Jazzy Jeff Goldblum – how the power of jazz is the secret of his success

Once you know the actor also has a nice sideline as a cocktail lounge pianist, his whole career suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. Malcolm Jack feels the beat

recently learned that Jeff Goldblum is a highly accomplished jazz pianist who has held down semi-regular low-key cocktail lounge residencies in Pittsburgh and LA since he was a kid, and my mind was blown. The secret to the success of one of the most titanium-clad likeable actors in all of actordom – his trademark, uhm, irregular, uhm, speech patterns, his always faintly knowing air, his spectacular spectacle-wearing? It’s jazz, of course! In that same way that the Force in Star Wars is a mythical energy that surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together, such is jazz for Jeff Goldblum.

As he finally releases his debut jazz album The Capital Studios Sessions I’ve re-examined Goldblum’s career to date through the prism of jazz, and suddenly it all makes sense. Let’s call it the Many Jazz Lives of Jeff Goldblum, or if you’d prefer, Jeff Goldblum’s, uhm, Jazz Odyssey.

Free-jazz Goldblum: Seth Brundle, The Fly

I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t watched The Fly since I was a kid, when it basically scared the shit out of me so badly I couldn’t look at the microwave oven without thinking of everted baboon. Which makes me think of the most terrifying of all jazz genres: free jazz. The jazz you take one polite bite of, chew dutifully until no one is looking, then surreptitiously spit into a napkin and hide under your plate. It’s the steak tartare of jazz. And in the gifted but creepy sexy alpha geek Seth Brundle, Goldblum had it down to a fine art.

Smooth-jazz Goldblum: Dr Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

With his leather jacket, prominent chest hair and oily slickness, maverick mathematician Malcolm was smooth jazz personified. That bit when he delicately rubs water into the back of Laura Dern’s hand while wanging on about chaos theory – irrespective of sexual preference, tell me that you weren’t like “move the fuck over wispy scientist lady in small shorts, HE’S MINE.” The dinosaurs have several opportunities to rip him to shreds, and yet notice that they don’t? Here is a simple explanation for that and the explanation is jazz.

Trad-jazz Goldblum: David Levinson, Independence Day

Plaid-shirted MIT graduate tech boffin dubiously saves the planet with an early Macintosh laptop and a dial-up connection (it was 1996). Admittedly there was very little that was jazz about this role, but then even jazzmen need to make a living. I like to think of his dalliance with an alien invasion disaster movie popcorn blockbuster as Goldblum’s trad-jazz phase, when he sold out and did the standards for a solid pay cheque. While compensating by playing lots of heavy jazz shit in his trailer.

Jazz-funk Goldblum: Alan and other characters, Portlandia

Firmly established as a cult hero in recent years, we’ve seen Goldblum flit between playing various on-brand funny eccentrics and essentially just playing himself, blurring the lines like a jazz funk maestro. For instance across several seasons of hipster satire sketch comedy series Portlandia, in particular as blancmange pink-suited artisan knot salesman Alan. See also Goldblum’s various cameos in Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, including as lightbulb-advertising “famous person” Terry Quattro, when he at one point plays jazz piano in a hot tub.

Full-jazz Goldblum: The Capital Studios Sessions

At the ripe old age of 66, Goldblum has unveiled  his debut jazz album. Recorded live with his band the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra and featuring guest vocalists including Haley Reinhart, Imelda May and Sarah Silverman, it’s dreamily like being at one of Goldblum’s cocktail-lounge sessions as he wisecracks, charms and tickles those ivories like the luxurious mane of a Persian thoroughbred. Wonderful, uhm, stuff.

The Capital Studios Sessions is out November 9 on Decca