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Warren Wolf: Beyond Perfect Pitch

By Published: August 20, 2013
GC: That's how you make a virtuoso I suppose. You get to the point where you've just been doing it for so long. I mean, you're a lot younger than me, but you've probably been playing longer than me.

WW: This is year 30 for me now.

GC: Yeah. I'm 42. I didn't even really get serious about piano since I was 21.

WW: Yeah, I've been playing for a long time, but like I said I didn't really start enjoying it until I got to middle school. I went to a school called West Baltimore Middle School, back in the day in the '60s and '70s, they called it Rock Glenn Middle School or Junior High School. The band teacher was Betty McCloud and we had a jazz band, concert band, wind ensemble, but the jazz band consisted of eight trumpet players, six trombones, and a pile of horns. No bassist, but I was the pianist and sometimes drummer in the band. I think what made me really start liking music—like I didn't really understand the concept of changes and playing in the key. My whole thing back then was play whatever the hottest song was on the radio for your solo.

GC: [laughs]

WW: One of the songs that we did—we actually did not play jazz oriented big band charts. We were a big band in that setting but we played songs like "Eye of the Tiger," things like that. One of the songs was "Louie Louie." So when they got to the keyboard solo they were like, "alright Warren, you go!" and I forget the name of this girl, but she was very popular. This was 1990 or 1991. And I could sing the chorus of this one song... [sings chorus] and I learned that on piano. So I used to play that on the solos and I would watch how my peers in the auditorium would react—they'd get up and start clapping and dancing. So I was like, "wow, if I can get that reaction playing songs like this I wonder what it could do for real?" So at that point, I think it was sixth or seventh grade, that's when I really started loving music.

GC: You liked the attention.

WW: Yeah.

GC: So your concept was "get house immediately"?

WW: Nah, that wasn't really the concept but that's just what happened.

GC: It's kind of a concept!

WW: Yeah, I guess. I mean, like I said, I knew a certain thing about changes but not too much.

GC: When did you really learn about changes?

WW: It kind of slowly picked up—I can't say there was a given moment. My dad had these charts; I remember when I was starting to learn how to read. He had a big band chart of "St. Thomas." And it had some time of solo in there, written out. And I remember playing it and I still remember how the solo goes to this day but I didn't know what I was doing. I was just like, "okay I'll read it down, this sounds good over this." At some point in middle school my dad would take me out to the club. We used to go to the Sports Lounge. Organ player, his name was Chico (that's all I know him as) and the drummer Bobby Ward. We used to go over there, and he'd play the vibes, and sometimes his band would go over there. There wasn't anything that I specifically worked on to learn what changes were, it was more just playing and playing. Like I said, I always had a good ear but I never knew it. One of the classes that I had at Peabody was classical theory.

GC: In high school?

WW: Middle school.

GC: Wow!

WW: I had to separate myself between high school and Peabody, but I'll talk about that in a minute.

GC: Okay.

WW: I took a theory class in middle school and I was pretty terrible at it. My teacher always had said "he has a great ear," and I didn't know what he was talking about. Eventually after I graduated middle school and got to high school—Baltimore School of the Arts, fall of 1993, the staff told me that I could not attend Peabody anymore and I could not study with the percussion teacher because the teacher at the School of the Arts was also a member of the Baltimore Symphony, but he was strictly classical. His name was John Locke. Basically they didn't want me studying with two guys from the Symphony; they already had someone there at the school. So I got accepted into the school.

How I figured out I had a good ear—I had perfect pitch, but this is how I figured it out. Ninth grade, 1993, there were a lot of students who were trying to figure out a popular song—a Mary J Blige tune called "Real Love." Very popular, back then. The students couldn't figure it out at all. I was like, "hey, I can play it!" They didn't know what it was, we were freshman. They said, "yeah right," and I just got on the piano and played it right away. They were like, "wow! Can you play this one?" They kept asking me. And I had never played these songs before. So I did some research after a while and found out I had perfect pitch, and that's why a lot of people said I have a good ear.

GC: Why didn't they tell you?

WW: I don't think they knew. I think it was just something I had to figure out on my own.

GC: It's interesting, you taking those classical lessons and your ear never coming up.

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