Jeff Goldblum has a flip side
Jeff Goldblum loves speaking. There’s no doubt that he, just like fans of his acting, is enamored of his own voice. It’s deep, melodious, and is accompanied by a cadence that combines spaces of silence with flurries of words. He also seems to be genuinely interested in any questions thrown his way. So, during a phone call from his home in Los Angeles to promote his upcoming tour as pianist and leader of the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra — he has a gig at the Wilbur Theatre on June 27 — his answers were both laidback and enthusiastic.
Goldblum, 66, a native of Pittsburgh, said that he first had thoughts of being an actor when he was about 10, right around the time that his parents offered music lessons to him and his three siblings. While most people are surprised to hear about his musical side, he refers to himself as a “non-careerist” who has always played music for fun.
Q. This will be your first time performing music in Boston. But you filmed “Between the Lines” here about 40 years ago, and played a music critic in it. Any memories of that time?
A. Sure. That was loosely based on The Real Paper. I was in the film with Bruno Kirby, and we were just becoming very fast friends. This was in 1976. He knew Boston a little, and said, “I’m gonna show you around. There’s this new thing in Boston called frozen yogurt. It’s like a sweet dessert, and it’s even better than ice cream.” He took me someplace there. It was the first time I had it and it was fantastic.
Q. So how did playing music come into your life?
A. I took piano lessons. A teacher used to come over to the house, and I had some facility, coordination-wise for it, but no discipline skills yet. A while later my teacher gave me some sheet music. I think the first one was “Alley Cat” and then “Deep Purple” and “Stairway to the Stars,” and they had some syncopation, some kind of jazzy rhythms to them, and some harmonies that I hadn’t heard before. I loved that stuff and that’s when I decided I’m going to sit here until I can play this. That’s when I started to get a little better. A couple of years after that, when I was about 15, I looked through the Yellow Pages and started calling around to cocktail lounges and saying, “Hey, I understand you need a piano player there.” Now, most them said, “No, we don’t even have a piano.” But some said, “Yeah, we’ve got one. Come by and play it, and we’ll see what happens.” I got a couple of jobs that way, and even though I already had my heart set on a career in acting by that time, I did play out and about a little.
Q. Was anyone actually guiding you into the direction of jazz rather than pop music?
A. My dad loved jazz. I remember when he brought home the LP “Erroll Garner Plays Misty.” He would put it on the hi-fi and say, “Let’s listen to this together,” and he would point out, “Look how wonderful Erroll Garner is, the way he is brave to let spaces and silence exist. Listen to how joyful he is.” He was really a music appreciator. Then my brother Rick got into it. He brought home the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Miles Davis’s “Sketches of Spain.” So, it was all around me.
Q. But you opted to study acting instead of music?
A. That’s right. Just after graduating high school I moved to New York and studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse, and after a year or so, started to fall into jobs on Broadway, and a movie here or there. But I always kept a piano around. And along with acting I snuck piano playing into a movie or two, and a play or two.
Q. You play a nice, jazzy quote from “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” in “The Fly,” but what was the brief piece you played in “Earth Girls Are Easy”?
A. Oh, that was a little something I wrote.
Q. And you’ve stuck with the music in between your acting gigs.
A. I had done “Buckaroo Banzai” with Peter Weller in 1984. Peter played trumpet, and we would get together at my house and go through some tunes. Now, a few years earlier, I had done a little bit for Woody Allen in “Annie Hall.” A few years after “Buckaroo Banzai,” Peter worked on “Mighty Aphrodite” and told Woody about our playing together. Woody said, “Well, if you two are doing that, you should do what I do — get a weekly gig, if you can; you’ll have fun and you’ll get better that way.” Peter came back and told me about the conversation, and said he knew a guy who had a restaurant near us in Los Angeles, and we could go over there once a week. So, we started doing it, some different people joined us, and we kept doing it here and there. After a year or so, Peter went off to do other things, but I maintained this group, with a core band that then kept evolving. We were doing it for fun, under the radar, then we were going to play the Playboy Jazz Festival and they said we needed a name to go on the program. I thought of Mildred Snitzer, this family friend from Pittsburgh. I thought using her name would be funny, and so would calling it an orchestra because it really wasn’t.
Q. Your first album — “The Capitol Studio Sessions” — came out on Decca last fall. How did that happen?
A. A year and a half ago I was on “The Graham Norton Show” in London, promoting “Thor: Ragnarok,” and I accompanied Gregory Porter when he sang “Mona Lisa.” Tom Lewis and Rebecca Allen, who are from the London Decca offices, saw me and said, “Maybe we’ll do an album with Jeff.” And the ball started rolling very quickly.
Q. So Decca turned down the Beatles but they signed you?
A. Yes. That’s amazing. They continue their tradition of misguidedness [laughs].
Q. The album features a terrific selection of standards, from “Straighten Up and Fly Right” to “My Baby Just Cares for Me” and “Caravan.” Who’s playing with you at the Boston show?
A. John Storie on guitar, Alex Frank on bass, Joe Bagg on organ, James King on saxophone, and our drummer Kenny Elliott.
Q. Any female vocalists joining you, like on the record?
A. I don’t know yet, but I sure hope so.
Jeff Goldblum & the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra
At the Wilbur Theatre, June 27 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $65-$115, 617-248-9700, www.thewilbur.com