Musician and composer Jonathan Wolff is an undeniable TV music legend, having written music for shows going back to the early ’80s (Square Pegs, Dynasty, Fantasy Island) through Married with Children, Reba, Will and Grace and, most famously, Seinfeld, for which he wrote the memorable (and memorably offbeat) theme music.
The success of his Seinfeld sounds and other more recent work allowed the Louisville, Ky. native to eventually move his family back to Kentucky in 2005 and retire from the TV music biz. Wolff now talks about music and law to legal students and does other speaking engagements across the country, and he’s also able to do charitable work, which is what is bringing him to Cincinnati in next week.
Wolff’s Oct. 4 appearance at the Woodward Theater in Over-the-Rhine is a benefit for the Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank, a local nonprofit that has provided a million diapers to families in need in our area. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the “Seinfeld Music Guy” (as he is self-billed) performs beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25-$45; click here for info.
In honor of Wolff’s local appearance, here are 17 things you maybe didn’t know about the composer and his poppin’ Seinfeld music.
1. Though a lot of Wolff’s work has been incidental and score music for television (he’s also worked as a music supervisor), his theme song game is strong. Besides Seinfeld, his other big “instantly recognizable” composition is the opening music from Will and Grace. Wolff’s brief intro piano riffing for the program (which returned with the show for its recent reboot) was inspired by classic Rock & Roll piano/percussion tandems.
“I particularly liked that combination of piano and percussion which was a homage to Elton John and (percussionist) Ray Cooper,” he told Celebrity Access earlier this year. “What a great duo they were. I loved that relationship. I love that sound. That beautiful rock and roll. That was kind of in my head when I chose that combination. That intimate pairing between those two instruments. It is also a pairing to the intro of ‘Feeling Alright’ by Joe Cocker.”
2. His Seinfeld work pops up in headlines every year or so when Wolff gives interviews in which he talks about how the “theme song” changed with every episode of the program . Wolff says he reworked and improvised the music to match the stand-up footage that opened each show. "I can architect each piece of music for each monologue, Lego-style,” he said in a video interview with Great Big Story .
3. Besides being the source of hundreds of "cover" versions available on YouTube, Wolff’s Seinfeld music has soundtracked approximately 8.4 million memes. Here are but a few:
4. Speaking of — ever wondered what a Limp Bizkit/Jonathan Wolff collaboration would sound like? Wonder no more:
5. Not all of the shows for which Wolff did the opening theme are on the level of Seinfeld or Will and Grace . He also did the clever theme for Double Rush , a short-lived CBS show from 1995 about the fast-paced world of a bicycle delivery business in NYC. His theme for the program — which starred Robert Pastorelli, plus cast members D.L. Hughley (more on him later) and David Arquette — had percussive quirks similar to Seinfeld , but used bike sounds instead of finger and mouth pops.
6. A female Jazz vocal part was slipped into the theme for Seinfeld episode "The Note," but network execs apparently didn't like it and it never reappeared. Julia Louis-Dreyfus joked in the DVD commentary that the suits didn't like it because it sounds like the woman is singing, "East to beat," and they felt it had a bad ratings connotation.
7. Wolff doesn’t think his Seinfeld theme is especially great, musically, and has even called it “annoyingly quirky.” But, Wolff said in a speaking engagement about “sonic branding,” “it had a great sound” which gave it its power and endurance. He compares developing a sonic identity (think HBO’s signature swell, NBC’s three-note chime or Intel’s four-note clinks) to crafting a memorable logo, “tapping into your brain’s most powerful memory sense.”
8. Wolff got the Seinfeld gig through a mutual friend of his and Jerry Seinfeld’s, veteran comedian George Wallace (who has adapted to the social media era beautifully via his amazing Twitter account and whatnot). In a radio interview with Boston’s WBUR Wolff said Jerry Seinfeld was complaining about the music for his imminent network show (then called The Seinfeld Chronicles ) and Wallace said, “Oh, you've got to call my buddy, Jonathan Wolff.”
9. He didn’t write it, but Wolff performed the theme song for Who’s the Boss for its final seasons (’89-’92).
10. Wolff’s work has occasionally been heard in big-screen productions. He wrote “ I'll Catch You If You Fall (Guys and Gals Theme)” for the film Sour Grapes and his Seinfeld music was used humorously in a scene in the cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs. The World .
11. In the WBUR interview, said the Seinfeld music concept came up because they wanted to counter the theme song tropes popular in the late ’80s (“the music was melodic, a lot of sassy saxophones and silly lyrics”). Wolff said he asked Seinfeld, “How about this, let's start with the organic human nature of my tongue and lips and finger snaps?” And, of course, lots of “slap bass.”
12. Wolff wrote the theme for the first two seasons of D.L. Hughley’s sitcom The Hughleys on ABC.
13. Someone made a one-hour cut of Wolff making Seinfeld pops in case you need something to fuel or maintain an anxiety attack.
14. When he was younger, Wolff took piano lessons from acclaimed Jazz musician Jamey Aebersold, who lives in New Albany, Indiana, just across the river from Louisville. He told Louisville’s Courier-Journal he was unaware of Aebersold notoriety until he moved to L.A.
15. That’s Wolff providing piano accompaniment for singing legend Mel Torme when he appeared on Seinfeld.
16. Wolff’s entertaining live shows have been a mix of talk and music. Besides his own works, he has been known to play music by his musical “mentors” like Elton John and Billy Joel, as well as Chaka Khan, The Beatles and many other heroes.
17. Wolff’s favorite TV show theme songs? In several interviews he has said they’re the ones that made him enough money to get out of the biz and allow his family to settle down comfortably in Louisville. In an interview with Louisville’s WFPL, when asked which shows meant the most to him, he said, “The shows that enabled me to eventually spend more time with my family are the shows that are dearest to my heart. And those are the ones that became the most successful and ended up in perpetuity reruns. Shows like Seinfeld, Will and Grace, Who’s the Boss?, Married with Children, the most popular, most performed shows have a lot of meaning to me because of what they do for me and my family.”
Find more about Jonathan Wolff at seinfeldmusicguy.com.