"Wanted: Faithful jazz fans to embark on a contemporary tour with skilled leaders guiding and grooving their way to nirvana. Apply at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro tonight, March 9, and tomorrow night, March 10."
That sign might well be posted in advance of the sophomore tour of the Wolff and Clark Expedition that arrives in New Orleans tonight. Since their last stint at the premiere jazz club in New Orleans 15 months ago, pianist Michael Wolff and drummer Michael Clark have been busy and have a new, self-titled ("Wolf and Clark Expedition") Random Act Records release to promote as well.
Although he is not on the album, renowned bass player Jeff Berlin will join forces this weekend with Wolff and Clark. Berlin and Wolff have known each other since the Seventies when they were immersed in the exciting jazz and fusion scene in New York as session players.
Wolff, who lived in New Orleans for a time as a youngster before moving to Memphis, had an incredible exposure to music as a lad. He has played with the most famous jazz and pop stars and has lent his support to the likes of the late Nat “Cannonball” Adderly, Cal Tjader, and Warren Zevon and toured with the legendary Nancy Wilson. Years ago his musical credentials got him noticed by Arsenio Hall, who hired him as his music director and band leader on his late night Fox Network talk show. He is a highly respected composer, arranger, producer, vocalist and educator and has toured the country with his own jazz trios and quartets for many years. Wolff has made stops in New Orleans for five of the last six Thanksgivings to visit with family members who still live here.
Berlin’s experiences in music mirror many of Wolff’s early successes. He attended the Berklee School of Music, which by his own admission was much smaller in the Seventies.When he first hit the New York jazz and fusion scene, he played with Toots Thielemans, Pat Martino and, later, Patrick Moraz, who was then a featured performer in the rock group Yes.
“I was a young fire-breathing kid at at time when electric bass was really respected and my particular approach to the bass was embraced,” Berlin recalls. His technical abilities were only marginally surpassed by his super-inflated ego, he suggests.
About five years ago he left the New York jazz scene to follow his own dream of establishing a music school in Clearwater, FL. “I’m very much into a whole other way of working things now,” he claims. “Music itself is rarely taught anymore and because of that, it’s not was it used be like."
Berlin believes that, because music is not popular in academics, an approach to music education like his is crucial to grooming talented new players. “If you want to learn how to play, you might as well learn the language of the instrument you’ve chosen,” he explains.
To prove his point, he asks rhetorically: “Name anything you pay to learn where the facts are not foremost in those lessons.”
“You don’t learn music in the emotional element of it,” Berlin continues. “You actualize the playing of music so that eventually you can put feeling into it.”
Like the Wolff and Clark Expedition, Berlin has recorded a new album for Random Act Records. That is the record company run by Scott Elias, who is a former executive with Verve Records.
After contacting Wolff and Clark via Facebook and getting them into a studio, Elias released the “Wolff and Clark Expedition” less than a month ago. It includes originals as well as covers of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” and the Ojays’ “For the Love of Money.” Although Berlin did not play bass on “Wolff and Clark Expedition,” he is completely at home with their repertoire. Berlin's own Random Act release is slated to be issued in the spring.
Formerly the drummer with Herbie Hancock’s band, Clark got to know Wolff over the course of the last nine years. The two so enjoyed their occasional gigs with one another they endeavored to make them more regular.
The pair believe their rapport gives them a lot of freedom to delve into different groupings. “It’s just a lot of freedom of what we want to do and the personnel,” admits Wolff. “It’s kind of sleek. We can play with any kind of musicians we want and any guise, If we want to add violins, we can add violins, for example.”
Wolff says he does keep up with comedian Hall, who has been announced as coming back in the fall with a new late-night talk show. However, he has not been contacted to take over as the new music director when that series bows. “It’s a fine gig,” he says. “It was great for me. It changed my life for the better for sure.”
Wolff and his actress-director wife Polly Draper (“Thirty Something”), whom he met on the “Arsenio Hall Show,” have been busy on a number of side projects. Draper has a recurring role on the CBS drama "Golden Boy" and is preparing to direct a film she has written that will be produced by Fred Roos. Most notably, though, she and her husband have been busy watching the careers of their two sons Nat and Alex Wolff, also known as the Nickleodeon Channel’s The Naked Brother Band, take off.
Nat Wolff stars along with big names Tina Fey and Paul Rudd in the soon-to-be-released “Admission" and the forthcoming "Stuck in Love" with Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connelly. Alex Wolff has recently worked on a film project, "A Birder's Guide to Everything" with Ben Kingsley to be shown at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. He was featured in 2011′s “The Sitter” with comic actor Jonah Hill. Both brothers have songs in two of their latest film releases (Nat in "Stuck in Love" and Alex in "A Birder's Guide to Everything"). The brothers have also toured in support of their “Black Sheep” album, released in 2011.
The Wolff and Clark Expedition plays two shows nightly at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, 626 Frenchmen Street, on Saturday, March 9 and Sunday, March 10 with start times at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. Doors open one hour prior to show times. Tickets for the Wolff and Clark Expedition starring Michael Wolff, Mike Clark and Jeff Berlin are $25.00 each and available by dialing 504-949-0696 and leaving credit card information. All ticket sales are final. For more information click here.