Jeff Goldblum plays jazz at Strathmore, reflects on ‘The Fly,’ ‘Jurassic Park’

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Jeff Goldblum at Strathmore (Part 1)

You know Jeff Goldblum as a movie star, but did you know he’s also a jazz pianist?

His Mildred Snitzer Orchestra plays at Strathmore in North Bethesda at 8 p.m. Friday.

“This is our first time at that place and in this area, so I can’t wait,” Goldblum told WTOP. “When we played Hollywood Bowl a couple of decades ago, we didn’t have a name yet. It was for the Playboy Jazz Festival. They said, “We’ve got to put something on the program.’ I remembered this lady from Pittsburgh, Mildred Snitzer … it was funny and it stuck.”

What started as a five-person group is now a renowned orchestra.

“The guys I’m playing with now for the last 10 years are some of the best jazz musicians in the world,” Goldblum said. “You’ll hear some jazz ’50s, ’60s Blue Note kind of stuff, some Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock … there’s some singing involved, but I keep it loose. We play games with the audience, questions and answers, trivia, all manner of movie talk.”

Expect to hear jazz standards like “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” 

“You may hear ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right,’ which was a Nat King Cole hit,” Goldblum said. “We start with something from Charles Mingus, the spectacular bass player, I’ll give you a clue, the title has something to do with New York City and a place where I’ve done Broadway shows … we may do a Hank Mobley tune that will take us to a divine place.”

Growing up near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Goldblum took piano lessons as a kid.

“My mom and my dad always had a yen for the arts, so they gave all of us music lessons,” Goldblum said. “I started playing piano … my teacher gave me an arrangement of some jazzy number … when I was 15, I started calling up cocktail lounges and I got a gig or two … I thought that would be neat, but I already had my heart set on an acting career.”

He vividly remembers dreaming about being an actor.

“When I was 10, I used to see plays at children’s theater,” Goldblum said. “I had a summer camp experience around fifth grade in a drama … and on that night I went to myself, ‘Hmm, I think I might want to be an actor’ … we had a glass shower door, it used to steam up and I’d write, ‘Please God, let me be an actor,’ then I’d wipe it off so nobody could see.”

After spending his 10th and 11th grade summers studying acting at Carnegie Mellon University, he moved to New York at age 17 to train at the Neighborhood Playhouse before making his Broadway debut in the Tony-winning “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (1971).

“I was crazy enough to make this commitment to a lifelong marriage to acting,” Goldblum said. “I was obsessed. By the time college came around, I found myself attracted to and luckily winding up in New York with Sandy Meisner at Neighborhood Playhouse. That was it, started to study with that good teacher, fell into a Broadway show, then quickly movies.”

He made his film debut as a home invader in Charles Branson’s “Death Wish” (1974), then made cameos in Robert Altman’s “Nashville” (1975) as the silent Tricycle Man and Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” (1977) as a guest at a Christmas party who “forgot his mantra.”

“I was with this belly full of passion, wonderment and creative ambition … I was inflamed, so when I got anything, I was like, ‘What can I do with this?'” Goldblum said. “You can’t be good unless a director makes a good movie. To be in ‘Nashville’ with Robert Altman, just to do this little part, it allows you to do something distinctive and to learn some more.”

After starring in Lawrence Kasdan’s ensemble flick “The Big Chill” (1983), Goldblum landed his breakout role as mad scientist Seth Brundle in David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” (1986), featuring one of the greatest tag lines in movie history: “Be afraid, be very afraid.”

“It was fun and just delicious,” Goldblum said. “Directors are the key … David Cronenberg is one of our finest, bravest artists and most unique, original people. That was him at his peak. I loved that part, I’d seen Vincent Price in the ’50s … it really challenged [me], it was something to chew on, I worked hard on it, and it turned out well. I’m proud of it.”

His biggest blockbuster role was Ian Malcolm in Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” (1993), teaching us that “life finds a way” as all-female dinosaurs manage to procreate. Did he ever notice that Spielberg has Dr. Grant tie two female ends of his seat belt together?

“Until this moment … I never realized that might be a subliminal, thematic Easter egg,” Goldblum said. “I’ll ask Mr. Spielberg if that was on his mind. I thought all this time it was just a way to show Sam Neill’s character as behind the current technology who used out-of-the-box thinking … but maybe it has something to do with this molecular phenomenon.”

He followed up with David Levinson warning humanity in “Independence Day” (1996).

“How about that?” Godblum said. “That is a thread of something similar. … The world is facing all together something dire, and in order to solve it, we all have to come together. That turned out to be one of the elements of that story and in this upcoming ‘Jurassic,’ and in our real lives, so from our mouths to the ear of destiny, I hope we all come out OK.”

After stealing the show as the Grandmaster in “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017), what’s up next?

“I’ll be coming up in my fourth Wes Anderson movie, I had a great creative time,” Goldblum said. “Then in this next dinosaur movie, ‘Jurassic World: Dominion.’ … Colin Trevorrow directed this one, along with Emily Carmichael, who did the script, with the original cast grafted onto the current cast … I’m lucky to still be doing things that excite me.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Jeff Goldblum at Strathmore (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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