Jeff Goldblum & the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra perform "Canteloupe Island"
The 92Y Talks “Jeff Goldblum in Conversation with Clark Collis: The Capitol Studios Sessions” installment at Manhattan’s 92Y Sunday (Nov. 11) afternoon began with a screening of the video of “Canteloupe Island,” the Herbie Hancock-penned lead track of the just-released The Capitol Studios Sessions--Goldblum’s debut album with his jazz group the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra.
The clip showed Goldblum, who’s been playing jazz piano since he was a 14-year-old, exuding the same charismatic goofiness that has charmed audiences in movie theaters since the mid-1970s. In fact, when he emerged from the wings (with Entertainment Weekly senior writer Collis) to huge applause, he kneeled at the foot of the stage to shake at least a couple outstretched hands.
The voluble actor-pianist then needed little prodding from Collis in talking about his debut disc.
“I was a strange boy!” he said, to a big laugh--and no surprise to fans. “I’d write, ‘Please, God, I want to be an actor on the shower door--and then wipe it off!”
But while Goldblum was “dead-set on being an actor,” he never gave up his music “side passion.”
Growing up in Pittsburgh (Mildred Snitzer, he said, was a family friend), he received an early education in Broadway musicals from his father, a doctor who brought back cast albums of shows like My Fair Lady, Cabaret and Fiddler on the Roof from trips to New York. But he also introduced his son to Errol Garner’s “Misty” (pianist Garner was likewise from Pittsburgh), and Goldblum gravitated to the legendary Blue Note Records jazz catalog of the 1950s and ‘60s and artists like Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis, as well as rock groups like The Beatles and Blind Faith.
At 15 he began getting cocktail jazz piano gigs by phoning clubs found in the Yellow Pages and saying, “I hear you’re looking for a piano player….” But he moved to New York at 17 to pursue his acting career, and then, in 1984, appeared with Peter Weller in the cult sci-fi comedy The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension.
A trumpet player, Weller encouraged Goldblum to exploit his side passion—which he’d never abandoned. Now, when not acting, Goldblum has been heading his Mildred Snitzer Orchestra at a popular weekly residency in Los Angeles at the Rockwell Table & Stage.
After a fortuitous encounter—and duet performance--with Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Gregory Porter on a British TV talk show while promoting Thor: Ragnarok last year, Decca Records (Porter’s label) decided to sign Goldblum and recreate the Rockwell vibe. The ensuing album was recorded at the historic Capitol Studios in front of a live audience, and with guests including Imelda May, Haley Reinhart, Sarah Silverman and trumpet player Till Brönner.
“It happened by accident,” said Goldblum. “I never planned it, had no strategy or goal.”
But now, he added, he gets up early every morning to play piano prior to taking his young kids to school—and is getting ready to go to London to perform at the famed Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club.
“I’m an actor, and I’m enjoying it more than ever,” said Goldblum, “but I still play piano every day [and] it’s a big part of my life.”
In fact, Goldblum, who studied in New York with renowned acting teacher Sanford Meisner, drew a parallel between his profession and side passion.
“The ‘Meisner technique’ required lot of improvising,” said Goldblum, likening the technique to jazz improvisation. “That ‘cross-training' was really relevant to me, and I often find a corresponding musical element in acting.”
He noted how his music gigs are unrehearsed and spontaneous, lacking a set list and with much interaction between the players—as was readily apparent by his sense of wonder and discovery in the opening video.
“What a lucky guy!” he said of himself, in or out of character.