Off screen, beloved actor Jeff Goldblum is as offbeat, quirky and charming as some of the characters he plays. In his Guest DJ set, he talks about discovering his love for acting, how his dad turned him on to jazz and the Miles Davis song he uses to wake up in the morning. He stars in Independence Day: Resurgence, out June 24. You can also catch his weekly residency with his band the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra at Rockwell here in LA. Hosted by Anne Litt.
Photo: Dustin Downing
1. Erroll Garner - Misty
2. Peggy Lee - Is That All There Is?
3. Charles Wright - Express Yourself
4. Miles Davis - My Funny Valentine
5. Thelonious Monk - Well, You Needn't
AL: Hi, I’m Anne Litt and I’m here with actor Jeff Goldblum. He’s always the highlight of every production he’s a part of, from Broadway to big picture blockbusters, even Wes Anderson films. An accomplished musician in his own right, you can catch him playing the piano at a regular residency right here in Los Angeles. So, we of course know he’s a big music fan and he joins us today to talk about five songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Welcome.
JG: Thank you so much, Anne Litt. It’s a thrill to be here.
AL: Your list is incredible.
JG: You think so?
AL: Yes, I do.
JG: I want to hear why you like it, but I’ll tell you why I like it.
AL: Yeah, so what are we starting with?
JG: Well, we’re going to start with a recording by Erroll Garner, “Misty”. I come from Pittsburg where Erroll Garner was also from. And I took piano lessons, like all four kids from Dr. Goldblum and Shirley Goldblum, they gave us piano lessons. My dad was a, not only acting fan – they used to go to NY and bring back cast albums of musicals – but a jazz fan. And Dad, who was a doctor not a musician, he would give me little music appreciation courses – “Let’s listen to this”. And he says, “You know what I like about that guy, Erroll Garner he’s very short and he brings a telephone book.” He was a kind of blue collar doctor appreciator. And he liked the idea that he was not so fancy. And this song not only, I’m sure that it appealed to his romantic side, but he went, “Listen to how this guy plays the silences, that he’s daring to pause like this and just stop.” And he would kind of sing along. He would, “bo pop bo pop bo pop.” He would do these octave things that he does a couple of times in that recording.
AL: Here’s Erroll Garner with “Misty” on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project.
Song: Erroll Garner – “Misty”
AL: Next up on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project is the wonderful Peggy Lee with “Is That All There Is?”
JG: I mean I talked about my interest in music but, for some crazy reason, I always knew I was going to be an actor, or always wanted to be an actor. And that kind of developed, I won’t bore you with the story right now, but around the time I was 15-16, this is 67-68, I went to this six week drama program in Carnegie-Melon University. My dad actually once again had said, “Hey, finding something you love to do is probably your compass, your guidepost for a vocation.” And I took that to heart because he really meant it. And so when I discovered this acting thing I was set on it and obsessed with it. In fact, every morning I would take a shower and the shower door would steam up and I would write, “Please God, let me be an actor.” But then it was still secret. It had been a secret for many years at that point and I would wipe it off before I got out of the shower, still not telling anybody.
JG: Yeah, isn’t that kind of interesting? But it was THIS song that I think now when I listen to it, I still remember how I felt which was singularly moved in a very bitter, mystical way. She is so wonderful in my humble opinion in her acting of that song. She’s subtle but deep, soulful, she brings her jazz chops to it which I didn’t know about yet, and she acts it.
Song: Peggy Lee – “Is That All There Is”
AL: That was Peggy Lee, “Is That All There Is?” chosen by our guest DJ today, Jeff Goldblum. Let’s talk about Charles Wright “Express Yourself.” Just a great song.
JG: I went right from high school to New York where everything, as I hoped it would, somehow miraculously opened up. I was studying with Sandy Meisner himself, living for the first time by myself in an apartment in New York City. And I was pursuing this thing that I was, as I told you, wildly obsessed with, now with the real guy and in a real way. And I started to get jobs right away miraculously. Anyway, it was right around that time that this song came out, started to play once again. And of course the lyrics are simple and “Express Yourself” was something that was a kind of a mantra, credo, landmark of what I was trying to pursue in this so called creative endeavor. And I love his performance of it. It’s spontaneous, improvisational kind of, and the funky realness of the band is great, but still means something to me in a way that I still enjoy.
AL: I like that. Charles Wright, “Express Yourself” on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project.
Song: Charles Wright -- “Express Yourself”
AL: That was music from Charles Wright, “Express Yourself”. You speak about improvisation which makes me want to go on, actually to your next two, but Miles Davis “My Funny Valentine.”
JG: After this period that I was just getting started in my career, in the body of it somewhere where I was doing movie parts that required day after day work and arousal in the morning from sleep -- not the other kind of arousal. Since early school days where I didn’t know how to discipline myself and go to bed early, I had to wake up by an alarm clock and I hated it. So in my adult life I never did and have been wakened by an alarm clock. I prefer to wake up naturally. I got one of those alarm clocks-slash- CD player.
JG: And I went for track number one, “My Funny Valentine”, and stayed with it. So day after day after day after day, and probably on several movies, I would be awakened by “My Funny Valentine.” First of all, you’re asleep when you first hear the strings of it and you’re half dreaming it many times and it goes slowly, it starts – Herbie Hancock is playing a beautiful, beautiful oblique rendition of his intro. And then Miles Davis, what do I know, but is so soulful and sad and conversational and unexpected and human. It’s just, it’s all so moving, but it’s all so – to get aroused from sleep that way is just spectacular.
Song: Miles Davis – “My Funny Valentine”
AL: That was Miles Davis “My Funny Valentine” on the Guest DJ Project from KCRW. And finally, music from Thelonious Monk. “Well, You Needn’t”
is the piece.
JG: Yes. It sort of brings us up to the present now. Fifteen years ago Peter Weller, I met him on Buckaroo Banzai, that movie, and he plays the horn and we started playing the horn together. And then he did a movie with Woody Allen, with whom I had done the Annie Hall movie. And he said, “You know Jeff and I get together we play at his house sometimes.” He says, “Well you should – I know Jeff. Yeah you guys should do what I do, have a weekly gig and you’ll enjoy it and you’ll get better that way.” So Peter Weller came back from that movie and that’s when we started to include a guitarist friend of his, professional, very good guitarist. Then he knew a place we could play at and then we started to do that. And I have maintained this core group and we’ve played many places and it’s been a whole different chapter in my musical life and enjoyment.
Song: Thelonious Monk -- “Well, You Needn’t”
JG: So, we now have kind of evolved a list from which I practice every day. We do a bunch of songs by Thelonious Monk because I love him. The way he plays, I mean, smarter people than me can talk about it, but you know, he’s unique. As soon as you hear him you know who it is. He’s virile, he’s unexpected, he’s improvisational – you’re sure that he’s making it up. But he’s crazy and angular and a little eccentric, sexy and I just love him.
AL: Can you practice when you’re on the road?
JG: It forces me to either say, “Hey does this hotel have –
AL: Hotel piano!
JG: Hotel piano. I’ll go to a hotel and I’ll do some solo entertainment by running through my stuff. I like that.
AL: Well, we just heard Thelonious Monk “Well, You Needn’t.” I feel like we only scratched the surface.
JG: Well I think so too. I’m an eager and humble student of it, so I’m on the threshold of being very excited about learning about all sorts of things.
AL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to KCRW.com/GuestDJProject and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.
Jeff Goldblum, actor