Fifteen-year-old Jeff Goldblum was a closeted pianist. No, seriously: He’d hide in a room in his Pittsburgh home and phone cocktail lounges in search of gigs. Sixty-three-year-old Goldblum is less secretive about his hobby. As the front man for the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, named after a family friend, the actor performs nearly every Wednesday at Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Feliz. His jazz quintet features a rotating roster of musicians, and their two-hour set list is news to him. “We don’t rehearse,” he says. “It’s a spontaneous affair. The door of surprise lets in the most wonderful visitors, I find.” Between songs he plays games with a roomful of acolytes, who are thrilled to find that real-life Jeff Goldblum is as lovable and quirky as Jurassic Park Jeff Goldblum. Here he speaks—and sings—his thoughts on playing piano in the nude and battling dinos on L.A.’s streets.
Wes Anderson or Wes Montgomery?
[Laughs.] That’s so funny! Well, “or” being what?
Just, you know, who do you choose? To put in your pocket, maybe.
Wes Anderson, even though I love Wes Montgomery. But I have a much deeper, more familiar, personal kind of collaborative experience with Wes Anderson. Of course we did The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou together, and he gave me the painting that my character has of himself in his quarters. It’s very large. He sent it rolled up in the mail—if we were FaceTiming I’d show it to you. I have it in my office. It’s very big and embarrassing if somebody doesn’t think I’m doing it ironically or as an homage to Wes and his endeavors.
You are a style icon. I saw you in GQ.
I’d say tish tosh, but continue.
L.A. style trend you’d like to start?
[Laughs.] I’d have to imagine it. It’s hypothetical, because what do I care about starting a fashion trend? But, let’s see, if somebody did something like me…well, I’m in my closet right now because I have a couch—where did I put my glasses?
You’re doing this interview in your closet?
I’m in my closet. I just dropped my glasses. They must have fallen in the—oh my God, here’s an old pen that I’d lost, too. I gotta find those glasses. Oh here they are! And you know who gave me these glasses? Mark Mothersbaugh, who has worked with Wes Anderson. He has his own line [of glasses] that he makes available. He gave me a pair that are very much like the glasses that I wore in The Life Aquatic, which were actually his line. They were these silvery kind of metal things. Isn’t that something? So if I were going to start a trend, maybe those would catch on.
Four Angelenos, dead or alive, you’d recruit for a dream quintet?
Wasn’t Chet Baker famously West Coast? So that’s one. Stan Getz on saxophone, guitarist Anthony Wilson, and Charles Mingus on the bass. Boy, that would be something.
Let’s play an improv game: 185 basses walk into a bar. The bartender says, “We don’t serve basses here,” and the basses say…
“Do you mind if we talk about that a-Mingus?” Ha! That gets ten Goldblums out of a possible ten Goldblums. I’m loath to rate myself, but I think I like it.
You’ve put lyrics to the Jurassic Park theme song. If The Fly had a theme song, what would the lyrics be?
[Sings.] “In my teleporter / why don’t you come in now / and we’ll both become a single person.” Those are, of course, to John Williams’s melodies from Jurassic Park. All movie themes have that same melody. For instance, The current Independence Day should be [sings], “Independence Day, I will find a way, to get these bad aliens off our planet.”
I read that you are a fan of sandwiches.
[Audibly purrs.] Ooooo boy, I don’t know when I said that, but I could’ve said it at any time. I’m still discreet about my sandwich consumption, because it’s got bread, of course, and I’ve tried to be discriminating in my bread relationship. But boy, I sure love them. I have kind of a religious ecstasy with many, many food experiences, and sandwiches are sure one of them.
Jazz standard that would make a good name for a sandwich?
[Laughs] That’s good! There’s a song called “Frim Fram Sauce.” [Sings.] “I don’t want French fried potatoes, red ripe tomatoes, I’m never satisfied, I want the Frim Fram sauce and with the Ausen fay, with chafafa on the side!” Whatever any of those things are, I’d put it between two pieces of bread and eat it. Except I don’t think anyone knows what any of those things are. Or maybe it’s just me who doesn’t know.
If your group were to busk on any street corner in L.A., which would it be?
Sunset and Crescent Heights. There was a guy there for a while who did one of those interesting performances twirling the sign. We could play right there with the sign spinner.
In Annie Hall you forgot your mantra. What’s an L.A. mantra you’d remember?
“I am Socratic joy.” It has something of the pithy East but still my current appetite for science and delight.
You’re having a nightmare. Are you playing the Hollywood Bowl backed by puppies or are you playing the Baked Potato naked?
I very well may dream of playing the Baked Potato naked because I’m often clothing-optional in my dream life. And I know what you mean, “playing the Baked Potato,” because I know the Baked Potato on Ventura Boulevard. But other people not knowing that might actually think you’re playing a baked potato. I’ll bet some talented person could get some music out of a baked potato.
Angeleno you’d choose to help you fight off a dinosaur?
I’d pick someone very steeped in science who’d tell me, “Jeff, wake up, you’re dreaming. There’s no such world where dinosaurs exist with people.” Maybe Neil deGrasse Tyson. I don’t know if he’s from Los Angeles, but he’s a citizen of the world—and the cosmos—so he belongs as much to L.A. as anyplace.