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REVIEW: "Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra" — Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Goldblum's Jazzed-Up Segerstrom Gig was the Cat's Meow! Silkily Executed With a Cool, Roadhouse Feel!


JULY 21, 2023 — COSTA MESA


Having just released a new album this past March, called “Plays Well With Others,” Jeff Goldblum was joyously in his element, if front of a packed house Friday night at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.


That’s not to say he is unaccustomed to gigging live — he has had a semi-regular slot at LA’s Rockwell Table and Stage for a decade or so, playing jazz piano when movie commitments permit — but he has never bumped up against the strictures that govern most pro touring musicians. Thus, Goldblum runs his show according to his own terms…and in his own warm, wonky internal rhythm.


Coming out on stage almost a quarter of an hour early, decked out in a yellow Hawaiian shirt, pork pie hat, stylish shoes with huge, “Waffle-House” treads and his trademark glasses, his fourth-wall breaking, warm-up interaction with the audience put a smile on my face I couldn’t seem to rub off. Stuffing a wad of chewing gum in his mouth, Goldblum was handed a sheet of paper from backstage and prompted the audience to play a game called actor/movie, sort of a condensed “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” guessing game.


Apparently, he has no knowledge of what’s given to him beforehand, so it’s always an improv moment. During the almost two-hour set, other sheets of paper were given to him and each time there were either questions for the audience or just plain trivia, allowing him to puzzle at length over quirky expressions of life, which, of course, evolved into uproarious laughter. It’s the Goldblumisms that sets this rather large lounge show apart from others.


Finally sliding into his seat at the grand piano, Goldblum and his five-piece Mildred Snitzer Orchestra — consisting of bandleader John Storie (Steve Terrell Tour) on guitar, Alex Frank (“Lost and Found”) on stand-up bass, Joe Bagg (Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar”) on organ, Kenny Elliott (who has toured with Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls, The Impressions) on drums and Scott Gilman (platinum selling “City of Evil”) on saxophone — hopped right into their first traditional saxy jazz number, “In the Wee, Small Hours of the Morning.” Sailing through tricky time signature changes, each member added their own improvisational flair in turn. Already this is a magical and unforgettable show.



Underpinning all this showmanship is musicianship of the highest standard, played with a roadhouse feel and silkily executed by Goldbum and his loose-limbed, smooth-sounding band members. Goldblum doesn’t do much soloing except for the odd flourish now and again; often, he’s more an awed sideman, overwhelmed by his bandmates’ fluency.


A less confident player might have used his star status to force his way to the front, but Goldblum recognizes that jazz is not about the spotlight; it’s about the interplay of the band as a whole. In reality, however, Goldblum is a more skillful and competent pianist than he lets on, whether he is recreating arpeggios on a Miles Davis arrangement, or improvising bluesy licks during a synthless Marvin Gaye rendition. The point is, he is fully talented, but not a showy player


That being said, Academy Award winner Jeff Goldblum does seem to have successfully located fame’s sweet spot, In fact, he’s a cultural pop phenomenon. The man veers happily between being a curiously beloved star in lucrative Hollywood franchises and a sort of sentient, benevolent meme. But that is really the dream, isn’t it?


Every sensible person should aspire to this precise degree of celebrity: he’s rich enough not to have to worry about money again, yet he can still wander into a Trader Joe’s (most likely) without risk of sustaining paparazzi-induced injury. This “Goldblum Fame Quotient” seems ideal for indulging a musical side hustle: He can easily land a deal with Decca Records, yet he won’t be suffocated by public scrutiny.


He made his acting film debut in Bronson’s Death Wish in 1974 and has gained wide attention for his roles in films like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Earth Girls are Easy,” “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai,” “The Big Chill,” and “The Fly,” not to mention all five “Jurassic Park” films. Lately he’s more known ny the younger crowd for the Marvel Cinematic Universe films like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok.” And since 2019, he has been hosting his own Disney+ series called, “The World According to Jeff Goldblum.”

But long before he was roaming “Jurassic Park” analyzing dinosaur droppings or vomiting digestive enzymes onto his food in “The Fly,” Hollywood star Jeff Goldblum and The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra was helping to bring the big-band-era classic jazz standards to clubs in New York and Los Angeles. If you’ve been to one of those sessions, or better yet, attended this show, you know it feels more like a variety-show special, with Goldblum feeding off the free-wheeling energy of a studio or theater audience and exchanging flirty banter and corny jokes.


For this past Friday night, the guest singer (there’s always a guest singer) featured the heightened talents of local jazz vocalist Lia Booth ("Life Can Be Beautiful"), who added her own smoke and flair to the mix. Perhaps the real highlight of the evening was a jazzed-up, total rejuvenated version of “Moon River, featuring Ms. Booth’s quivering, ethereal vocals and distinctive vibrato, which made for an elegant match to this 1960 standard.


It’s hard to fault an engagement that has an affable, good-natured Jeff Goldblum at its center. At the heart of this playful romp, however, was a carefully curated selection of jazz standards played with style, aplomb, and a sense of fun, in a performance that can be enjoyed by both aficionados and jazz newcomers alike (“Don’t Fence Me In;” “The Sunny Side of Life”). And, just like Goldblum himself, it was also a show that ran as effortlessly smooth as a freshly buttered banister.


Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra; Friday, July 21, 2023 at 8:00pm; Segerstrom Center for the Arts; Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. For more information, see www.scfta.org




Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report

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