band, this guy named John Mastro.
Do you ever get frustrated and think, god, just wrap it up already. We've got a show to do?
JOHN MASTRO: No, never. I mean, I'm amused every time. Nobody works the room like Jeff Goldblum.
DREISBACH: So Jeff learned how to play piano as a kid growing up in Pittsburgh. And sometime back in the 1990s, and no one is sure exactly when, Jeff got in touch with John Mastro to find a small group of professional jazz players. And Jeff says when he's not acting, he'll play these very loose weekly unadvertised gigs around L.A.
GOLDBLUM: And so we have a kind of a hootenanny or a be-in or some kind of a jam session I guess they call it, and people seem to enjoy it. We'll see. Who knows what'll happen tonight. Maybe nothing very amusing but I like it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DREISBACH: On stage he's constantly mugging to the audience, making faces or playing with the straw in his glass of iced coffee. And he's constantly going on little riffs, like this one with his guitarist John Storie.
(SOUNDBITE OF RIFF WITH JOHN STORIE)
DREISBACH: One of the things people keep saying to me is he's exactly like he is in the movies. And Evan Albert, Jay Salahi and Lucy Shanahan are basically just talking about one movie.
EVAN ALBERT: I mean, have you ever seen "Jurassic Park?"
JAY SALAHI: "Jurassic Park's" my favorite movie since I was a little kid.
LUCY SHANAHAN: As someone born in the '80s, like Jurassic Park was kind of up there like life moments.
DREISBACH: Really, Jeff seems uniquely beloved right now in part because some of his biggest movies in the 1990s were childhood icons for people who were born in the 1980s. And Jeff really doesn't seem to mind that fact.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GOLDBLUM: (Singing) In Jurassic Park, every in the dark I'm so scared that I'll be eaten.
DREISBACH: In all, the band plays for three hours, getting looser and looser as the night goes on.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GOLDBLUM: (Singing) Summertime and the livin' is easy. (Scatting)
DREISBACH: The show ends around midnight and Jeff is just as unassuming about his performance as when he started.
GOLDBLUM: I had no idea what we were going to do actually. So that was all a surprise to me and it was kind of fun, wasn't it? We had some good moments.
DREISBACH: As I leave, there's this line of people waiting for a picture with Jeff. And he stays after the show for all of them.
GOLDBLUM: Come on, let's take a picture.
DREISBACH: And you know, if he's not up to anything else, he'll be out there again next Wednesday, working the room. Tom Dreisbach, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC FROM "JURASSIC PARK")
RATH: Coming up, Bert Berns was one of the most prolific hit makers of the 1960s for Atlantic Records and other labels. But he tarnished his legacy with a dirty business behind rhythm and blues.
JOEL SELVIN: He used gangster connections to muscle his way out of a partnership with the Atlantic guys and they never really forgave him.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWIST AND SHOUT")
RATH: The rise and fall of Bert Berns in the next part of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.