The Peabody Award-winning Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen, from PRI and WNYC, is public radio’s smart and surprising guide to what's happening in pop culture and the arts. Each week, Kurt Andersen introduces you to the people who are creating and shaping our culture. Life is busy – so let Studio 360 steer you to the must-see movie this weekend, the next book for your nightstand, or the song that will change your life.
August 11th, 2015
Episode 75 of 195 episodes
Jonathan Wolffis the Michael Jordan of TV theme songs. He’s written over 40, from Will and Grace toThe Hughleys.Before becoming Hollywood’s go-to theme song writer, Wolff spent adecade as a “multi-purpose utility tool for musical chores” — a studio musician, a music producer, and a recording engineer. He even taught Arnold Schwarzenegger how toact as a violinistforStay Hungry.Eventually, Wolff started composing exclusively, which landed him a gig on theSeinfeldpilot. The show’s producers were having difficulty finding music that wouldn’t overpower the comedian’s opening routines. “Jerry, you’ve already given me the melody and theme,” Wolff told Seinfeld. “My job is going to be to support you and the organic nature of your voice.” Wolff sampled his own mouth noises and slapped some funky bass over it and the rest is history. He built the theme to be manipulated — the rhythm of the mouth pops, shakers,and bass notes changed ever so slightlyto fit the different monologues that opened every show. Decades later, the internet has begun to manipulate it, too: In the past year, theSeinfeldtheme has been mashed up with songs by Limp Bizkit, Kendrick Lamar, ODB, Evanescence, and — just this week — Radiohead. Back in March, we decided to name the meme the “Jerry Roll.”Wolff never wrote lyrics for his original theme, but he couldn’t be more tickled with all the variations popping up online. “It’s like I’ve been invited to another party,” Wolff says. “It’s really quite a compliment.” Special thanks to Reed Dunlea, who wrote about Jonathan Wolff for Vice.AUDIO CORRECTION: Jonathan Wolff has written music for over 70 TV shows, but penned themes for only 44 of them. He retired in 2005, not 2000.