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Jeff Goldblum On His Lifelong Passion For Jazz And His New Album

Jeff Goldblum

Photo courtesy of Decca/Verve

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Jeff Goldblum On His Lifelong Passion For Jazz And His New Album

The Academy Award-nominated creative and musician discusses his path to jazz greatness and his new album, 'I Shouldn't Be Telling You This'

GRAMMYs/Nov 27, 2019 - 11:10 pm

Jeff Goldblum is a lifelong jazz aficionado whose first love was the revered pianist and three-time GRAMMY nominee Erroll Garner, an untaught musician who sat on a phone book to reach his piano keys.

"There's nobody more ebullient in his playing than he is," Goldblum tells the Recording Academy. "Not too fancy. But so joyful in his music," he says about the pianist's 1961 album Erroll Garner Plays Misty, which his father gifted him.

The "Jurassic Park" star was enamored of jazz but pursued acting instead. His career choice paid off: The Academy Award-nominated actor, director and producer can today be found in his own Disney+ series, "The World According to Jeff Goldblum," in addition to regular Hollywood roles.

Still, he never lost the music bug. On Nov. 1, Goldblum released his latest jazz album, I Shouldn't Be Telling You This, featuring his longtime band, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra.

On the album, Goldblum approaches what can be a stuffy art form with characteristic aplomb, proving that jazz isn’t just for the upper crust or for academics—it's for everyone. Featuring guest vocalists like Sharon Van Etten, Inara George and Fiona Apple on standards like "Let's Face The Music And Dance," "The Sidewinder" (in a medley with Sonny and Cher's "The Beat Goes On") and "Don't Worry 'Bout Me," I Shouldn't Be Telling You This makes jazz accessible.

The Recording Academy spoke with Goldblum about his musical upbringing, his love for Thelonious Monk and Lee Morgan and why playing jazz starts with simply touching an instrument.

You've been playing jazz while also investigating everyday items like sneakers, ice cream and tattoos on your Disney+ show, "The World According to Jeff Goldblum." Are you trying to understand what makes Americans tick?

I tell you, jazz reminds me of larger issues, and if we do another season [of the TV show], maybe we’ll pick things that are particularly suited for larger ideas about the American story. I've been talking to this fellow named Kurt Anderson, who wrote a book that I like very, very much called "Fantasyland," which has everything to do with the American story.

Of course, jazz is very much part of the American story, and that always interests me. Yes.

Read: Jeff Goldblum's Long Road To His No. 1 Jazz Album, 'The Capitol Studio Sessions'

In what way is it part of the American story for you? What does it conjure in your mind about where we come from?

Well, it's very complicated and exciting, and sometimes it's a story that has many different colors in it, you know? I did this movie last year that Rick Alverson directed called "The Mountain" that reminded me of some of the movies that I liked very much. For instance, Paul Thomas Anderson has done "The Master" and "There Will Be Blood," and I’m a particular fan of Arthur Miller's play "Death Of A Salesman."

So, there are critiques of America that I find very interesting, but here I am in New York City right now, and I'm reminded of that documentary that I saw a couple of times all the way through—several hours—by Ken Burns' brother, Ric Burns, called "New York." It chronicles the American story through the particular lens of the New York story, and there are things that are very hopeful and inspiring and moving about it.

On your new album, you cover "The Sidewinder" by Lee Morgan, an undersung genius of jazz who died at a young age. Why that standard? 

Well, I've always loved that song. I know about Lee Morgan; I saw the documentary about him [2016's "I Called Him Morgan"]. That's a tragic story. But I love that song, I love "The Sidewinder," and we wanted to do something that would be a fresh kind of mash-up. The chords go with "The Beat Goes On," and Inara George sings the heck out of it. That song always drives me crazy with delight.

Did you appreciate jazz as a kid?

Yeah! I’m from Pittsburgh, and my dad brought home the just-released Erroll Garner Plays Misty album. I was enthralled with it. I took lessons and I was starting to get a little better when the teacher gave me a piece of music arrangement—not yet improvised—but "Alley Cat" and syncopation just did something to me. "Deep Purple," I remember he gave me, and "Stairway To The Stars."

I really sat and practiced until I learned how to play them. And even though I had my heart set on an acting career, I started to call around to jazz clubs that were around Pittsburgh, and at 15, I got a couple of gigs where I was playing. I met a singer or two who would drive me to a couple of gigs. Then I kept it in my apartment in New York when I was 17 or 18 and I was studying with Sandy Meisner. I put it in a couple of movies and plays.

Then, about 30 years ago, I started to play out and about with professional musicians, and that’s how this whole thing evolved.

I like that Erroll Garner was your gateway. His music is unbridled joy.

Oh, yeah. Totally. There's nobody more ebullient in his playing than he is. You know, he was self-taught. Didn’t read music. But what a genius. My dad always commented that he was so short that he sat on a telephone book. He was kind of a working-class type. Not too fancy. But so joyful, like you say, in his music.

My dad really wasn't a musician, he was a doctor. But he would point out the unique thing that [Garner] did: "Listen to how he lets spaces go in between some of his notes." He liked his octaves in what he was doing. He was a big inspiration early on.

Did acting derail your jazz career for a while? 

I wouldn’t say it was derailed. In fact, I think now, I don’t know that I'd be getting everyone into these live shows who weren’t otherwise sometimes interested in a movie or two that I’ve done. Even the craft of acting—and I consider myself a humble student of that, as I've sort of developed—has cross-trained well with my musical interests. Listening and improvisation, being present and finding your voice and all that manner of stuff.

But you're certainly right; I certainly wasn't able to play music all day, every day. I like the balance. I like the percentage of both of them.

Does acting teach you to nonverbally communicate with your band?

Yes, I think so! And likewise, I think it works the other way, too. The pure enjoyment I get out of playing music—the nonverbal, like you say, expressiveness—works in many ways in acting. The doors and portals into your heart and strings that are numberless that music can open up can inform acting, I think, too. Yeah.

Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins played with a lot of anger and raucous humor. Do you see great jazz musicians as being like actors?

Oh, sure. I do. Thelonious Monk was not only unique but still kind of inclusive. His composition, "Ugly Beauty," is inclusive of every part of himself and brave and unique and unconventional. I just loved him. And stylish, you know? But I love that [1986] movie "Round Midnight," speaking of actors. Dexter Gordon played so beautifully, and even Herbie Hancock in that movie plays gorgeously, but acted very well, too.

I'm reading the Dexter Gordon biography, Sophisticated Giant. He was such a larger-than-life American figure: jazz's Paul Bunyan. I feel like they don't make them like that anymore.

That's funny that you mention Paul Bunyan. I was talking about him yesterday. One of the things I’m talking about with the NatGeo people [National Geographic developed his Disney+ series, "The World According to Jeff Goldblum"] for next season is maybe incredible figures like that. Yes, those giants of yesteryear, that particular era. Some of which we focus on in our album, '50s, '60s Blue Note kind of stuff. Just irreplaceable. 

Jazz is sometimes dragged into academia in 2019. Does it engage your brain, your heart or both?

I think both. I'm in a growth spurt now with these couple of records coming out. I’m trying to do my best. I play every chance I get when I’m on the road. The hotel I’m staying at in New York doesn’t have a piano, but I woke up the last couple of days and walked several blocks to this other hotel that let me play in their little showroom there. I do that very conscientiously every day.

And yeah, it does something to my heart that’s a real tonic. But also, I’m taking lessons and learning from the guys in the band. Joe Bagg is our organist and keyboard player, and I'm taking lessons from him. Alex Frank, who arranged some of these things on the last album, is coaching me in some of my playing and singing, too. I’m really enjoying trying to have some breakthroughs here and there.

Is there still a learning curve to the piano for you? 

Oh, yeah. There's so much to learn. No matter what special aspect of it you’re concentrating on, in mathematical ways, there seems to be an infinite amount of possibilities with harmony. It is a real brain exerciser. An exerciser for the whole system. But oh, there’s so much to learn for everybody.

I'm trying to pick up the trumpet lately. It’s slow-going. Any advice for someone who wants to play jazz?

Just do it. There’s a lifetime of listening you can do. I’ve never formally taught piano or any instrument. But when I see my kids—I've got a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old—I think some legitimate and valid early stages are just sitting with the instrument, near the instrument, holding the instrument, touching the instrument, getting a feel for it.

There are so many serious ways you can study. And I’ll bet there are people who want to participate. Start playing together with other people. That'd be fun, too.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

Mumu Fresh On What She Learned From Working With The Roots, Rhyming & More

Apple Music Exclusive: Watch Classic GRAMMY Performances

Whitney Houston, 29th GRAMMY Awards

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Apple Music Exclusive: Watch Classic GRAMMY Performances

The Recording Academy teams with Apple Music to offer historical GRAMMY performances by Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, Shania Twain, Kendrick Lamar, and more

GRAMMYs/Nov 24, 2017 - 07:00 pm

To celebrate the GRAMMY Awards' 60th anniversary and the show's return to New York for the first time in 15 years, the Recording Academy and Apple Music are bringing fans a special video collection of exclusive GRAMMY performances and playlists that represent the illustrious history of Music's Biggest Night.

Available exclusively via Apple Music in a dedicated GRAMMYs section, the celebratory collection features 60-plus memorable performances specifically curated across six genres: pop, rap, country, rock, R&B, and jazz. 

The artist performances featured in the collection include Marvin Gaye, "Sexual Healing" (25th GRAMMY Awards, 1983); Whitney Houston, "Greatest Love Of All" (29th GRAMMY Awards, 1987); Run DMC, "Tougher Than Leather" (30th GRAMMY Awards, 1988); Miles Davis, "Hannibal" (32nd GRAMMY Awards, 1990); Shania Twain, "Man, I Feel Like A Woman" (41st GRAMMY Awards, 1999); Dixie Chicks, "Landslide" (45th GRAMMY Awards, 2003); Bruno Mars and Sting, "Locked Out Of Heaven" and "Walking On The Moon" (55th GRAMMY Awards, 2013); and Kendrick Lamar, "The Blacker The Berry" (58th GRAMMY Awards, 2016).

The 60th GRAMMY Awards will take place at New York City's Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018. The telecast will be broadcast live on CBS at 7:30–11 p.m. ET/4:30–8 p.m. PT. 

Carrie Underwood, John Legend To Host "GRAMMYs Greatest Stories"

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Boyz II Men Among GRAMMY Celebration Performers

The Recording Academy's official GRAMMY after-party to also feature performances by Ciara, DJ Michelle Pesce and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

Four-time GRAMMY-winning R&B group Boyz II Men, GRAMMY winner Ciara and DJ Michelle Pesce are scheduled to perform at the exclusive 2014 GRAMMY Celebration — The Recording Academy's official after-party. Additionally, the Celebration's MasterCard Jazz Lounge will feature performances by contemporary swing revival band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and members of the GRAMMY Camp — Jazz Session.

One of the year's most anticipated events attracting GRAMMY winners, nominees and celebrities, the 2014 GRAMMY Celebration will take place at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Jan. 26 immediately following the 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards telecast. The Roaring '20s, the boisterous and exuberant decade proclaiming social liberation, will serve as this year's theme for the all-star GRAMMY Celebration where guests will dance, party and continue to celebrate Music's Biggest Night.

"What better way to celebrate Music's Biggest Night than with an amazing GRAMMY after-party where our guests can continue to enjoy their evening surrounded by music, incredible food and a stunningly visual party atmosphere culminating in not-to-be missed performances," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "This year's glamorous Roaring '20s theme is sure to provide a uniquely memorable experience for all."

"With more than 600 catering and service staff, 400 production team members, 200 security agents, 60 dancers and acrobats, five featured performances, and hundreds of hours of planning, it is a daunting yet rewarding task to mount the largest and most complex awards show after-party annually," said Branden Chapman, Executive in Charge of Production & Chief Business Development Officer of The Recording Academy. "Each year, we are honored to bring our Recording Academy members and annual GRAMMY nominees together to celebrate the year in music amid amazing performances, delectable cuisine and spectacular thematic design."

The Recording Academy will produce the post-telecast GRAMMY Celebration, overseeing all of the event entertainment, décor and other logistics needed to fill the vast convention space, which equals the size of three football fields. The Roaring '20s theme will come to life with entertainers, dancers, acrobats, elaborate projections, and floor-to-ceiling design reminiscent of the lavish and opulent decade. Renowned celebrity caterer Along Came Mary returns to cater the event with an exquisite menu that includes five buffet-themed stations (New York Italian, Chicago Steakhouse, Atlantic City Boardwalk, Los Angeles Brown Derby, and San Francisco Chinatown) and numerous event-themed desserts such as signature hot fudge sundaes, Boston cream whoopie pies and Coney Island devil dogs, among others. The evening will also feature fine spirits by Patrón Tequila, Ultimat Vodka and Pyrat Rum, and beer by Anheuser-Busch. Beverages at the event will be provided by Pepsi.

The menu was designed using locally grown meat, produce and cheese, when possible, and all seafood is sustainably produced. Leftover edible food from the GRAMMY Celebration is donated to local food banks and all cooking oil used for the event will be recycled.

The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards will take place live on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and will be broadcast in high-definition TV and 5.1 surround sound on the CBS Television Network from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). The telecast also will be supported on radio worldwide via WestwoodOne, and covered online at GRAMMY.com and CBS.com.

For GRAMMY coverage, updates and breaking news, visit The Recording Academy's social networks on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

Joan as Police Woman

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 07:21 pm

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.

Thursday, April 2

[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.

[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it. 

Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy. 

[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always. 

[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment. 

I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.

[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.

[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh. 

Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot. 

[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).

[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music. 

[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night. 

If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website