Michael Blieden Wolff (born July 31, 1952) is an American jazz pianist. In the 1980s, he was bandleader for the Arsenio Hall Show. He was also the music director for jazz singer Nancy Wilson.
Wolff was honored as a Steinway Artist and obtained a Broadcast Music, Inc. award. He has Tourette syndrome.
He provided the score and co-produced The Tic Code (1999). He co-starred with his sons, Nat and Alex, in the Nickelodeon musical comedy series The Naked Brothers Band (2007-09), earning him a BMI Cable Award for producing the series' music. Wolff was the leader of the jazz band Impure Thoughts. Reconstructed as Wolff & Clark Expedition, it is a jazz-funk group.
Childhood and family life
Wolff was born in Victorville, California and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. His family is culturally Jewish. He is the son of Lise (Silverman) and Marvin Wolff, a medical doctor, who treated Elvis Presley when the Wolffs' settled in Memphis, Tennessee. At age nine, his family moved to Berkeley, California, and began studying classical piano at age eight before playing drums at age 12. While attending Berkeley High School, Wolff had begun playing piano with the University of California Jazz Ensembles under the direction of Dr. David W. Tucker. After graduating from high school, Wolff attended the University of California, Berkeley before enrolling at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Wolff's mother remarried psychiatrist Neal Blumenfeld (Wolff's stepfather), who died on December 1, 2013. He has two step-siblings, Mimi and Judy. Wolff married actress Polly Draper in 1992; they have two sons together, Nat Wolff and Alex Wolff, who starred in and wrote the music for The Naked Brothers Band film and series that was created and produced by Draper. Draper also wrote and starred in The Tic Code, a musical drama film influenced by Wolff's life with Tourette syndrome to which he contributed the score.
Wolff left college in 1972 to begin his music career, joining Cal Tjader's band. He then joined Cannonball Adderley's band in 1975. In 1977, he formed the band Answering Service with saxophonist Alex Foster. Wolff worked with other famous artists including Warren Zevon, The Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis Orchestra, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Jean-Luc Ponty, Children On The Corner, Terri Lyne Carrington, Tony Williams, and Christian McBride. Wolff composed and played original music—and served as host—for the Riverside Shakespeare Company production of The Mandrake in New York City in 1975.
In 1978, singer Nancy Wilson chose Wolff as her musical director. Arsenio Hall was Wilson's opening act, and in 1989, when Hall was given his own talk show, Wolff was chosen to serve as its bandleader and musical director. He met his wife, actress Polly Draper, when she appeared as a guest on the show. In 1995, he released Jumpstart featuring Christian McBride and Tony Williams and in 1997 the trio released 2AM. Wolff was the leader of the jazz band Impure Thoughts which features Indian tabla player Badal Roy, drummer Mike Clark, percussionist Frank Colón and electric bassist John B. Williams.
He wrote music for the films Who's the Man?, The Tic Code, and Made up, as well as writing for and performing in other films. Wolff co-starred with his sons in The Naked Brothers Band television series on Nickelodeon, serving as the co-executive producer and music supervisor, which Draper created and executive produced. In addition, Wolff co-starred in and produced the music for The Naked Brothers Band: The Movie, which later served as the pilot for the TV series.
Wolff is on the faculty at The New School For Jazz And Contemporary Music. In the 2010s, he formed the jazz-funk band called Wolff & Clark Expedition, consisting of Wolff and Clark as band leaders, with Steve Wilson and Lenny Pickett as saxophonists, and James Genus as the bassist.
- 1993 Michael Wolff (Columbia)
- 1995 Jumpstart! (Jimco/Cabana)
- 1996 2 AM (Cabana)
- 1998 Portraiture: The Blues Period (Fuel 2000/Varèse Sarabande)
- 2000 The Tic Code Soundtrack (Razor & Tie)
- 2001 Impure Thoughts (Indianola)
- 2003 Intoxicate (Indianola)
- 2003 Christmas Moods (Artemis)
- 2003 Getting into Heaven
- 2004 Dangerous Vision (Artemis)
- 2005 Sexual Healing (3D)
- 2006 Love & Destruction (Wrong)
- 2007 Jazz, Jazz, Jazz (Wrong)
- 2009 Joe's Strut (Wrong)
- 2011 Detroit Dozen (Wrong)
- 2013 Wolff & Clark Expedition (Random Act)
- 2015 Wolff & Clark Expedition 2 (Random Act)
With Cal Tjader
- 1972 – Live At Concerts By The Sea (Fantasy)
- 1999 – Last Bolero In Berkeley (Fantasy)
- 2008 – Best Of Cal Tjader: Live At The Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-1980 (Monterey Jazz Festival)
With Cal Tjader and Charlie Byrd
- 1973 – Tambu (Fantasy)
With Cannonball Adderley
- 1975 – Phenix (Fantasy)
- 1975 – Volume One: Montreal 1975 (Essential Media Group)
With Tom Harrell
- 1975 – Aurora (Adamo/Pinnacle)
- 1976 – Bird Gets The Worm (Adamo/Pinnacle)
With Sonny Rollins
- 1977 Live At The Village Gate (Bootleg)
With Nancy Wilson
- 1979 – Live In Munich
- 1982 – At My Best (ASI)
- 1991 –With My Lover Beside Me (Columbia)
With David Axelrod
- 1993 – Requiem - The Holocaust (Liberty)
- 2003 – The Big Country (Stateside)
With Warren Zevon
- 1995 – Mutineer (Giant)
- 2002 – My Ride's Here (Artemis)
With Children On The Corner
- 2003 – Rebirth (Sonance)
With Alex Foster
- 1997 – Pool Of Dreams (Truspace)
With Dave Samuels
- 1998 – Tjaderized (Verve)
- 2001 – Pastiche (Summit)
With Sam Morrison
- 2005 – Miles Away (Convalian)
|1999||The Tic Code||Engineer #2||Also co-producer and wrote original score|
|2005||The Naked Brothers Band: The Movie||Dad||Also contributed the underscore and produced and arranged the music|
|2007||The Girl In The Park||Jazz Club Piano Player|
|Year||Program or series||Role||Notes|
|1989–1994||The Arsenio Hall Show||Himself||Bandleader and musical director|
|1990||Beverly Hills, 90210||Duane||"Every Dream Has Its Price (Tag)" episode|
|2007–2009||The Naked Brothers Band||Dad/Mr. Wolff/Sonny Wolff||Also co-executive producer, music producer, and music supervisor|
Honors and awards
Wolff was honored as a Steinway Artist in June 2006. The Tic Code won awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, Giffoni Film Festival and Hamptons International Film Festival. Along with his sons, Wolff won a Broadcast Music, Inc. Cable Award in 2007 for the music on The Naked Brothers Band TV series.