Consummate entertainer Jonathan Wolff, who was “raised by this village” made the Louisville Beit Sefer Yachad fundraiser on Sunday, November 8, at the Kentucky Science Center, a truly memorable event.
The musician said he had a “wonderful youth that many of you shared with me” and he recalled “being raised at the JCC.” However, unlike those with whom he grew up, Wolff’s world really centered around music, starting with “The Pink Panther” when he was age 5.
He recalled his first piano teacher, Jo Anne Abraham, going on to study at Gardencourt and later at the University of Louisville School of Music. Along the way, Wolff shared memories of the songs that influenced him and how he evolved into an accomplished accompanist and a composer in high demand.
With piano and tambourine, he tantalized the audience with a presentation laced with spirited performances interspersed with personal stories. In one he recounted receiving an urgent call. Diana Ross’s keyboard player had a family tragedy and Wolff was needed immediately. Without even time to change clothes, he hurried to the airport where a private jet was waiting.
When he arrived at the concert hall, Ross’s people told him, “This is not what you wear to play with Miss Ross.” They found something for him to wear and rushed him onto the stage.
Where was the music? There is no book, he was told. The regular accompanist didn’t need one. It turned out that “the kid who ingested Motown music” found that it was still inside him. He was able to tap into that and call on his strong jazz training to deliver a solid performance.
After the show, Wolff recalled, Diana came to the dressing room, something she almost never did, thanked him and apologized for not introducing him when she introduced the band. It was not an oversight. She just didn’t know his name. When he told her, she asked him, “Can I call you Johnny?” He quickly assented.
When she turned to leave, Wolff said, “Thank you, Diana,” and immediately her minions corrected him, “It’s Miss Ross.”
While his story was peppered with music – songs that influence him, songs he admired, songs he wrote – there was one song missing from his performance, but he couldn’t get away without it. When Wolff called for questions, LBSY Board member and the evening’s emcee Craig Lustig requested that he play his most famous score, the theme song for Seinfeld.
A short video showcasing LBSY students and their activities was shown prior to Wolff’s presentation. Cantors David Lipp and Sharon Hordes sang Wolff’s “Hinei Ma Tov” to accompany it.
The evening also included time to explore the museum, a silent auction, cocktails and dinner.