Wolff Turns to the Blues

Michael Wolff’s stock in trade is the jazz piano. But as the instructor for the R&B ensemble at The New School in New York, he required prospective students to play either B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” or Sly & the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” during auditions.

“It makes me see how everything is connected,” Wolff said this week. “With jazz, a lot of people get pretty far away from the blues. Which is fine. But we ought to remember where it really started out. Jazz is based on the blues.”

Even the sophisticated harmonics of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” he notes, is based on a 12-bar blues. To that point, he’s written music for his jazz trio to perform with orchestras that is clearly colored by the blues. And his sets of late have contained jazz arrangements of several blues songs — including “The Thrill Is Gone” — alongside jazz classics.

“I started looking at all these Coltrane tunes, Sonny Rollins and Miles (Davis) tunes, and going back to the real-blues blues tunes. It’s all related, and it’s fun to concentrate on that. I like mixing that in. I’ve always had the bluesy thing in my playing.”

It will be evident Saturday, Nov. 13 when Wolff performs at Snug Harbor, backed by drummer Mike Clark, a longtime collaborator best known as a member of the Headhunters, plus local bassist Jim Singleton and saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr.

Majestic Concerts
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