Louisville Magazine

AUG 2013

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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ft. He laughs a lot, as if even he can't believe some of the things that happened during his eventful career. Beyond Seinfeld, Wolf was also the composer on Will & Grace, Caroline in the City, According to Jim, Who's the Boss?, Reba and Married…with Children. According to the Internet Movie Database, Wolf was lead composer on 73 TV shows. He also won an Emmy for the title sequence on Caroline in the City, guest-conducted Te Tonight Show, toured with singer Tom Jones and modernized how TV music is produced. All of this makes Wolf a legend in his corner of showbiz, says Jack Diamond, a music supervisor and editor on 2 Broke Girls who worked under Wolf during the 1990s. "Most composers are lucky to have a show," Diamond says. "(Wolf) would handle eight to nine shows at a time. Tere was an eight-year period where he was the man in town." Wolf's wife, Stephi, saw this frsthand. It was 1993 and they were newly married. He brought her to a pre-Academy Awards party. "Jonathan was pointing out these music greats," she says, "and these two young guys came up and said, 'You're Jonathan Wolf!'" change in the music industry as electronic synthesizers came into vogue. Wolf was an early adopter of the new technology. With his musical chops, ability to sight-read and understanding of these machines, he soon earned up to $6,000 per session. "Synth guys could do it all: saxophones, futes, clarinets. And they'd have to pay you three times," he says. He got television work, creating and recording special musical material for staples like Te Love Boat and Fantasy Island. "I'd record Charo singing 'Physical.' Or Florence Henderson doing 'On the Road Again.' It was awful," Wolf says. So he focused on becoming a "credit composer," someone who writes a show's music and theme. He targeted half-hour shows, as they syndicated better, earning him more royalties. ("If I sound like I'm a mercenary, I am," he says. "It was all royalty-driven.") Wolf got his frst start as a composer on the 1982 sitcom Square Pegs, starring Sarah Jessica Parker. Te show's creator, Anne Beatts, had hired Paul Shafer (best known now as David Letterman's band leader) to write the music for the frst episode, but Shafer was unable to complete the job. Wolf was already on staf a traditional melody because Seinfeld's voice was the melody. "Jerry's voice was my lead instrument," Wolf says. Instead of writing a score, he designed a sound palette around Seinfeld's voice. He recorded light, organic fnger snaps and mouth pops for a percolating energy. Te only traditional part was the bass — played on a keyboard — that undergirded everything. He recorded and played all parts himself. He also recorded each part so it could be placed around Seinfeld's jokes, sort of like musical Tetris. Close listeners of the show will notice each episode's music changes, which was because Seinfeld's jokes were always diferent. Wolf could even hold back sounds until Seinfeld's punch line hit. Te sounds are recognizable, but how do they work as a theme song? Robert Tompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, says that Seinfeld's theme is unusual and that, unlike many memorable themes (Te Beverly Hillbillies', for instance), it doesn't tell you anything directly about the show. A c.1989 photo of Alexander, Wolff and Seinfeld. "The theme to Seinfeld is in a class of its own, and it's perfect for that show and that time. Seinfeld was a show about nothing, and this was a theme about nothing." — media scholar Robert Thompson W olf was born in Louisville in 1958. His mother Betty was a homemaker for Wolf and his siblings, all three of whom still live in town. Francis, his father, worked at Louisville Wholesale Liquor Co. and taught fencing. As a child, Wolf watched some TV — Lost in Space was a favorite — but not much. He was keenly interested in music, though, specifcally piano. One of his instructors was New Albany, Ind., music educator and publisher Jamey Aebersold, whose Play-ALong series of musical-education books and CDs have gained worldwide popularity. "Te lessons were equal parts music, life lessons and basketball," Wolf says. "And they were all intense. Jamey shaped a lot more than my music." Aebersold, Wolf says, would talk frankly about the downside of drug use, for example, because Aebersold's generation of musicians never received such lectures. "Te skill set I learned in Jamey's basement I would use every day — improvisation and composition," Wolf says. Wolf attended Atherton High School and was recruited by the University of Southern California as a National Merit Scholar, specialty mathematics. He arrived in 1976, at age 17, and quit after just a few weeks, falling into music session work. It was a time of big at the show and got the nod. He wrote fve songs in a day for Square Pegs, coordinated and choreographed the songs with dance numbers, and got it all recorded on time. After the work was done, he collapsed. A producer then kicked his foot and made it ofcial: He was now the composer for Square Pegs. In 1986, he opened the production house Music Consultants Group. To fund it, he sold his house and lived in a Burbank poolside shack . . . for the next six years. "In truth, I spent day and night at my ofce anyway," he says. Te big break came in 1989 with a show that was originally called Te Seinfeld Chronicles. He got the job in an unusual way. He'd been on the road with Tom Jones, befriending Jones' opening act, comedian George Wallace. One day Wallace got a call from friend Jerry Seinfeld, who was complaining that the music for his pilot didn't work. "George came over and said, 'My friend Jerry's got a pilot, and he's having trouble with composers. Can he call you?' I said, 'Sure. But what's his name again?'" Wolf recalls. He watched the pilot. Te original composer had written traditional music, but Seinfeld and the show's co-creator, Larry David, wanted something unique. Te theme was supposed to overlap Seinfeld's opening monologue. Wolf says he fgured the theme didn't need "Te theme to Seinfeld is in a class of its own, and it's perfect for that show and that time," Tompson says. "Seinfeld was a show about nothing, and this was a theme about nothing. It became very identifable but was very abstract. At the same time, the comedy of Seinfeld was abstract versus the sitcoms that came before it." Even so, Tompson says something basic keeps it from being placed among the elite themes of all time. "It's almost impossible to hum or reproduce," he says. "And you can't sing it." Tim Kaiser, executive producer for Seinfeld, says, "Te theme is so unique, like the show is unique. . . . He tapped into that crazy, creative vibe to match Larry's and Jerry's vision." Once Wolf fnished the music, Seinfeld gave a listen. "He came over, I showed it to him, and he liked it," Wolf says. "And it was fun for him." In an endearing touch, the comedian called a few days later and asked, "Was that too easy?" Tey did another, wackier, take but ended up going with the frst. H ard to believe now, but Seinfeld was a ratings loser at frst, and NBC had little faith in it. Te network only committed to a handful of episodes, and many observers — including Wolf — gave it little chance to succeed. Wolf thought it could never play to 8.13 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 31

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