A gifted pianist and composer, Michael Wolff is known for urbane jazz that touches upon post-bop, fusion, and world music traditions. Initially emerging as a player and arranger with Cal Tjader in the 1970s, Wolff worked with luminaries like Airto Moreira and Nancy Wilson before gaining wider exposure as the musical director for <I>Arsenio Hall in the '90s. He has issued a number of solo albums like 1995's Jumpstart!, 2000's Impure Thoughts, and 2009's Joe's Strut. He also produced much of the music featured on Nickelodeon's <I>The Naked Brothers Band, which was produced by his wife, actress Polly Draper, and featured their sons Nat and Alex Wolff. Having battled a rare form of cancer, he returned to recording with 2019's Swirl.
Born Michael Blieden Wolff in Victorville, California, Wolff grew up in Memphis and New Orleans. A child prodigy, he could play piano from age eight, a skill his physician and jazz fan father encouraged. He briefly attended UCLA and UC Berkeley before leaving school at age 19 to join vibraphonist Cal Tjader's band, touring with the group for two years, and appearing on 1973's Tambu. By the mid-'70s he was based in New York and playing with such notables as Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Jean-Luc Ponty, Airto Moreira, Tom Harrell, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. Along with gigs, he was the musical director for <I>The Arsenio Hall Show from 1989 to 1994. He also began to branch out, composing for film and television shows.
As a solo artist, Wolff debuted with the eponymous Michael Wolff in 1993, followed by two trio albums in 1995's Jumpstart!, and 1996's 2AM. It was also during this period that he was diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome, a condition he'd suffered since childhood. Since his diagnosis, he has worked regularly to promote awareness of the disease, including collaborating with his wife actress Polly Draper on the critically acclaimed 1998 movie <I>The Tic Code, which was inspired by his life experiences. Also in 1998, he issued a third trio date, Portraiture, The Blues Period. Wolff and Draper are the parents of musician/actor-siblings Nat and Alex Wolff who gained early fame starring in the Draper-produced Nickelodeon show <I>The Naked Brothers Band which ran from 2007 to 2009.
In the early 2000s, Wolff paired with percussionists including Badal Roy, Frank Colon, and Cafe de Silva for several world music-infused albums including 2000's Impure Thoughts, 2001's Intoxicate, and 2004's Dangerous Vision. The similarly folk-influenced Love and Destruction arrived in 2006. In 2009, he issued the more jazz- and fusion-leaning Joe's Strut, which featured contributions by saxophonists Steve Wilson and Ian Youn. He then joined longtime drummer Mike Clark in Wolff & Clark for several albums. Following a four-year battle with cancer, Wolff returned in 2019 with Swirl, a trio album with bassist Ben Allison and drummer Allan Mednard. ~ Matt Collar, Rovi