Let’s get this out of the way first: Jeff Goldblum is a class act.
Clash ventures down to his stately Central London hotel – only yards from the River Thames – and is guided through the gilded corridors to a private dining room area, the sparse sound of Miles Davis’ seminal ‘Kind Of Blue’ eking its way through the speakers. Drawing back the curtains, he’s seated at the far end of the room, his eyes peering out eagerly over his glasses, sheets of paper in his hand.
A tall but never imposing figure, he’s all warmth, charm, and charisma. We caught his group at Ronnie Scott’s the night before - “You know, I thought I knew your face!” - and he’s eager to hear our thoughts, to gauge our opinion. Each show is different, he explains, this mixture of both jazz and comedic improvisation that he’s honed over the course of a 20 year residency at LA’s Rockwell Table and Stage.
“Somehow it’s able to turn into a living room experience!”he laughs. “It’s fun. We went to Berlin and we went to Paris, and we played these big theatres where nobody’s moving around, nobody’s drinking, nobody’s eating… they were 1200, 1400 people in Berlin, and it kind of worked the same way. I just talked to people, and sometimes a half hour before I’d come and find myself sitting on the edge of the stage, and people would come around and we’d start talking.”
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Conversation is key, it seems. Jeff Goldblum wants to return jazz to its nightclub roots, to a period when it was the societal music of the day. As a result his new album ‘The Capitol Studios Sessions’ is a fun, unfussy, at times hilariously funny collection of standards, augmented by crack musicians and special guest vocalists.
“That’s the band that we’d been playing with, pretty much,” he smiles. “This is the band we’d been playing with for pretty much 25, 30 years. It’s been evolved. It started with other musicians – we’ve had many incarnations and evolutions of that band. In Los Angeles we’ve had a different singer every week.”
When an executive from Decca caught Jeff Goldblum backing Gregory Porter on The Graham Norton Show a lightbulb went off, and the Hollywood actor was introduced to producer Larry Klein.
Visiting his LA residency, the producer was struck by Jeff Goldblum’s open nature, the ‘anything goes’ nature of the performance, and his clear love of jazz, honed and developed from his childhood in Pittsburgh. Deciding to use this as the basis for the album, Larry simply hired out Studio A and B in Capitol Studios, brought in an audience, some drinks, some catering and let the tapes roll.
“Larry came down to see us, and he liked it so much, he thought it was unique,” says Jeff. “It wasn’t in the current climate – it reminded him of when jazz was the popular music of the day. A romantic, social, lively affair. And he said, I think we should really capture that.”
“I mean, those are great musicians. We could go and play, and record something, but there’s something that I enjoy about delivering it to somebody right there and doing it in front of people. And they’re part of it – you can hear them.”
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A relaxed, warming, continually entertaining record, ‘The Capitol Studios Sessions’ finds the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra – named in true Goldblum style after a friend of his mother’s – rattling through some hard bop and soul jazz standards, guided by the Hollywood A-lister turned genial host. It marked the next evolution of a life-long passion, with Jeff Goldblum’s thirst for jazz fuelled by those teenage Pittsburgh piano lessons, and his subsequent move to New York.
“Pittsburgh has – from what I gather and have learned about a little bit – through the years been one of the hotspots, I believe. And of course Errol Garner is from there, and Ahmed Jamal. Some important people,” he nods. “When I was there – even though my Dad was a music lover – I didn’t fully try to excavate everything that was going on. I would have found something, but I didn’t – I was just growing up.”
“Here and there we would take vacations in Atlantic City, and I remember my Dad took us all to a performance of Thad Jones - Mel Lewis Big Band. And I saw that. Then later, a few years later I move to New York and then start to get jobs right away. I was on a Broadway show at 18, 19… and Thad Jones was in the pit for a little bit playing. So I would say “oh, I saw you...” and started playing on the pianos we had around.”
Pursuing a career in acting, Jeff Goldblum found himself in the maelstrom of early 70s New York. Single-mindedly chasing his break, he always played piano, and time and again jazz would play a role in his life. “Well, it’s live,” he explains. “I started doing theatre before I did movies, and I’ve done theatre all throughout. I was at the Old Vic not too long ago, and I did another thing in the West End. It’s nice being in front of an audience that’s there. I like movies, but it’s another kind of challenge.”
“When I first thought of being an actor I did theatre – children’s theatre – in Pittsburgh, and something about that intrigued me. I’ve always been romantic about the theatre, and the live experience. I learned acting improvisation, and then taught it for a couple of decades when I wasn’t working, because I’m craft-curious and fascinated. I like classrooms, too – I like trying to help people.”
“Jazz music that I always loved anyway, naturally… I was particularly interested in the exercise of being present, listening, in a relaxed way, and opening up and finding your unique voice – in this case musically – in answer to what the other guys are doing right now, and being creative right now on the spot,” he says. “More and more I’ve done improvised acting – in Thor Ragnorak we were encouraged to improvise, and I’ve done other things like that.”
“And I’m a kind of student always, so I’m always pushing myself to the brink acting wise. I feel like I’m getting better everyday at the piano, because I play everyday.”
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Music would continually intrude upon and compliment Jeff Goldblum’s acting. It acts as both a framework and a source of inspiration, adding another dimension to the way in which he guides each role – whether that’s a blockbuster or a small theatre production.
“In a way, music can always inform the inner life of a scene or a moment of a character or a part. I find myself writing down songs relevant to the scene. Sometimes I talk to the director and say, what’s the score going to be like? Steven Spielberg used to whistle some things to me that he thought was right! And I’d go: ah, that gives me a feeling!”
“Sometimes, without having done that… I’ll see the movie when it’s done, and go: if I had known that was the score under the thing that could have informed how I felt or how I played it a little bit. So music has had a lot to do with that, and improvisation certainly. Jazz improvisation sort of made me feel I was on familiar ground in some way when I was faced with acting improvisation. They both kept feeding each other, and keep feeding each other in all sorts of ways.”
Out now, ‘The Capitol Studios Sessions’ became an unlikely hit – each show has completely sold out, while the record itself topped the jazz charts in the United States. Fulfilling a long-standing hunger, Clash can’t help but ask: Is this point-proved?
Jeff starts to laugh, the rolling, sonorous laugh of his. “I was never trying to prove anything anyway!” he exclaims. “This all came out organically, just from having fun. It’s been mentioned here and there, with some of the participants, that maybe we might want to do something else. I’m not careerist or strategic about the whole thing, it’s just fun. Creatively speaking, I feel like I’ve opened up something further that I’ve always been interested in and would love to keep doing.”
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One of the lingering loves in his life, jazz has filled many different roles for Jeff Goldblum – it was his initial entry into the world of entertainment, a means for him to switch off from the pressure of the film industry, and it’s also become a curious second – or third – career. It’s something that has endured, when other passions have faded.
“It really has,” he muses. “I keep finding ways to do the music, and other people who have played it, and renditions of it. New songs that I haven’t discovered before that interest me, fascinate me, open up different parts of my curiosity.”
He pauses, puts his hands on the table, then gives Clash this long, lingering, side-eye look. “It’s occurred to me only recently since I’ve been talking about it with different people that I’ve had throughout my life this recurring dream,” he explains. “It happens every so often, where I am living in a house – either the house I grew up in or the house I’m currently living in – and I discover, usually in a basement, through some hard to navigate portal of some kind, another room that I never had known about, or had forgotten about, or hadn’t seen. And it’s usually big, and sometimes filled with old things, but ripe for lots of renovation and redecoration and work.”
He pauses, smiles, and finishes: “A thrilling new place to be.”
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'The Capitol Studios Sessions' is out now.
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