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Warren Wolf: The Wizard of Vibes

By Published: December 26, 2011
He put musicians together who had a previous relationship with one another, and people he knew would be comfortable. He wanted that to show in the music. "I didn't have anything in mind, tune-wise, for the band. I just knew once I got the band together, everything would come together good," he adds. "It wasn't a long process at all. We finished the record in two days. When I get into the studio, I like to keep going. I'm not hungry. I'm not tired. I'm full of energy. But to give everybody a rest so we could make the tracks sound fresh, we decided to do it in two days. The whole entire record was practically done live."

Only a marimba part on Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
's "Senor Mouse" was overdubbed. "That's how I like to do things—keep it live and real. For people who will probably never see my group, I try to give them the best possible live performance, except it's on CD. Or download—whatever people are doing nowadays."

As producer, McBride gave Wolf a very free rein. "He didn't say too much. I could see if this was my first time ever going into the studio as a leader. But, even though this Mack Avenue recording is my first worldwide release, this is not my first recording as a leader. ... I pretty much knew what I was doing. But it helped to have Christian throw his two cents in there when the time came. He was definitely a big help."

Wolf, 31, also acknowledges that McBride—one of the finest bass players anywhere and a tireless worker for jazz causes of all kinds—is a major influence. "He's very much an influence, not just musically," says Wolf. "Musically, yes. Definitely. From the way he plays, to the way he listens, to the way he develops his solos and things like that. But even off the bandstand, I listen to how he introduces the band members, how he tries to keep the audience engaged with us. He does a lot of different things like that, and I try to kind of model myself off that. Down to the way he dresses. He's a good all- around man who knows what he's doing."

Pelt, whose superb trumpet work spices up a couple of the tunes, is also an important figure in Wolf's life. "He was a guy I first met at Berklee College of Music in the fall of 1997. He helped me out in a lot of ways. He introduced me to the whole Wally's scene, Wally's Club up in Boston, which coincidentally is the opening track on the record, '427 Mass Ave.' That's the actual address of Wally's. Jeremy introduced me to that club and got me to a lot of musicians there. He took me around Berklee and got me playing with the best students. He also got me my first gig ever in New York, which was at that club on the Upper West Side, Cleopatra's Needle. He gave me my first exposure to the New York jazz scene."

Wolf's first exposure to music was many years earlier, at a very young age. It came via his father, a huge music lover, who started young Warren on the road to being Chano at the age of three, playing vibes and marimba. As he got older, piano was included. Wolf's father instituted a strict regimen of practice—at least 90 minutes a day, split among the three instruments. But music wasn't utmost in the youngster's life. "To be honest, I really hated it," he says, somewhat bemused. "Not just the vibes—I hated music, period. Practicing, practicing, practicing."

Like so many kids his age, Wolf wanted to be outside running around, playing sports, hanging with friends—which he did do at times. But there was always the practice regimen that beckoned. Warren Wolf, Sr. saw that music was in his talented son's future, even if Chano wasn't aware. Wolf eventually attended Peabody Preparatory school in Baltimore, studying classical music with former Baltimore Symphony Orchestra member Leo LePage. At about the age of 11, he got a solo in one of the band recitals. There was applause, which was cool to the young lad. There was also some recognition from those of the opposite sex. Cooler yet. The sacrificing for practice began to make sense. With a chuckle, Wolf recalls, "I began to think there was something to this music thing."

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