Jeff Goldblum The Jazz Artist? Life, Uh, Finds A Way

Nov 9, 2018
Originally published on November 9, 2018 8:42 am

When he's not busy on a movie set, Jeff Goldblum owns Wednesday nights in Los Angeles.

The actor, known for roles in Hollywood blockbusters and a singular, chin-stroking comic persona, plays piano in a jazz band with a standing weekly gig, which he calls The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. The performances are casual and unstructured, with the man of the hour playing keys one moment, holding court and posing for photos with attendees the next, just generally being ... well, Jeff Goldblum.

NPR's David Greene joined Goldblum to talk about The Capitol Studios Sessions, an album that captures the live show by recreating it — bringing a stage, a buffet, a live audience and guest stars including comedian Sarah Silverman into the storied recording space.


Interview Highlights

On discovering jazz as a teenager

Some of these chords started to do something to me that I hadn't experienced before, and that was just delicious to me — when I discovered that blues scale, my God. So I learned a little bit about that, and got to start to play things. And then — listen to this, what a strange boy I was — one day when I was 15, I locked the door from the inside in our study, where I didn't think anybody would find me, hear me or bother me. Got the yellow pages, looked up cocktail lounges, and starting with A and going down to Z, I cold-called. I thought I was some kind of scammy salesman or something like that. And I said, "Hi, I understand you need a piano player." Most of them would say, "No, you've been misinformed" — hang up on you. [But] some would say, "Well, jeez ... we have a piano. Nobody's been playing it. You play?" And so I did, and I got a couple of jobs. It was magical.

On how his two creative practices affect one another

There's a cross-training aspect of this, so that my music, I'm just doing it for fun, without nerves really. It has bled over into my acting experience. ... I didn't [used to] feel like a fraud exactly, but I felt like I had to shock myself into functionality. I felt I had to rearrange my molecules and achieve some kind of condition of freedom or aliveness, in order to be worthy of participation in some show or another. The seeds of me knowing myself were there, but it was unformed and underdeveloped, and I had good reason to be scared.

On the social element of his jazz shows

It has become kind of an improvised show, where I commune with people and meet them, and interesting people show up. It's kind of a living room experience that we turn it into. No one's turning on the lights or introducing me; I kind of start talking and taking pictures with them and finding out who they are and playing games with them, which I like to do. Everything is sort of playful. ... People seem to get a kick out of it. And then I go on my Instagram account the next day, see if they've posted anything ... see how I looked the night before, see how they looked. See if they're people I can remember. "Oh, yeah. They were nice."

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So when you're the host based in LA - I'm looking at you, David Greene - you're the one who gets assigned to go to the famous Capitol Studios and interview the piano player with a new album out.

JEFF GOLDBLUM: (Playing piano, vocalizing).

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Yeah, and it's just not any piano player.

GOLDBLUM: (Playing piano).

GREENE: That is Jeff Goldblum, Hollywood actor by day - maybe you know him from "Jurassic Park" and "Independence Day" - but jazz pianist by night. We met in a studio that has had some pretty iconic musicians pass through.

GOLDBLUM: (Playing piano, vocalizing).

This is a lovely piano to play on. I mean, I'm no connoisseur, but I do have my likes. And to do that and to hear - listen, those little bells up there - is very - this is a Steinway. (Playing piano) And I'll bet everybody's played on this. You know, these guys in the booth would tell us whose fingers were...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: That's Nat's piano.

GOLDBLUM: Who? Who?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Nat King.

GOLDBLUM: Nat King Cole played this piano.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: There's a sticker that says, it's mine, Nat.

GOLDBLUM: Can you imagine? Nat King Cole, it's mine. Maybe before I leave, I should sign it, no, it's mine.

GREENE: You should sign, no, it's mine (laughter).

GOLDBLUM: Now it's mine.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Now, what Jeff Goldblum does own is Wednesday nights in LA. When he's not busy on a movie set, he'll hold these casual performances at a club - entertaining, playing, just being, well, Jeff Goldblum. He's accompanied by what he calls the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. And their new album is the Capitol Studio Sessions. They recorded it here.

GOLDBLUM: This is - you know, this is the scene of the crime. This is Studio B. And the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Frank Sinatra, I think they were right here where we stand. And we put the stage - so-called - was over there. And there was a little food buffet over there. And we were recorded here.

GREENE: You recreated a club, like, right...

GOLDBLUM: Yeah. It was perfect.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GOLDBLUM: You heard the album.

GREENE: I did.

GOLDBLUM: No kidding - did you like it?

GREENE: Yes. I loved it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JEFF INTRODUCES SARAH SILVERMAN (LIVE)")

GOLDBLUM: Sarah. Sarah.

SARAH SILVERMAN: Let's get jazzy.

GREENE: OK, so list of people I didn't realize could do jazz - one, Jeff Goldblum; two, comedian Sarah Silverman. I think the Sarah Silverman duet might be the most fun.

GOLDBLUM: How about that?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ME AND MY SHADOW (LIVE)")

GOLDBLUM: (Singing) Like the wallpaper sticks to the wall.

SILVERMAN: (Singing) Like the seashore clings to the sea.

GOLDBLUM: (Singing) Like you'll never get rid of your shadow, Sarah.

SILVERMAN: (Singing) Jeff, you'll never get rid of me.

GOLDBLUM: We were making lists. I said, how about Sarah Silverman? I think she's - you know, we could have fun together, and it's fun. But she's a wonderful - she's very musical. She's wonderful.

GREENE: Oh, it's such a - the song is such a conversation, which is so critical in, like, a great jazz duet.

GOLDBLUM: Oh, thanks. It was snappy, wasn't it?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ME AND MY SHADOW (LIVE)")

JEFF GOLDBLUM AND SARAH SILVERMAN: (Singing) For my shadow and me.

GREENE: Now, maybe you're wondering who Mildred Snitzer is. I certainly was. Well, it turns out Goldblum named the group after a family friend back in Pittsburgh, where he grew up. That is when jazz started to really turn him on, when he was a teenager.

GOLDBLUM: And some of these (playing piano) chords, you know, started to do something to me that I hadn't, you know, experienced before. And that was just delicious to me. When I discovered that blues scale - (playing piano, humming) -

you know, my God, can you imagine? So I learned a little bit about that, got to start to play things and then took it - listen to this. What a strange boy I was. I, when I was 15, got the Yellow Pages, looked up cocktail lounges.

GREENE: (Laughter) At 15.

GOLDBLUM: Yes, sir. And then from - went from - starting with A and going down to Z, I cold called - I thought I was some kind of scammy salesman or something like that - and said, hi; this is - I understand you need a piano player. Most of them would say, no, you've been misinformed. I don't know - where'd you get that? Who's this? Hang up on me. Some would say, well, jeez; I don't know where you heard that. We have a piano. Nobody's been playing it. You play. And so I did, and I got a couple of jobs. It was magical.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF GOLDBLUM'S "I WISH I KNEW (HOW IT WOULD FEEL TO BE FREE) (LIVE)")

GREENE: Are you this inspired and enthusiastic about being on a movie set?

GOLDBLUM: Yes. Yes, I am. You know, there's a cross-training aspect of this so that my music, you know, what - I'm just doing it for fun without nerves, really - mostly just kind of (playing piano) excitement. It has bled over into my acting experience.

GREENE: Oh, interesting...

GREENE: Yeah.

GREENE: ...In what way?

GOLDBLUM: Well, you know, I have nothing to prove. I feel like it, you know, (laughter) lives in me in the same way.

GREENE: Were you not always that way?

GOLDBLUM: No. I didn't feel like a fraud exactly. But I felt like I had to shock myself into functionality, you know? And I felt I had to rearrange my molecules and achieve some kind of condition of freedom or aliveness in order to be worthy of participation in these, in some show or another.

GREENE: It's like the opposite of being comfortable in your skin. You weren't...

GOLDBLUM: Something like that. The seeds of me knowing myself were there, but it was unformed. And I had a right to be scared...

GREENE: Well, speaking of your comfort...

GOLDBLUM: ...And uncomfortable and insecure.

GREENE: ...Your comfort zone today, I wonder if you could take us to the Wednesday night sessions. I mean, I've read that you give so much to people. Like, they come, and you talk to them, and they have a chance to get photographs with you. Like, what are you getting out of it?

GOLDBLUM: I love it. It has become a kind of an improvised show of some kind, where I commune with people and meet them. And interesting people show up. It's a kind of a living room experience that we turn it into, like - nobody's turning on the lights or introducing me. I kind of start talking and taking pictures with them and then finding out who they are and playing games with them, which I like to do. And it's like that. And...

GREENE: Why do you take every single picture that everyone wants?

GOLDBLUM: Well, sometimes, not every single picture, but people seem to get a kick out of it. And I - and then I go on #JeffGoldblum, my Instagram account, and see if they've posted anything and...

GREENE: Yeah.

GOLDBLUM: Yeah, I'm kind of an idiot.

GREENE: (Laughter) You just want to, like, see what the feedback was or...

GOLDBLUM: Yeah - and see how I looked the night before, see how they looked, see if there are people I can remember. Oh, yeah. They were nice. They were there.

GREENE: That's lovely.

GOLDBLUM: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Jeff Goldblum - the new album Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra "The Capitol Studio Sessions" is out today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.