Some may remember Michael Wolff as the music director for The Arsenio Hall Show. Others know Wolff for his award-winning Nickelodeon TV show, The Naked Brothers Band, starring his real-life musical sons, Nat and Alex. In the show, Wolff played for laughs as the inept accordion-playing dad.
Michael Wolff likes to tell the story of growing up as — in his words — a white, Jewish kid studying classical piano in New Orleans. He soaked up the soulful side of the Bayou's rich piano tradition. Wolff continued his formal studies at the University of California Berkeley, but was playing so much jazz on the side that Latin vibes-master Cal Tjader offered him a job. (Tjader gave Poncho Sanchez his start, too.) Wolff also found further employment with Sonny Rollins and Cannonball Adderley.
As the pianist in Adderley's last quintet, Wolff succeeded Joe Zawinul, Victor Feldman and Bobby Timmons. Adderley encouraged Wolff to develop his own sound, and that he has done, yet he gratefully acknowledges the formative keyboard influence of these strong players. Wolff dedicated his 2009 album to the great Zawinul. The four players in tonight's group and three of the tunes on this set are on that album, Joe's Strut.
Bassist Chip Jackson and drummer Victor Jones played with Wolff at his first-ever New York gig in 1975. Jones is an accomplished trumpeter and composer. We know Jackson from his long tenure in the Billy Taylor Trio, and by the way, Dr. T — the Artistic Director of Jazz at the Kennedy Center until his death in 2010 — was in the house at the KC Jazz Club, digging the music as it happened Oct. 24, 2009.
Wolff has been working on a new approach to improvising, and teaching it at master classes at New York University. "It's more of a saxophone approach to the piano," says Wolff, that uses his "physical impulsiveness [to put] a certain energy into the musical ideas." Something to listen for, on this JazzSet.
Personnel: Michael Wolff, piano; Steve Wilson, saxophones; Chip Jackson, bass; Victor Jones, drums.
Thanks to Kevin Struthers, director of jazz at the Kennedy Center, and Jean Thill; recording engineer Greg Hartman and Sean Owen of Big Mo; surround sound remix by Duke Markos; host recording by Ginger Bruner, KUNV, Las Vegas.