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Warren Wolf: Beyond Perfect Pitch

By Published: August 20, 2013
WW: That's another problem in my youth. I was at Peabody Prep for years and I wasn't just some little kid taking lessons. During that time I was also going on tour and performing as a soloist with the Baltimore Symphony. My first concert as a soloist with the Symphony I was about eight years old. I played all sorts of Concertos, Bach's Concerto in A Minor, Vivaldi's Piccolo Concerto in C Major.

GC: On mallets?

WW: Yeah, on the marimba. I also did a two week tour with the Symphony when James Galway was a soloist. We did John Corligiano's "Pied Piper Fantasy." And we all know the story of the Pied Piper—the guy who comes and takes the kids away. I was one of the little kids; we had a snare drum/field drum part in that piece. We did that for a long time. Basically I did on and off work with the Symphony for 14 years.

GC: Wow! That's amazing. So you went to school for the arts, and then you went to Berklee.

WW: Yep. Fall of 1997.

GC: How old are you?

WW: 33. Just turned 33.

GC: So what was Berklee like for you? Did you feel advanced?

WW: Um...Berklee was cool. I feel I learned, like any serious musician, I learned more outside of the school. I learned some things in the school, how to write music, how to notate it, certain things about harmony. But a lot of the things they teach at Berklee, I was just like "what's the point of this?" Like in Harmony 4, we were analyzing pieces of music and putting brackets around chords and indicating whether or not it was a II-V, and I used to always think "what the hell, why would I ever use this?" Basic stuff in Harmony 1 and 2 was what I needed, then I was cool. Same for Ear Training. I think any college that has a music program is going to have pros and cons. Some things are good, some aren't. A lot of those classes at Berklee I think were just designed just to take your money.

GC: Ugh, and that's a whole other conversation.

WW: [laughs] Yeah.

GC: As an educator myself...well, maybe we'll come back to that. Berklee used to be a place where people would just come through. Most people didn't finish Berklee—the joke was that if you actually got a degree from Berklee you were probably sad cause no one came through and took you away. But I think times have changed, I think people want their degrees and it's not quite the same in the industry.

WW: I don't think so. I mean, I finished the school.

GC: Did your parents want you to get the degree?

WW: Yeah, but I mean...I got a Performance degree. I didn't really need to go to Berklee to get a Performance degree because with the type of work that we do, it's like... who cares if you have the degree? It's either you can play or you can't play. It's not like I can just go to Christian McBride
Christian McBride
Christian McBride
and say, "hey, I have a Performance Degree from Berklee, get me in your band!" I mean, I do think it's necessary for other types of things, like if you're doing Music Education or Music Therapy, of course you need that. Berklee has all of those. Everything else just depends on how good you are.

GC: So did you start hooking up with the cats you play with now at Berklee?

WW: Yes. One of the first people I met at Berklee who really helped me out was Jeremy Pelt
Jeremy Pelt
Jeremy Pelt

GC: While he was a student?

WW: Yeah.

GC: Is he your age?

WW: He's about four years older than me. You know, being a new person on campus a lot of people just start talking about you. Actually one of the first people I met up there was Jaleel Shaw
Jaleel Shaw
Jaleel Shaw
sax, alto
. I just happened to be walking around the hallways, because that's what freshman do, and I met Jaleel and a friend of mine, Rashawn Ross, trumpeter for Dave Matthews. All these guys were in the room, just playing, and there's a set of vibes in the hall. So I'm seventeen years old, just walking around I asked to play with them. They said, "sure, come in!" And we played for maybe an hour-and-a-half or two hours. Jaleel must have gone around telling people, "check out this cat on the vibes, he's the guy!"

So word starts getting passed around and Jeremy finds me. It was easy to find me because I lived in the dorms. He asked me to do a couple of café shows—Berklee had this thing where students would perform in the cafeteria, just give us a little bit of experience being a leader. So I did that, and my name eventually got passed on to Wayne Escoffery
Wayne Escoffery
Wayne Escoffery
sax, tenor
. He gave me my first gig as a leader at the club, Wally's. John Lampkin was another part of that, him being from Baltimore and he's always trying to look out for the guys, you know, like "yeah that's my boy from Baltimore, you gotta give him a chance!" I remember my first gig at Wally's, John wanted to give me the chance to play. I never got paid for that gig.

GC: [laughs]

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