Louisville’s own music legend Jonathan Wolff spoke to a sold-out crowd at Actors Theatre sharing how he got the jobs others didn’t and the impact growing up in Louisville had on his career. WFPL’s Devin Katayama moderated the event taking the audience on a journey from Jonathan’s early days of playing and studying with Louisville’s leading musicians to Hollywood where he spent his first 10 years doing every odd job or music “chore” he was offered.
Jonathan had several “lucky” breaks where he was asked to fill in for other composers, which led to composing music for prime-time network shows. He also took several risks including selling everything he had to start the Music Consultants Group in Burbank, California, only to be faced with an industry strike a year later. Jonathan kept his business’ doors open despite the strike and formed relationships that would later lead him to Jerry Seinfeld and the opportunity to create the Seinfeld theme song.
Jonathan also talked about being at the right place at the right time in order to get the big jobs. “I may not have been the best composer in Hollywood but I was one of the best closers. If you could get me in a room with the decision maker I almost always got the job.” He pointed to writing for the Reba show with Reba McEntire as being one of his favorite Hollywood gigs and said in general it was more about the people he worked with that made his time memorable versus the music itself.
Jonathan attributed his success to his teachers which included Louisville’s Jamey Abersold; his parents, who drove him from gig to gig when he was too young to take the wheel, and his wife Stephi Wolff who stood by him as he worked his 20+ hour days.
He challenged the idea of “you can never have too much money” and with his family’s input, decided to retire in 2005. After searching the country for the perfect place to live, the Wolffs kept coming back to Louisville. Jonathan has lived here quietly with his wife and four children for the past nine years enjoying the city’s parks, great restaurants and the satisfaction that a young kid from Kentucky was able to take Hollywood by storm.
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Photography by Ekaterina Balaban (unless noted otherwise)