Jeff Goldblum: The Music Week Interview

Jeff Goldblum: The Music Week Interview

He is one of Hollywood’s most iconic, popular and enduring stars, but in 2018 Jeff Goldblum is rewriting the script. This November he is releasing his debut album, The Capitol Studios Sessions, via Decca. Forget Jurassic Park, it’s time for Music Week to find out about an altogether different kind of blockbuster...

When it comes to waking up, Jeff Goldblum has something of a set routine. Usually, the night before he’ll aim to be in bed by 9pm, maybe 9.30 tops – perhaps not the time that you’d expect one of Hollywood’s most enigmatic stars to conk out, but then most of that fraternity probably don’t set their alarm clocks for 5.30am, either.

The first thing Goldblum and his wife Emilie Livingston – a retired Olympic rhythmic gymnast, most recently seen doubling for Emma Stone in La La Land – will do is head to the gym in their Los Angeles home and work out. The clock is ticking at that point. At 7am the couple get their two “glorious little boys” up out of bed, make breakfast and get them ready for 8am. From there on out, Goldblum has only the small, day-to-day business of a career that includes some of the highest-grossing blockbuster movies ever.

But there’s something else that Goldblum squeezes into his packed morning schedule every day, too, and that something is the very reason that he is gracing the cover of Music Week. Nestled in that brief window of time between vanquishing calories and dad duties, he plays piano. Jazz piano, to be precise. And it turns out that he plays it very well; so well, in fact, that this year he’s releasing his first ever album. Not only is it brilliant, it may well be the most entertaining album of 2018.

As Music Week gatecrashes his morning itinerary in LA to find out all about it, Goldblum has finished his smoothie and is sequestered in his luxurious closet. Seriously. It’s his location of choice for interviews.

“I’ve lived here for 30 years, believe it or not,” he gestures. “Not in the closet – the home!”

Make no mistake: a conversation with Jeff Goldblum is a wholly disarming affair. Preternaturally gregarious and warm, before today’s interview starts he is in full-on friendly inquisition mode, wondering, for one, where Music Week’s offices are based. Which is, of course, just a short distance away from Tower Bridge where, this July, the greatest London landmark of all time was erected: a 25ft statue of Jeff Goldblum. The art installation, recreating the open-shirted (and injured) countenance of his iconic Jurassic Park character Dr Ian Malcolm, was created to celebrate 25 years of Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, and Goldblum soon starts comparing it to the genuine article.   

“You know, it was a very heavy statue!” he explains. “It wasn’t a balloon, it was wind resistant! Yes, yes, it can’t float away or deflate, just like me...”

He ponders his own statement for a moment.

“Actually, the opposite of me – I’m more like a balloon!”

Very much a man hardwired with a comic sense of timing, Goldblum, like some of his most famous film characters, has more than a whiff of the grand eccentric about him – the signature purr-cum-laugh of Dr Malcolm is his own. Often he talks in bursts of revved-up excitement, all fortified by an endearing vocabulary predisposed to giddy affectations like, “Oh boy!”, “Gee!” and “Golly!”.

He has every reason to use such words. Rarely has Goldblum’s star-wattage burned as incandescently as it has in recent years, notching up, among other things, a show-stealing role as the ‘Grandmaster’ in Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok and a brief appearance in Jurassic World. Alongside this, the 65-year-old is a bona fide style icon: he beat Pusha T in an online poll as to who rocked a flamboyant Prada shirt better, graced GQ’s cover (and won its Haig Club Icon Award last week) and inspired the Twitter account @goldblumlooks (17.2k followers and counting).

On top of all of that, he has somehow found time to record his first-ever album with his fantabulously-named jazz group The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra (more on that name later). Christened The Capitol Studios Sessions, Goldblum’s debut – a collection of standards – is set to be released on November 9 via Decca in the UK and Verve in the US. The teams behind it still can’t believe they have crossed paths with a Hollywood legend.

“Not just any Hollywood legend,” counters Decca UK president Rebecca Allen. “This is Jeff Goldblum. He’s Hollywood royalty. He’s also a seriously talented pianist, and it’s been nothing but joyous working with Jeff and his team.”

“I’d like to pretend I can take it in my stride, but I really can’t,” jokes Tom Lewis, Decca’s director of A&R. “It’s hilarious to think that I’m Jeff’s A&R man. He’s a total pleasure to work with.”

 

I’m not careerist about music, but I wouldn’t call this a lark... I’m very passionate about this

Jeff Goldblum 

 

Underpinning their enthusiasm, however, everyone working the project stresses that this is not what some people might envision when they hear “Hollywood star releases jazz album”.

“People throw around terms like ‘vanity project’, but that’s not what this is,” explains Jamie Krents, Verve’s SVP, international marketing and label development. “This is quite a story. He hasn’t just picked this up, he’s been playing for years, and this is the first time that most of the public will see just how accomplished he is.”

“It’s always been under the radar,” explains Goldblum of how his music has run parallel to his acting. “I’m not careerist about it, but I wouldn’t call it a lark. I’m very passionate about it.”

Welcome to Jurjazzic Park...

 

 

All things considered, the real surprise is that a Jeff Goldblum album hasn’t emerged sooner. This record’s story comes trailed with a long pre-lit fuse. 

When Music Week quizzes Goldblum about his relationship with music, his answer comes in the form of a quite-magnificent, breathless and completely uninterrupted seven-minute discharge of memory. Way before Hollywood came calling, Goldblum was being indoctrinated into jazz music.

“When I was a kid in Pittsburgh, Erroll Garner, who was also from Pittsburgh, released an album called Erroll Garner Plays Misty,” he reflects. “My dad, who was a music and jazz fan, brought that home and we played it all the time. Misty was one of his favourite songs, and I learned to play it.”

Ever since, Goldblum says he has been “pursuing an education in jazz”, becoming an awe-struck student of Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis and Bob Howell. Goldblum’s masterplan may have always revolved around acting, but all the while he was pursuing music “as a kind of secret passion... or something”. In his teenage years, he effected his own big break: thumbing his way through the Yellow Pages and calling every cocktail lounge in Pittsburgh asking if they needed a piano player. Eventually he got lucky. Aged 15, he started getting gigs with a local female singer who would also drive him around town.

From there he recalls moving to New York and getting his first job via the Broadway rock musical of Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen Of Verona (which would land a Tony Award), before going on to score a gig as pianist on a show called El Grande De Coca-Cola. Eventually, of course, Hollywood came calling, but music and film have always been entwined for him. And not just because he played Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale on repeat while filming Robert Altman’s 1975 classic Nashville, either. Soon his chops would appear on-screen.

“I played piano in some movies,” he says. “In The Fly I played a little, in Earth Girls Are Easy I played a little.” Even to the present day, Goldblum says he keeps “trying to sneak it into movies”. Somewhere in this ebb and flow of memory, he latches onto a significant moment in his musical evolution.

“Thirty years ago Peter Weller and I did [1984’s] Buckaroo Banzai, and he likes to fool around on the trumpet. He and I would get together and play some standards. Then he said, ‘Let’s have a gig!’ I was just doing this for pleasure – I never meant to do anything careerist with it! Then the Playboy Jazz Festival came and heard us and asked us to play the Hollywood Bowl one year. They told us we needed a name...”

And so The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra was born. About  that name...

“Mildred Snitzer was a family friend who lived to be 100, and I liked her name,” explains Goldblum. “I said, ‘Let’s make a little joke – I know there’s only five of us, but let’s call it an orchestra and say it’s The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra!’”

That little joke really took off. Goldblum’s piano skills have been hiding in plain sight for a long time now: for years he and The MSO have been playing a weekly residency at the Rockwell in LA. He played last night, in fact, performing an intimate show for normal punters and the Hollywood elite alike. It was a chance encounter on the Graham Norton Show while Goldblum was promoting Thor: Ragnarok, however, that finally put him on the fast-track to making an album.

 

This year I feel I’m on the threshold of my most enjoyable work, and maybe my better work

 Jeff Goldblum

 

 

“The week beforehand I was told Gregory Porter was going to be on, and I told them I loved him. I had actually met him in an airport once and we had a nice conversation – he’s the sweetest guy in the world. They said, ‘Do you want to play piano for him? He’s promoting his Nat King Cole [covers] album.’”

And that was that. Goldblum was supplied the music, the pair met backstage on the day of the show, went through it once or twice, and then played Mona Lisa before the nation.

“When the Gregory/Jeff duet first got suggested, we literally flung ourselves into a frenzy trying to make it happen,” recalls Rebecca Allen. “We just had a feeling that it was going to make great TV – and it did.”

But Decca saw the potential for something bigger in the performance, too. They saw Jeff Goldblum: recording artist.

“The moment the TV performance happened, we reached out to Jeff’s team,” continues Allen. “We instantly got a reply and then hopped on a plane to LA to meet the great man himself and seal the deal. It was a no-brainer for us.”

“It all moved incredibly quickly,” adds Tom Lewis. “Not because we were in a bidding war; more we only had a limited time-frame in which to bring it all to life. Dom Jones, our business affairs director, did an amazing job pulling together a deal in such a short amount of time.”

Surprisingly, Goldblum pooh-poohs the notion that he had secretly been champing at the bit to do an album.

“Through the years people had suggested it here and there, but not as seriously as this. I always just said, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ It was only Decca who really sounded serious and interested in making something. Tom and Rebecca came over and we had a meeting, and they were so lovely, and were exciting to talk to.”

Suddenly, he was making his debut.

 

The album is as close as you can get to inviting Jeff into your sitting room

Tom Lewis, Decca

 

Throughout the course of his career, Jeff Goldblum has endured a lot. Few people on Earth could say they have been stalked by more than one T-Rex in their lifetime, let alone contended with the agonising molecular decimation of becoming a human fly. Such moments of terror can perhaps only find their rival in the daunting prospect of recording your debut album. Live. In front of a studio audience. In a legendary venue. While playing some beloved standards. Yet that’s exactly what Jeff Goldblum did at the behest of the album’s producer Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock). 

“Larry pointed out that some of the great jazz albums – for instance Cannonball Adderley’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! – were actually recorded in front of a live studio audience,” says Decca’s Tom Lewis. “Larry felt the best option was to recreate Jeff’s legendary Rockwell residency shows within Capitol Studios – we turned it into a jazz club for two nights, with an invited audience of Rockwell regulars, friends and special guests. In many ways, it was terrifying. We didn’t really have a contingency plan if it didn’t work.”

Nothing like a bit of pressure, eh, Jeff?

“To set up filming over the course of a few days and have the obligation to lay something down that really sounded good was ambitious!” laughs Goldblum. “I was on my toes...”

Fortunately, it came out superbly. To that end, Goldblum constantly defers to the collective brilliance of those working on it both on and offstage. Assisting him was, of course, The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra – completed by guitarist John Storie, bassist Alex Frank, drummer Kenny Eliott, sax player James King and organist Joe Bagg. But he also roped in some special friends; in his words: “Everybody that wound up doing it is absolutely perfect – it’s an embarrassment of abundance and riches.” Joining him to play was fellow Decca artist Imelda May on Straighten Up And Fly Right, Come On-A-My-House and This Bitter Earth.

“She is wonderful,” says Goldblum. “The first time we rehearsed This Bitter Earth, I was moved to the point of tears.”

Goldblum immediately starts running through the tracklisting in his head and praising all of his collaborators. There’s the “terrific” American Idol star Haley Reinhart who appears on the album’s first single, My Baby Just Cares For Me plus Gee Baby (Ain’t I Good To You), accompaniment from the “genius” musician Till Brönner on a host of tracks, and even a duet with his “pal” Sarah Silverman on Me And My Shadow. On the recording, the latter song descends into a series of comic exchanges that prompts Goldblum to play John Williams’ classic Jurassic Park score. With bonus lyrics.

“That was my doing!” he grins. “Although I got those lyrics from somebody on the internet, I think...” He starts singing the lines out loud to Williams’ tune: ‘In Jurassic Park, scary in the dark, I’m so scared that I’ll be eaten!’

Such comic moments are not rare, indeed, Rebecca Allen sees it as “an album full of endorphins”. Look no further than Goldblum debating the correct protocols for storing butter to ensure maximum spreadability with Silverman. Today he revisits the ethics of leaving it out of the fridge overnight, ready for the morning’s toast

“Are we OK to keep it out?” he quizzes. “I don’t like trying to spread hard butter on anything. It’s really nice when it’s soft!” 

In case you hadn’t guessed by now, this is a record that is primed to vaporise bad moods.

“It’s as close you can get to inviting Jeff Goldblum into your sitting room for a night of great music and banter,” says Lewis. “Who wouldn’t want that?! You can hear the affection that Jeff has for the music. I like the idea of Jeff as a jazz superhero on a mission to use it as a force for happiness in the world.”

The big question now is how are Decca going to make sure the world hears it...
    

 

The moment Jeff’s Graham Norton performance happened, we reached out... It was a no-brainer for us

Rebecca Allen, Decca 

 

 

Everyone loves Jeff Goldblum. In theory, it is possible there is someone alive who doesn’t, but it seems unlikely; Tom Lewis goes as far as to declare this “a fact of life”. Bolstered by his beloved filmography, it is one hell of an advantageous springboard from which to launch a debut solo album. But that’s not to say there aren’t challenges involved in getting word of The Capitol Studios Sessions out around the globe. 

“The world adores Jeff, but the world is not waiting for an album from him,” says Rebecca Allen. “Our focus is on joining the dots between the icon and the musician.”

The initial omens look good. An appearance on Hot Ones – Goldblum answering questions while eating insanely spicy chicken wings – hit 2,822,682 views within five days. On top of his debut UK live shows (see panel), social media and digital advertising will be a big part of the game plan as Decca track down his film fans.

“Our social media and video campaign will revolve around Jeff’s charisma and him becoming a guide to the genre,” says Chris Kershaw, senior marketing manager at Decca. “We’ll have a short form vertical video series called ‘Jeff On Jazz’ where he’ll give short, snappy bursts of classic jazz songs on the piano along with some history. We’re also shooting bespoke TV commercial and video tools, that will complement our amazing striking artwork. It’s certainly going to be more than just your standard music TV advert.”

While Verve’s Jamie Krents notes that it goes without saying there are promo opportunities to tie in with his film career, that’s not the main plan of attack.

“We’re focussed on establishing his credibility and profile on the musical side,” says Krents. “He doesn’t have a lot of trouble getting invited to do shows, which makes our job really easy. So with us, it’s just about picking the right opportunities that are focussed on the music.”

As far as Krents is concerned, he doesn’t see any kind of ceiling on how big this project can go. And that could have some rather big implications for the musical lane he’s playing in, too.

“He can do a lot for the genre,” says Krents. “I think in some ways he’ll do more for jazz than jazz will do for Jeff.”

Whatever happens, it’s a safe bet that Jeff Goldblum is going to have the time of his life doing it. His first impression of the music industry has been resoundingly positive.

“I’m just a baby at this point!” he says. “I’ll know more in a little bit, but so far, if Decca is representative, it couldn’t be populated with nicer, more intelligent, gracious, sensitive, generous and creative people.”

As to what’s next? Well, in the short-term: Goldblum has a busy day ahead. There’s nuts and bolts about the album to discuss, calls with management and the National Geographic, a piano lesson, plus he has to figure out his wardrobe for upcoming film festivals promoting his new movie The Mountain. But there’s still time for a few more questions – like whether one day he’ll unveil his own original compositions, too?
 

“N’yuh… n’yuh…” he sputters, chewing on his words. “Well, I don’t know, maybe! I don’t have anything that’s burning up my sleeve to get out. ‘Who knows?’ is the answer, I guess!”

And will it always be jazz you’ll focus on?

“I like jazz principally, but I went on the Jimmy Fallon show a few years ago and they said, ‘Biz Markie is on the show today – play something with him!’ So I did some kind of rap, playing and singing with him. I’m nothing if not open minded!” 

When he takes a moment to reflect on his career to date, with his solo album newly-included, he pauses momentarily.

“How did I get so lucky is the real question?” Goldblum grins. “This year, I feel like I’m on the threshold of my most enjoyable work, and maybe my better work. I’m more enthusiastic than ever.”

“These days I feel freer and more fun,” he concludes. “Actually, my approach to music has thankfully bled over into my endeavour in acting. All of it seems just for fun these days. It’s the serious business of pleasure!”

 

 

[Photos: Pari Dukovic] 

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