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Jeff Goldblum’s famously eccentric charm comes bursting out the moment he picks up the phone. “My home state!” he responds excitedly upon learning that his caller hails from Philadelphia, prompting him to launch into song. “Do you know this one? ‘Oh, the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, finest state in all the land. With its da de da de da …’ You ever learn that in school?”
While it turns out those aren’t exactly the words to Pennsylvania’s state song, it’s meaningful that Goldblum associates his hometown of Pittsburgh with music. It’s there where he began taking piano lessons as a child, leading to a lifelong love of jazz. “When the teacher started to give me arrangements with a little syncopation — ‘Alley Cat’ and ‘Deep Purple’ and ‘Stairway to the Stars’ — I became a better student,” Goldblum says.
“I said, ‘I don't care how long it takes, I’m going to sit here and learn how to play this because I just adore it.’ Around the same time my dad brought home Erroll Garner Plays Misty to play on our hi-fi and Thelonious Monk was on the cover of Time magazine. My older brother was listening to the Modern Jazz Quartet and Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto and Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain. I’ve always set my career sights on acting, but jazz stayed in some zone of passion.”
Given the offbeat cadences and improvisatory spirit that he’s brought to roles throughout his career — from blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Independence Day to work with creative filmmakers like Wes Anderson and David Cronenberg — it should come as no surprise that he’s kept up a long-running side gig playing jazz in clubs around Los Angeles.
After three decades of keeping up a weekly variety show, most recently at L.A.’s Rockwell Table and Stage, Goldblum is finally releasing the debut album with his Mildred Snitzer Orchestra (named for a family friend back in Pittsburgh). Producer Larry Klein re-created a nightclub vibe in the studio for The Capitol Studios Sessions (Decca), bringing in a live audience as well as guests like trumpeter Till Brönner, vocalists Haley Reinhart and Imelda May, and comedian Sarah Silverman, who duets with Goldblum on a flirtatious and politically charged “Me and My Shadow.” Goldblum holds his own with a band of pros, taking brief, spirited solo turns on standards like “Cantaloupe Island” and “Caravan,” though he largely holds back, adding delighted, quirky interjections to the other soloists’ work.
“Sanford Meisner was my first and very important acting teacher,” Goldblum recalls, “and the cornerstone of his program was improvisation. It requires listening and interplay and all the things that, yes, are relevant to jazz. This business of preparing well, being conscientious and knowing the author’s intent, and then letting it all go and being as present as you can and having a real on-the-spot creative invention — that’s what I aspire to and I’ve pursued in both of them.” —Shaun Brady