Michael Wolff, Jazz Pianist, and the Art of the Ballad

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Jazz pianist Michael Wolff put out a two years ago called “Joe’s Strut”.  The Joe is Joe Zawinul, a Viennese pianist who was admired by Miles Davis (Joe once turned his invite down to join the band), and who co-founded Weather Report, the most unusual jazz band of the 70s and 80s.

I first saw Michael at the Hollywood Bowl years ago, when he was Nancy Wilson’s Musical Director and pianist.  He looked like he was about 18 years old; maybe he was.

Wolff is a pianistic treasure.  He is a virtuoso musician who has clearly paid his dues.  He can play fast, but never weighs down his music with too many notes (a busy-ness that Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk could never forgive in Oscar Peterson’s music).

But with ballads it gets even more special.  On Joe’s Strut he renders “Come Rain or Come Shine” with nuance, sparkle, and depth.   This is why jazz music has always excited me musically.  A musician like Wolff can take this jazz warhorse and paint it with brand new colors, refreshing its contours, making it interesting even though you’ve heard a hundred other versions.  As an amateur jazz musician trying to improve my reading skills and improvise better,  I am moved and humbled by such artistry.  It is timeless and I am forever grateful.

Michael Wolff will be playing in LA at Vitello’s Jazz and Supper Club on August 30th and 31st, with Mark Isham playing trumpet in a rare club appearance, along with John B. Williams (Michael’s alumni from the Nancy Wilson days), and Mike Clark on drums.  I’ll be there for sure.