Two nights at Night Town, Cleveland
Eddie Henderson-trumpet (9/13)
Ben Allison-acoustic bass
You might argue that Wolff has followed Evans’ dictum throughout his strikingly decorated career, and to hear him recount his storied c.v. can feel surreal, almost cinematic at times. Raised in Memphis, New Orleans and Northern California, Wolff attended college in Berkeley and L.A. but left early to become a professional musician, joining Latin-jazz great Cal Tjader’s band in the early ’70s. He spent the next two decades gigging and recording with a veritable hall of fame, from Tjader to Cannonball Adderley, Tom Harrell, Sonny Rollins, Nancy Wilson and many others.
In 1993 Wolff made his leader debut with a self-titled release on Columbia, and he has since put out well over a dozen albums touting A-list players like Freddie Hubbard, Sheila E and Terri Lyne Carrington. During the mid-’90s, the nonpareil rhythm section of Christian McBride and Tony Williams anchored Wolff’s records Jumpstart! and 2 AM. Wolff & Clark Expedition, the pianist’s still-active collaboration with drummer Mike Clark, has released two collections of delightfully funky 21st-century hard bop since 2013.
Wolff became a part of pop culture in 1989, when he began a five-year tenure as the musical director of the lively house band on Arsenio Hall’s groundbreaking late-night talk show. (Yes, that was Wolff accompanying saxophonist and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in 1992, and backing the likes of Ray Charles, B.B. King, Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Al Green, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis and Warren Zevon.) Later that decade, he composed the score for and co-produced the raved-about film The Tic Code. Starring Gregory Hines and Draper, who also wrote its original screenplay, The Tic Code was inspired by both Wolff’s love for jazz and his lifelong struggle with Tourette syndrome. He returned as a TV fixture in 2007, playing the zany but lovable dad on The Naked Brothers Band and co-producing the series’ soundtrack albums of his sons’ original music.
Today, Wolff is thrilled to be performing and recording again, having gone through a trying process of physical and mental rehabilitation. He’s reveling not only in the artistic triumph of Swirl and his new trio, but in his family’s continuing success as well. Draper recently wrote, directed and acted in Stella’s Last Weekend, starring Nat and Alex, which LA Weekly praised for “blending real-life family dynamics with a fictional narrative to create an achingly funny exploration of loss.” “It was a rough few years,” Wolff continues. “It was touch and go, and it changed my priorities. I love music and I just want it to be rich. I want to feel it from my heart. But I really realized that what’s so important is the people I love.”