Arts & Culture News

We Talked to Jeff Goldblum (Yes, THE Jeff Goldblum) About Jazz, Acting, Fame and Jeff Goldblum

Pop culture icon Jeff Goldblum shared some of his jolly wisdom ahead of his Dallas show.
Pop culture icon Jeff Goldblum shared some of his jolly wisdom ahead of his Dallas show. courtesy AT&T Performing Arts Center

Talking to actor, jazz pianist and a being of radiating light Jeff Goldblum is never a one-way conversation. He's so genuinely interested in people and being alive in the moment that he can turn a simple press interview around on the person talking to him.

Goldblum spoke to us about his upcoming jazz album and live show at the Winspear Opera House on Thursday with his jazz group, The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. The transaction is seamless. Because he's so likable and friendly, you don't realize as you're talking to him, that Jeff Goldblum is also interviewing you.

"I actually do have an interest in people," Goldblum says. "I do and I have a good time with them. That's the good thing with jazz shows. It really isn't like a performance. It's just like a hangout with people, and the most interesting thing is who shows up."

Goldblum, 66, is best known for a movie career that spans decades  — starting with his first on-screen role ("Freak No. 2") in the original Death Wish starring Charles Bronson. His film résumé covers just about every era of film fandom from the 1980s to today, with cult favorites like The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension and Earth Girls Are Easy; beloved classics like The Big Chill and David Cronenberg's take on The Fly; independent fare like The Mountain and Igby Goes Down; and box-office smashes like Jurassic Park and Independence Day.

But it's the man himself who has become legendary, thanks in part to the idol-stamping nature of the internet. Goldblum's cheery and curious persona is driven by his quirky tones, sharp eye for fashion and hypnotic, flowing mannerisms, all of which have made him a meme machine to express moments of mirth and merriment.

"When I've presented myself whether it's in jazz shows or publicity, I don't kind of contrive something I'm not," Goldblum says. "When people see me wherever it is, they seem to encounter something similar. People will often say, 'Geez, you're just like you are in the movies or TV' or something like that. It's fun."

Goldblum also presented another side of himself in recent years that people outside the Los Angeles jazz club scene haven't seen as many times as, say, his memorable shirtless pose in the middle of Jurassic Park or that time he snapped a redneck's wrist like a meaty twig in The Fly. Goldblum's other great love in life (besides, of course, his wife and two children) is jazz piano, something he first pursued at 15 in his hometown of Pittsburgh.

"When I've presented myself whether it's in jazz shows or publicity, I don't kind of contrive something I'm not." — Jeff Goldblum

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His musicianship took a bit of a back seat when his acting career took off, but he's been able to fulfill his other creative outlet thanks to the Rockwell, a Los Angeles jazz club where he and his band have played every available Wednesday for the last six years. The shows became so popular that Goldblum took his act on the road in between movie gigs.

"Every Wednesday if I'm in town and not working, we have a residency there. But we've been all over, especially since that first album came out," Goldblum says of the venue. "We've been all over London at Ronnie Scott's [Jazz Club] and New York, Boston, San Francisco. We played the BottleRock Festival and then we played the Glastonbury Festival, the biggest of those festivals with 35,000 people."

The band reached a new level of evolution while Goldblum was on the tour circuit promoting Thor: Ragnarok, in which he plays the villainous Grandmaster.

"I was in England in London on The Graham Norton Show with singer Gregory Porter who's great and whose work I've loved," he says. "I ran into him at an airport a few years before and, anyway, he was going to be one of the other guests on the show and he asked me to accompany him. He knew I played piano and he was promoting his Nat King Cole album and was gonna sing 'Mona Lisa.' You know, 'Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, men have named you' and he just wanted me to do it as a piano player. I says yes and backstage we went through it once and played it on his show."

Decca Records vice president Tom Lewis and president Rebecca Allen saw Goldblum and Porter's touching performance and asked the actor if he'd be interested in cutting a record. Goldblum and his group's first album, The Capitol Studios Sessions, featured jazz standards like "Straighten Up and Fly Right," "My Baby Just Cares for Me" and "Cantaloupe Island" featuring vocal duets with Imelda May, Haley Reinhart and Sarah Silverman. The album debuted last year at No. 1 on the Billboard jazz charts.

His band's next album, I Shouldn't Be Telling You This, builds on the energy generated by the first release with more toe-tapping tunes and beautiful duets with the likes of Fiona Apple, Sharon Van Etten and more surprise guests.

"Pretty soon after, we started to talk about a second album and then we cooked this thing up about which I'm even more excited," Goldblum says. "I like the singers on it and you know all the singers because we've talked about them publicly but there's a couple on there you don't know about that we've kept secret that are gonna come up and I think you'll be interested in them."

Goldblum's various creative mediums give him unique opportunities to improvise, a skill he says he's always striving to perfect even after 40 years of a career that includes a foray into TV with his upcoming Disney and National Geographic series The World According to Jeff Goldblum, a travel documentary series that brought him to a local gaming convention over the summer.

Of acting and music, he says, "I sort of adore both of them and they're overlapping. They're not exactly the same. They seem to kind of overlap. Sometimes when I act, do plays and even work for Wes Anderson for instance — he does it like a play. He crafts this meticulous kind of script and doesn't want you to change a word usually and that's wonderful. He's a genius and trying to make it seem like improvisation when it's very disciplined. It's one thing but then you're working on Portlandia and different shows like this Nat Geo Disney show, that's all improvised.

"It's a blast doing that because I studied with a man named Sandy Meisner and a big part of his technique is improvisational. So I love it and I feel like I'm getting better at it and I like to practice and of course, jazz has a lot to do with improv. It's a mashup of discipline and a lot of work but I play every day, and there's lots more to investigate all the time even on this material I'm doing now."

When you think about it, Goldblum's life and career are one big improv session. He says he just follows what he loves and finds most fulfilling and lets the future work it out the way it wants.

"I've always had my heart set on having a career as an actor and that's as you know, an uncommonly lucky thing, but the music, I just did for fun," he says. "I did it because I loved it. I didn't have any kind of strategy. That all happened just accidentally, just because I loved it." 
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.