Behind the scenes of Jeff Goldblum’s Christmas cracker of a debut jazz album

Jeff Goldblum has played jazz piano since he was a child, and proves he can keep the beat on debut album The Capital Studio Sessions. Isn't he exactly the guy you want to invite to your festive soiree? Steven MacKenzie sends out the invitation

The holiday season is here, people will be gathering at parties and having a few drinks at the fireside. What makes your record a good soundtrack for those evenings?

That’s a nice idea. It’s really good no matter what you’re doing. It may indeed, now that I think of it, lend itself to a kind of social party warmth because there’s different things in it – romantic things, funky things that might get you going. I can’t stop listening to it myself.

It opens with the jazz standard Cantaloupe Island. Is that a real place?

You could Google it I guess. My question is: how is it pronounced? CantaLOOP or CantaLOPE? I think it’s spelled like the fruit but I’ve heard it pronounced both ways. What do you think?

If the song had words maybe we’d know.

Right, right, if someone was singing: “We’re on CantaLOPE Island…”

Even if it’s not a real place, where does the music transport you to?

Well, ‘funky town’ would be one answer. We improvise every time so it delivers me to some state of alertness to embrace whatever’s going on around me, particularly the other musicians inventing on the spot. That usually excites me and I answer them in some musical new way. Those first F-minor chords are funky, that D – dominant – flat is very beautiful and then it unexpectedly goes BAH BAH, a D-minor. There are so many things you can do with that. It’s a place of restful investigation, I find.

The song has no words but you should narrate over the top of it as you play.

I wouldn’t mind.

You famously explain chaos theory in Jurassic Park. And I’ve heard some pretty chaotic-sounding jazz. Is there a relationship between the two?

Perhaps there is. Improvisation and jazz is a feeling of something that can be characterised as freedom. Acting, I’ve always felt free, and music has informed a kind of freedom in my acting.

Every role you’ve played seems like it could only have been played by you. Is that the mark of a great actor?

I’m not great at all, I’m a humble student. I keep trying to get better. I think I’m on the brink of my best stuff now. I just did this movie called The Mountain, it might be up your alley, it’s very dark and very smart. And poetical. But you’re very sweet to say what you said. My teacher Sandy Meisner said whatever part you play, try not to copy anybody else, find your own so-called voice and, uh, so I’ve tried to do that.

The song Straighten Up and Fly Right – which Imelda May sings with you – that seems like good advice too.

Of course. My dad used to say that. Nat King Cole had a hit with it and I think the popularity of that hit record built the Capital Records building where we recorded the album. And then it was used in The Right Stuff that I had a little part in, so I’ve had an association with it.

DID YOU KNOW…

Vendors buy magazines for £1.25 and sell them for £2.50. They are working and need your custom.

Are there other mantras you have followed, if you haven’t forgotten them?

That’s so funny. Annie Hall, I think that’s a wonderful movie. I’m proud to be in it. Let’s see… Look both ways when you cross the street and go quickly, go quickly. Drink plenty of water, go to bed on time and keep a song in your heart.

More good advice would be another track you recorded: Don’t Mess With Mr T.

This isn’t the Mr T who says I pity the fool.

You do seem to like your jewellery too though. Do rings interfere with your piano playing?

The truth is, if given my tactile and sensual druthers I would be entirely naked. Maybe not entirely, but certainly on my hands.   I love the feel of nothing on my hands so I can wash them, I like to wash them. This song is very sexy to me. It’s slow and grindy, dark, intoxicating and boozy.

When I first moved to New York in the 1970s that was a soundtrack for a political time of upheaval,

I became aware of it in that movie Trouble Man. Marvin Gaye did the whole soundtrack. Jeez, he was something else   “What’s going on, what’s going on?” When I first moved to New York in the 1970s that was a soundtrack for a political time of upheaval and cultural, you know, adventuresomeness.

And we still don’t know what’s going on today.

That’s right, that’s sure right. We’re trying to keep our finger on the pulse of reality.

DID YOU KNOW…

In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.

What are your tips for surviving troubled times?

I agree, there are many disturbing things going on. I think you have to figure out, distinguish, your circle of influence. What can you really do something about, then focus on that. Be self-discriminating on what you take in, then take the long view and a cosmic perspective. This too shall pass – I find that a helpful mate, idea-mate, and music, of course, is not only reassuring and healing and centring but a mysteriously powerful tonic.

To continue the listening party, another song you recorded is Nostalgia in Times Square.

I can be nostalgic about Times Square. I remember the first time I ever saw A Streetcar Named Desire. I’d just come to New York. It was at the St James Theatre. I’d never read Streetcar, I’d never seen it and when she says, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” I went out in the middle of Times Square – right in the middle – and wept. Uncontrollably.

When you were weeping in the middle of Times Square did any kind stranger ask what was wrong?

Not that I remember… Today a phrase came back to me: a public solitude. I think Stanislavski talked about it. Oftentimes the conceit is the audience is just secretly and accidentally eavesdropping, so you create the illusion that you’re unwitnessed and behave as if nobody knew what you were doing. When you’re in public you can have your own private thoughts and there’s a power in that, potentially… Anyway, that’s what was on my mind today.

Can you get privacy in public, being as loved as you are?

It’s never been particularly burdensome. In fact you can skip a few steps of familiarity, people welcome you into their acquaintance and that’s nothing but nice.

You are smooth, stylish and musical, were you born at the wrong time? Should you have been a member of the Rat Pack?

I’d like to think I could be Sinatra, Dean Martin or Sammy Davis but I would have been either Joey Bishop or Shirley MacLaine. Seriously, I think I was born perfect. Whatever happened, uh, to bring me out at the moment that I did, I’ve been lucky.

Even if you were not a member of the Rat Pack my research shows you might have got quite close, playing a humanoid rat villain in the animated Captain Planet series.

Verminous Skumm. That was on my list of baby names for a while, Verminous Skumm Goldblum. We went for Charlie Ocean instead.

I don’t know if we have any Mozarts showing up. They sit on my lap and they bang on the piano and they sometimes like to hit a drum,

You have two young children. Are they showing signs of musical promise?

I don’t know if we have any Mozarts showing up. They sit on my lap and they bang on the piano and they sometimes like to hit a drum. Charlie says when I play sometimes, “Dada too loud, don’t play!” But River bounces up and down so they seem to like it a little bit.

Are they excited about the holiday season approaching?

It’s most wonderful to see it through the eyes of the kids. There is nothing like that. And it’s not necessarily the abundance of material consumerism that gets me going – and I’m hoping to infuse them with the same appreciation of the natural, the planet, the gifts and the abundance that’s around us – nothing that you unwrap. But having said that the kids do like to get something new. And Emilie, we exchange cards, write sweet things and then we put them in a scrapbook. That’s my favourite gift.

Jeff Goldblum & the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, The Capitol Studios Sessions is out now