Not many people know that Jeff Goldblum plays a mean jazz piano — a skill he picked up well before he became a famous actor. Even fewer know that he performs almost every Wednesday at the Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Feliz, Los Angeles. A close friend of mine was visiting from South Carolina and, having spent numerous collective hours together watching clips of the sexy Sir Ian Malcolm while mouth trumpeting the Jurassic Park theme, we decided to check out the show last night.
Jeff has been playing jazz clubs since he was 15 years old, back in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. These days he plays with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. They primarily play together at the Rockwell, but are set to perform at the Arroyo Seco Weekend music festival in Pasadena this weekend. The band provides an accompaniment of guitar, stand up bass, two tenor saxes and drums to compliment Monsieur Goldblum’s baby grand and electric personality.
The Rockwell is an old-school dinner-and-a-show type of venue, with a new-school menu. At 25, I am not particularly familiar with dinner theater, its overly eager waitstaff and the tradition of 2 item minimums. I’ve gotten most of my concert experience from dive bars and clubs with standing room only, and my live jazz from the Hollywood Bowl (most notably, from Ken Warfield, the Bowl’s resident tunnel saxophonist). In fact, I had never even done valet parking on my own before last night. I was so flustered, I forgot to put the car into park and it started to roll away. We caught it before it went too far and bumped into a Prius. No harm done.
Jazz dinner shows once had a golden age in the New York bebop scene of the 40’s and 50’s. So, it was easy for me to attempt to romanticize my experience at the Rockwell. As Jeff and the band played and I sipped on the signature cocktail that I really couldn’t afford, I tried to pull myself into the New York jazz clubs described by great American authors; James Baldwin, Jack Keroac. No luck — but it was a lovely evening all the same.
Well before the show started, Jeff was already working the floor, greeting audience members as they arrived and started their dinners. He made a point of remembering the names of some of the folks he chatted with, and called to them from the stage at various points in the evening.
About a half hour before the show began, Jeff played a game with the audience, scattered with charming quips. The game goes like this: an audience member names an actor, then someone names a film with that actor in it, then some one else names another actor from that film mentioned — and so on. Many cinematic roads lead to Jeff Goldblum, I learned.
When the band started at 9 p.m. sharp, they used their opening jam to introduce the members, in a traditional style, with improvised solos. For the next song, Jeff received mystery sheet music from a well-dressed fellow in the audience, and the band performed an on-the-spot sight reading. They executed the reading beautifully — keep in mind no one was expecting a tight, rehearsed show. It was loose, but not sloppy. They ended the first portion of the set with a little Thelonious Monk.
At intermission, Jeff welcomed audience members to take photos with him in front of the stage. He’s so comfortable in his celebrity, which, in part, gave the evening its warm, intimate feel — an element that is absent from most other music shows.
Most importantly, The Goldblum answered the age-old question:
“QUIZ: Is it pronounced bloom, or bluhm?”
“That’s right. It’s bloom. Like the flower.”
Every number was end-capped with little activities — quizzes, mostly, but also a script reading. I’m not entirely sure that they were entertaining or value-adding activities, but Jeff made it work just fine. I mean, Jeff-Friggin’-Goldblum, talking. With his VOICE. Right?
As the 11 o’clock noise curfew closed in, Jeff Goldblum and The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra ended their set with a let-loose rendition of the classic jazz tune, Caravan.
Among the audience last night were notable celebrities, including comedian and writer/actor Jenny Slate, as well as actors Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine. Yes, that’s right. Captain Kirk AND Spock.
This must be what people who aren’t from LA think everyday is like for us.
All in all, it was not exactly a music-centered show. Music is at the heart of it, of course, and jazz is what fuels the performances, but audience interaction and Jeff’s presence steals a lot of stage time. Admittedly, this wasn’t a bad thing. Jeff was having a tremendous amount of fun, and we were too. I felt like I was apart of his hobby, his art, participating in a small slice of his life.