Woody Allen has played an instrumental role in Jeff Goldblum’s career: He launched it by giving him a memorable cameo in 1977’s Oscar-winning “Annie Hall,” and two decades later, did the same for “The Fly,” “Jurassic Park” and “Independence Day” actor’s 20-year strong jazz project.
After learning that Goldblum (on piano) and “RoboCop” actor Peter Weller (on horns) regularly jam together in a five-piece band in Weller’s home, Allen — a part-time clarinet player as well as award-winning director — suggested they take their music to the masses.
“Woody Allen said, ‘Well, you guys should do what I do,’” Goldblum remembers. “’Have a weekly gig and make yourselves play out and about. It’ll be fun, and you’ll get better that way.’”
Taking Allen’s advice, the quintet began playing clubs and major festivals. Later, it was dubbed the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra after a Goldblum family friend, and Weller eventually departed. The current incarnation — Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra — plays two shows on Saturday as part of SF Sketchfest.
Goldblum describes the production as a mix of Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk covers, movie trivia and cold readings.
But like any skilled jazz player, he leaves the performance open to improvisation.
“It’s always a surprise to me,” he says. “I’m intentionally left in the dark about the setlist. So the band starts playing a song, and then I have to figure out what they’re playing and play along with them.”
Encouraged by his parents, Goldblum started playing piano as a child, in Pittsburgh. His folks also imbued in him a love for jazz, starting with the Steel City’s “Misty” composer Erroll Garner.
“So I got enthralled with that early on,” Goldblum says. “I would tap dance, and the jazzy feel was in me.”
A natural on the keys, he was soon learning how to read lead sheets and improvise against chords. By 15, he was secretly playing jazz gigs at area cocktail lounges.
More recently, Allen invited Goldblum up onstage with him at The Carlyle, in New York, where the director (and namesake of Goldblum’s red-haired standard poodle) still holds a residency.
“It was a big thrill, so it kind of came full circle,” the actor-pianist says. “I just love doing it. I’m certainly not trying to have a second career or trying to get anywhere. The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra is a great group of guys and still educational for me constantly.”
IF YOU GO
Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra
Where: Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market Street, S.F.
When: 7 and 10 p.m. Jan. 14
Contact: www.sfsketchfest.com/tickets, www.ticketfly.com
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