Born: July 31, 1952 Primary Instrument: Keyboard
Michael Wolff is a genuine hipster -- a Manhattan-based family man and internationally acclaimed pianist-composer-bandleader who returns to his roots with the release of his eleventh album, 'jazz, JAZZ, jazz'. This soulful, instrumental collection is everything fans have come to embrace in Wolff's virtuoso jazz piano playing.
A baby boomer in his prime, Wolff is renown for his old school jazz roots, melodically fresh and rhythmically compelling multi-keyboard style, and ever-expanding media presence. A New Orleans native who’s father taught him blues on piano before he began classical lessons at age eight, Michael also grew up in Memphis and Berkeley, California, getting his first significant professional gig when he was 19 from Latin jazz vibist Cal Tjader. He made his recording debut with Cannonball Adderley’s band in 1975, and has worked extensively with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Christian McBride and others including his late friend Warren Zevon and singer Nancy Wilson, for whom he wrote orchestral arrangements and conducted more than 25 major symphony orchestras during world-wide tours. Wolff’s own band Impure Thoughts, launched in 2000, is an infectious improvising ensemble, richly percussive thanks to Indian tabla player Badal Roy, drummer Mike (Headhunters) Clark and electric bassist John B. Williams (on his new Trio CD, Wolff is joined by Williams and drummer Victor Jones.) Wolff’s recent performances include an Impure Thoughts concert at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms and a trip to the British Virgin Isles. He tours the U.S. regularly, and will perform a series of Trio dates in support of 'jazz, JAZZ, jazz'.
'jazz, JAZZ, jazz' is a nine-song collection of standards, including “My Funny Valentine,” “Cry Me A River,” “Autumn Leaves” and more. The tracks deliver previously unreleased performances by the Michael Wolff Trio. Wolff comments: “'jazz, JAZZ, jazz' represents what I love best about making Jazz -- playing wonderful, evocative material on the spot with great musical collaborators -- unplanned, unrehearsed, by the seat-of-the-pants. The music led us; we didn’t lead the music. All we had to do was get out of the way and play...”
“This music was recorded in 2001, right after my band, Impure Thoughts had completed recording all the music for our CD, 'Intoxicate'. We finished early, and we had an additional full day booked at the studio. I asked Victor and John B. to come back and record, just to have some fun. The sound was already the way we wanted since we’d been recording in that studio for the previous four days.”
“So, we sat down, and picked these nine tunes. They are all tunes that we all knew, and that we had all played in the past. We had no plan, we just hit it - one, two, three, go, as we used to say in Cannonball’s band...” we didn’t have anything to think about except the music, the group’s interaction and what we were feeling and hearing in that moment. The three of us had played together for years, and this was an opportunity to just enjoy making music together. Fortunately, we were able to capture it in the studio under such pristine aural conditions.”
Wolff’s repertoire and his manner of interpreting it reveals a lot about his underlying aesthetic and broadly encompassing strategy. Of the upcoming 'jazz, JAZZ, jazz,' critic Howard Mandel has already praised: “Michael Wolff's music just gets better and better -- his straight-ahead piano trio album, following his crooner-at-the-keyboard success ‘Love and Destruction,’ interprets choice standards by Miles, Dizzy, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, et al. with elegance, energy and nuance that establishes him in the first rank of urbane jazz pianists. The secrets he discovers in these familiar selections makes them, and us, feel a little more sophisticated. And what simpatico support from John B. Williams and Victor Jones!” Laurence Donohue-Greene, Managing Editor of AllAboutJazz-New York, raved: “Without a doubt one of the strongest piano trio CDs I've heard all year... A stimulating listen from beginning to end...” After previewing Wolff’s upcoming CD, jazz critic Bob Karlovits of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review commented: “Once again, Michael kicks ass.”
'jazz, JAZZ, jazz', Wolff's second release on Wrong Records, will be sold digitally via itunes, on his website and other downloadable formats. A limited run of CDs will be available for purchase at live shows and via www.MichaelWolff.com. Wolff's recently-revamped website, by Scott Design, has won a Silver ADDY Award in the 'Consumer Website' category of the Silicon Valley ADDY Awards competition.
On May 16, 2007, at ceremonies in Los Angeles, Michael Wolff, along with sons Nat and Alex, each received the BMI Film and TV Award for their contributions to the music on “The Naked Brothers Band” TV Show. In November of 2007, ESC Records in Germany will release, internationally, 'Pandora's Box'--a compilation of two of his jazz CDs, 'Impure Thoughts' and 'Intoxicate'.
Wolff's growing corpus of movie soundtracks includes “Dark Angel” and “The Tic Code” (2000), a feature for actor-dancer Gregory Hines, that was semi-autobiographical in its depiction of the Tourette’s Syndrome with which Wolff copes. His five-and-a-half year stint as musical director of the “Arsenio Hall Show” heightened his visibility and gave him the occasion to meet his wife, actress and writer/director Polly Draper. He is producer, and Draper writer-director of the smash hit Nickelodeon cable TV series “The Naked Brothers Band,” starring their sons Nat, 12, and Alex, nine (Wolff appears regularly as the boys’ “hapless, accordion-playing dad”), and he produced his first music video for 2006's 'Love and Destruction’s' plaintive “Underwater,” shooting on location in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.
Described as a “Renaissance Man” by Miami New Times, Wolff won praise for his surprising CD 'Love and Destruction,' his first to feature vocals on all songs. Add to that his virtuoso piano playing, his amalgam of rock-jazz and his World music-inspired live performances, and you have the makings of a multi-faceted artist, unafraid of labels and boundaries. In fact, The New York Times praised Wolff as “A pianist and vocalist with a style both global and contemporary.” “It’s not a sudden departure,” Wolff says of his video efforts, as well as his affectively husky and hushed singing on 'Love and Destruction'. “I’m making developmental steps. I’ve had some interesting years doing a lot of different things, and that was where I arrived.” Wolff's late night, blue light singing on the CD brought new cool to an inspired selection of rock/pop classics as well as his own tunes about the well-lived life, now. JazzTimes Magazine raved that Michael Wolff is “one of the most innovative and dynamic pianists of his generation.”
“Wolff proves himself an exceptionally astute vocal stylist. His sound, a rock-jazz hybrid that exists somewhere in the vast expanse between Donald Fagen and Mark Murphy, is at once as distinctly powerful and as cunningly seductive as his playing.” At radio, Wolff generated airplay on Acoustic Café and other key outlets. Starbucks put four tracks in rotation, in 5000 locations nationwide.
“I’m not living in the past, musically...” I still have some of that ‘60s mentality, wanting to change the world and the music. But I think I’ve bridged the divide between needing to be different or revolutionary and also wanting to express beauty, serenity.”
“I don’t have a single disposition, I’m a real mix. The only thing I’d like to be known as is someone who keeps being creative.
“I try to go by the heart. I know the intellectual stuff, but how the music feels is what matters first of all. I want it to always be real. I don’t compromise anything on purpose. I’m happy to do my records independently, make my own mistakes or successes. With ‘Love and Destruction’ I wrapped up a lot of my talents in one package, intending them to be powerful together, at once. With 'jazz, JAZZ, jazz', we just hit it - one, two, three, go. I’ve given up on trying to be hip. I’m just being myself.” Which is the hippest state of all.