Wonderfully affable actor Jeff Goldblum could do just about anything and people would undoubtedly find it compelling. As it so happens, Jeff is a lifelong lover of playing piano, and so some years ago, he got together with a very good jazz collective and started performing around Hollywood as Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra.
Said orchestra has now released two studio albums, The Capitol Studios Sessions and I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, consisting of jazz standards often given fresh arrangements by the band. The act has become a bit more ambitious, as warrants its tremendous talent, and it has hit the road recently with a stop at the Strathmore Music Center.
At the Strathmore on May 6, Jeff was happy to show up as if he were your new friend coming around for dinner. Unpretentious and chatty, Goldblum cut the instantly recognizable figure of a man who’s been making A-list movies for nearly 50 years as he strode onto the stage 30 minutes prior to the scheduled showtime. He was just there to shoot the breeze and interact with the audience.
During his pre-show chat, he identified friends (among them acting teachers visiting DC metro from Philadelphia), received gifts (including a mod cartoon painting of himself), and encouraged people to be themselves. One man proposed to his girlfriend on the spot with Jeff’s blessing of the ring (inscribed with “love finds a way” — a play on his Jurrasic Park character’s famous quote “life finds a way).
As it got near showtime, Jeff began playing word games with the audience and asking trivia questions in the manner of a host, and the brimming house at the Strathmore was quite warm to their chatty friend turned host.
When The Mildred Snizter Orchestra (named seemingly at random for a friend of Jeff’s parents he recalled from his childhood in Pittsburgh) got down to music, it opened with Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island,” setting up its sonic set pieces to give each member of the band a musical interlude by which to “introduce” themselves. And they are all superb players — John Storie (guitar), Alex Frank (bass), Joe Bagg (organ), Scott Gilman (sax), and Kenny Elliott (drums).
Watch Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra play “Cantaloupe Island” live on YouTube:
Gentlemanly John Storie had Jeff’s ear, as he was close to Jeff’s piano, and the steady hand seemed to wear the mantle of band leadership. Young Alex Frank was a sensation on upright bass, losing himself in the music and inviting us to get lost as well. Organist Joe Bagg was a delightful counterpart to Jeff’s piano. Saxophonist Scott Gilman was the envy of all with some arresting and muscular solos that gave him the opportunity to blow us all away. And drummer Kenny Elliott was the coolest man in the room (well, maybe second to Jeff), playing with style, grace, and the composure of experienced hands.
Jeff himself played with an intensity that took its place in the collective. There was no showboating at the piano for Jeff. He was all about the music. And he seemed most genuinely pleased when the piano supported his bandmates well or played off singer Annie Ellicott, who appeared for several numbers throughout the night.
Annie sparkled on songs like Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and an enticing blend of “The Sidewinder” by Lee Morgan and “The Beat Goes On” by Sonny Bono. Her distinctive look with red glasses and a black dress that had “wings” that read “Yes” and “No” offset her from the band’s classic and classy suits. (Jeff himself was dressed quite stylishly in a pleasing mix of aquatic colors and his trademark “The Jeff” eyeglasses by Jacques Marie Mage.)
Scott on sax again stole the show with a particularly punchy solo during “The Sidewinder.” To play the saxophone in this particular band must be a dream!
Stream “The Sidewinder/ The Beat Goes On” by Jeff Goldblum and The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra on YouTube:
Including Jeff’s opening greetings, the show ran for roughly 2 hours, 45 minutes, and the time flew right by. The show was magnificent, the players were brimming with personality, precision, and professionalism. Most of all, the performance was *fun*, often seeming more like a carefully improvised vaudeville show than a traditional jazz concert. Mr. Goldblum and his bandmates have superbly and sublimely assembled a charming and graceful program that could have sprung from grand old Hollywood. But then what else would you expect when Jeff is the face of your ensemble?
Here are some photos of Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra performing at the Strathmore Music Center on May 6, 2022. All pictures copyright Parklife DC.