Keyboardist and composer Michael Wolff's most recent project is the soundtrack for the independent film The Tic Code. Loosely based on Wolff's life, The Tic Code -- written, not coincidentally, by his wife, actress Polly Draper -- is about a piano prodigy who has Tourette's syndrome. While Wolff's case is mild, some doctors have speculated that his unique rhythmic patterns on the piano are related to the tic disorder.
Whatever the reason, Wolff is a cat with credentials. At 19, the young pianist left college to join a band led by the legendary vibraphonist Cal Tjader. He spent years on the New York City club scene and has performed and recorded with such heavyweights as Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins and Jean-Luc Ponty. In the '80s Wolff became Nancy Wilson's musical director, a post he held for several years.
His next gig introduced him to a new and wider audience: He was Arsenio Hall's music director for five years, which gave him the national spotlight and introduced him to his future wife, Draper, who was a guest one night. What the talk show didn't do was showcase Wolff's serious jazz chops.
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In his post-Hall career, Wolff has made waves as a player and composer. He's recorded some excellent in-the-pocket albums that have unique arrangements and some mean straight-ahead playing. His ideas are cool, and he has his own percussive sound. He's composed scores for TV, film and even jazz ballet. His band, Impure Thoughts, is noted for incorporating jazz improvisation with Indian and African rhythms, funk and the blues. One minute the musicians will be playing a surreal Miles Davis composition, and the next minute they're jamming to "Papa Was a Rolling Stone." Somehow it all works.