Acclaimed Jazz Pianist Michael Wolff Sets Exuberant ‘Bounce’ for February 7th– Eminently Listenable, Joyful Album Follows Wolff’s Miraculous Recovery from Aggressive Cancer
Acclaimed jazz pianist Michael Wolffhas confirmed a February 7th, 2020 release date for his joyful new album, ‘Bounce’. Exuberant, beautiful and able to convey a range of emotions, ‘Bounce’ reflects Wolff’s upbeat state of mind following his ‘miraculous’ recovery from aggressive cancer. He comments, “Isn’t it great to be alive? I’m celebrating life every day. This album is dedicated to that celebration. Come Bounce with us!!!!!! I have the good fortune to play with these fantastic musicians: Ben Allisonon bass and Allan Mednardon drums. Their playing, ideas and vibes imbue this music with creativity and soul. It’s really a listenable album. I thought about what I’d like to listen to at home, and tried to make that album.”
‘Bounce’ will be released by Sunnyside Records, and features an engaging range of songs, including the aptly named ‘Cool Kids’, written by Wolff’s son Nat (and featuring Nat on lead vocals as well). Other tracks evoke ‘West Side Story’ or nods to the Great American Songbook. Album highlights include the memorable title track, the lovely ballad ‘Long Lost’, the strong ‘Caribbean Rain Dance’ and ‘Omar Sharif’ by David Yazbek, from THE BAND’S VISIT musical. In all, the album is mostly original compositions by Wolff, a tune by Ben Allison, and two covers: ‘Omar Sharif’ and the standard, ‘You and The Night and The Music’.
Wolff notes, “‘Bounce’ is filled with music like the music I grew up listening to and playing. It transcends jazz and it feels like the best album I’ve ever made. It also comes at such a perfect time for me. It expresses my inner soul and the joy of living and making music. It’s the most important release of my life.”
The upcoming album and new tour dates mark a fresh start for Wolff, following his recent recovery from cancer. He comments, “I’m so happy to be back playing and recording and feeling well again. It’s been a monstrous journey, which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. But the outcome is miraculous.”
Wolff’s ongoing tour included a recent stop at Nighttown, and Cleveland Sceneinterviewed him, here:
Other upcoming dates:
November 22ndand 23rdat Knickerbocker Bar & Grill in Manhattan.Shows begin at 9:30pm through 1am.
Wolff will be joined by Ben Allison on bass and Jeff Boudreaux on drums.
February 7thand 8th2020 at Birdland Theater in New York City.
Wolff will be joined by Ben Allison on bass and Allan Mednard on drums.
March 14th2020 at Piedmont Piano in Oakland CA.
Line-up to be announced –
March 20th2020 at Vitello’s Jazz Club in Studio City CA.
Wolff will be joined by Peter Erkskinson drums.
Wolff’s last album ‘Swirl’ hit #1 at Jazz Radio. With ‘Bounce’, he has created a new, memorable piece of art. He describes the approach:“The vibe is concentrating on beauty. We worked on playing with energy but made sure to have a lot of feel and grooves in the music. A lot of Brazilian and Latin-influenced grooves along with some straight ahead, and a new ballad of mine. Allan Mednard on drums is a one of a kind drummer — so sensitive and grooving at the same time. He makes up his own beats to everything. And Ben Allison is a master on the bass, original, melodic and in the pocket.”
Song Notes, by Michael Wolff –
BOUNCEis a combination of Latin, Funk, and Jazz. On the Bridge I was making sure to open up the composition and have a nice space for the drums to play. Ben Allison came up with a funky bass approach and it all came together. I love the feeling on this. I think it embodies everything I am and have been as a pianist.
CHILL. Originally titled Cool, I wrote this when I first heard LL Cool J’s “Round the Way Girl”. I love that song so much. I wrote these eight chords that repeat over and over, the way current pop tunes do. We use a light hip hop jazz beat that Allan plays and the melody is actually kind of be- bop. (I would have liked Miles to have played it using the Harmonmute). Another amalgamation of styles! And it feels so laid back and bluesy. Hence the name. Check out Ben’s evocative bass solo.
CARIBBEAN RAIN DANCEis a song influenced by the grooves and feel of the Caribbean Islands. I played a lot of that island-influenced jazz when I was with Sonny Rollins’ band. I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time in the Caribbean listening to the music there. This is my trio version of those type of grooves. The second section of this song is based on the concept of negative harmony. The chords are the circle of fifths going backwards. And we modulate the whole song up a half step after the bridge each time. This song makes me happy.
LONG LOST. Here’s my idea of a Jazz standard. It is a tip of the hat to the rich world of the Great American Songbook.
RESUSCITATE Consists of five different short sections. I called out the different letters I had assigned them, from A to E. After a while the basic order became clear to the trio. I still retained the right to call different sections as I felt them. We did a couple of disparate (not desperate) takes, and this is my favorite. So many thanks to the great Joe Zawinul for his ideas on stretching out melodies by playing between different melodic ideas. The actual meaning for me of Resuscitate was from when I was in the ICU a few years ago and there was not much hope. I looked around at all the other patients and saw they were all hooked up on devices that were keeping them alive. When the doctor asked my wife if we had a Do Not Resuscitate, I raised my head and said, “Resuscitate me!”
COOL KIDS was written by the great singer/songwriter/actor Nat Wolff. I’ve known him since he was born. He and his brother Alex recorded this song recently on their new single. I was playing around with it on the piano and Nat walked over and started singing it with me. The next time the trio was playing at Mezzrow in NYC, Nat was in the audience and agreed to come up and sing it with us. Our producer John Newcott came up afterwards and immediately said, “That song is going on the next album.” I’m so thrilled to have my son on this album. It’s a dreamy song and he sang it so movingly.
YOU AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC This is a killing standard. I arranged it so we could just burn and feature Allan Mednard on some great soloing. There is no rhythm section I dig more than Allan and Ben. These guys play every song with the feel and mood of what is required. They create the moods and the feels. And no matter what crazy shit I play, they’re always right there with me!
MILTON Ben Allison wrote Milton after he and I were discussing our next moves as composers and what our trio should play. We decided to try for some truth and beauty, which Bill Evans always championed. Ben loves the great composer Milton Nascimento. Hence, Milton. The melody is gorgeous and the groove lays nicely. I love the way Allan and Ben play this feel. Ben’s solo is a beauty.
PICASSO I wrote Picasso after coming up with the first vamp in 7/4. I played around on those chords for a while and a melody presented itself. Then the bridge in 4/4 presented itself. I was just along for the ride. Allan plays almost all of the song with mallets on the snare with the snares off. I love the drum solo near the end. Ben and I play fifths for all of the A section together. I love the way Picasso could take one little idea and paint rooms and rooms of paintings based on it. He loved one painting by Vermeer, the Dutch painter. I was once at the Picasso museum in Paris and saw the paintings he did based on that one painting. I was thinking of Picasso when I wrote this song.
OMAR SHARIF This is one of the most beautiful songs ever in the most soulful and meditative musical ever written. The musical is called The Band’s Visit. It’s the story of an Egyptian police band that is traveling to a small town in Israel to play at that town’s cultural center. They take the wrong bus and end up in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. The townspeople take them in for a night while they’re waiting for the next bus to the correct city. The whole story is about the relationships that come about that night between the Egyptians and the Israelis. This song is sung between the conductor of the band, (played by the heartbreaking Tony Shalhoub) and the beautiful woman (played by the exquisite Katrina Lenk) who owns the only café in town. When they take a walk that night, they realize they were both in love with films starring Omar Sharif. This is their song of their own unfulfilled love. I’m not a stalker, but I’ll admit to seeing The Band’s VisitEIGHT times – once early on off Broadway and seven times on Broadway. I would like to see it once a week. It was my meditation. The composer David Yazbek created music that weaves together many cultures, styles, sounds and feelings. He composed a masterpiece.
Read Michael Wolff’s bio to learn more about what’s gone on in recent years: http://www.michaelwolff.com/about/
DownBeat Magazine’s March article is here-
Michael Wolff’s Miraculous Turn:
JazzTimes Magazinechronicled Wolff’s ordeal–
Michael Wolff’s Sweet Miracle of Life:
Visit – http://www.michaelwolff.com
For more information about Michael Wolff, or to set an interview, contact SethCohenPR@earthlink.net
Michael Wolff survived a harrowing health scare. The experience led him to seek the creation of beauty.
The jazz pianist/composer says that in 2013 he was diagnosed with a form of lymphoma that was treatable but not curable. “At that point, they weren’t even going to treat me,” he remembers, “because I wasn’t sick, I just had a few little symptoms. The doctors told me, ‘We’re going to wait until you get sick. We don’t treat this ahead of time. It doesn’t pay.’”
We’re sitting in a bistro in New York’s Greenwich Village, and Wolff, 66, is recounting his terrifying ordeal. He tells me his health began to deteriorate about nine months to a year later. “They started to treat me with chemotherapy,” he says. “And on paper it looked like I was well, but I was so sick. And I got worse and worse and worse.”
At one point, he was in the intensive care unit in a New York hospital and he heard the doctor ask his wife, actress Polly Draper, if she had a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). Despite being heavily medicated, he interceded. “I was so drugged they thought I was knocked out,” he says, “but I just happened to hear that. I said, ‘Resuscitate me.’ Luckily, I didn’t need resuscitation, but … I knew that that meant I wasn’t ready to die. At least [not] without a fight.”
Draper insisted Wolff go to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a top cancer hospital in New York. There, he saw a doctor who specialized in rare cancers. The prognosis appeared dire, but the doctor discovered a gene mutation, diagnosed Wolff with a very rare sarcoma, and prescribed a pill used to treat other forms of cancer.
The pill began to work immediately. “I took it and in two days my symptoms went away, and in two weeks I had 80 percent reduction of the tumors,” he explains. “It was Stage Four all over my body. And after a while—I don’t know how many months, six months or a year—there was no cancer.” He stayed on the medicine for about two years, and roughly a year ago he stopped taking it altogether.
Wolff says his cancer battle gave him a new outlook. He writes in the liner notes of his latest album, Swirl (Sunnyside), “My view of life, art & music has changed, developed, matured, widened and focused simultaneously. I savor every day, every view, every person I love, and every note I can play and hear.”
Swirl, a trio album also featuring bassist Ben Allison and drummer Allan Mednard, reflects Wolff’s new creative perspective. He says his perilous experience inspired him to compose music that was intentionally pretty. “I’ve always played with color and intensity and rhythm,” he notes, “but I just thought more about beauty.”
Recorded partly live at the Yamaha piano salon in New York City and partly in-studio, Swirl brims with gorgeous melodies and an exuberant spirit—as Wolff puts it, “literally a joie de vivre.” The buoyant opener “Allison” sets the tone, while the title track, which closes the album, is an evocative piece with an otherworldly quality. Wolff says that the feel he was after when he composed that tune was “just that I could be as beautiful as possible. And the swirling part of playing—with the sustain pedal down, soft pedal on sometimes—kind of peaceful, right?”
Wolff composed “Jenny,” a lovely waltz, to honor a friend who’d also battled cancer, but she rejected his initial offering. “First I wrote a piece for her and I sent it to her, and she goes, ‘That’s too dissonant,’” he recalls. “So then I decided, ‘I’m going to write the most beautiful melody I can write.’ And then she cried when she heard it.”
The blues-tinged “Tough Ashkenazis” is dedicated to pianist Fred Hersch, a friend who has dealt with his own health issues. Hersch came to one of Wolff’s first performances when he returned to playing. “Afterwards he said, ‘Man, you sounded strong, Wolff. It’s good,’” Wolff remembers. “I said to him, ‘How did we survive this?’ ’Cause he knew I’d been ill. He goes, ‘Well, we’re some tough Ashkenazis’”—a reference to their shared Jewish roots. “I said, ‘We’re some tough Ashkenazi motherfuckers.’”
Wolff says he feels resurgent, and he’s working on new projects. At press time he was planning live shows, and he’s composing a concerto for jazz piano trio and strings. He’s also thinking about his next album, which he says will include two songs from the Broadway musical The Band’s Visit, which he’s seen seven times.
He mentions that he recently attended an event in Los Angeles celebrating singer Trisha Yearwood’s new Frank Sinatra tribute album. “Everybody was there—Don Was, the head of Blue Note [who produced the album]—all these people I knew,” he says. “It was so great to be back on the scene.”
Swirl is a deftly programmed, smartly paced nine-track program, recorded live in the audiophile-worthy environs of the Yamaha piano salon in Manhattan. It kicks off with “Allison,” a gorgeous, ebullient, singing tune co-written by Wolff and his bassist; prior to the trio, the two musicians and New York neighbors developed deep chemistry as a duo. “Metairie,” named for the New Orleans suburb where Wolff has family he continues to visit, is a sly, inquisitive exercise in midtempo swing. “Jenny” was crafted in tribute to a friend who had also suffered with disease—and then rewritten after she found the first piece too dissonant. Following her feedback, Wolff went back to the grindstone with a new m.o.: “I’m going to try to write the prettiest melody I possibly can.” Boasting a blues-flecked groove and a simmering yet driving beat, “Tough Ashkenazi” takes its title from a conversation Wolff had with his pal and fellow pianist Fred Hersch. In 2011, Hersch revealed his own harrowing story of illness, in an innovative stage work called My Coma Dreams. “We’re some tough Ashkenazi’s,” Hersch told Wolff, citing the pair’s shared fortitude and Jewish roots, and causing Wolff to ponder the connection between those traits. “No,” Wolff replied with a laugh. “We’re some tough Ashkenazi motherf—ers.”
Here’s the response from Gary Walker of WBGO, the premier Jazz radio station for the New York City area:
The Doc (Michael Wolff)
Giant Steps (John Coltrane)
Makin’ Whoopee (Walter Donaldson / Gus Kahn)
Flint (Sufjan Stevens)
Euphoria (Michael Wolff)
All the Things You Are (Jerome Kern)
Blue Couch (Michael Wolff)
Billie’s Bounce (Charlie Parker)
Cry Me a River (Arthur Hamilton)
Little M (Michael Wolff)
Madimba / St. Tomas (Michael Wolff / Sonny Rollins)
Polly (Michael Wolff)
Too Long at the Fair (Billy Barnes)