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Warren Wolf: Beyond Perfect Pitch

By Published: August 20, 2013
GC: Where do you live?

WW: I live in Owings Mills. They live in Baltimore City. The way I practice nowadays—people as,k "do you practice?" and I say, "no" and they don't believe me, but I really don't. I tend to do a lot of mental practicing. And it's not even just jazz; it could be whatever. The more and more I can hear stuff, it's like I have the ability to hear stuff and it goes through my head down to my arms or fingers. I'm not saying I don't practice at all; there are certain times where I might want to work out little kinks. I feel fine though, if I don't have the vibes. I mean there's been times where I try to practice, then just get bored. I mean, it could be because I practiced so much as a kid. A lot of people just don't do that nowadays. I ask the kids in my high school how much they practice; the answer is, "hardly ever." I did it a lot! And that's not trying to say I'm the best...I just don't really know what to work on physically. When I hear stuff on record though, I hear it and go, "oh that's nice! I like that." And that could be from the worst musician! I could pick up something from the best musician or the worst musician. I'll take their ideas and ball it up and out comes... what I heard.

GC: I mean, I should be practicing. But I don't have the time. Because I spent a lot of time in the '90s practicing, I feel like on piano I can get away with it... trumpet is a different story, but I feel like I can still play at a certain level without practicing. It would be nice to have time, but I have a child and a job. And you have three kids?

WW: Yeah, three kids. They live in Boston with their mom. Even when we were all living together, when I was trying to practice, it was really hard to do it. Because my kids would be like, "hey could I join in with you?" and I'd be like, "no, no, leave me alone."

GC: I have the same problem.

WW: Now I'm remarried, my wife is a ballet dancer. And every now and then... I haven't completely just shut off. Like right now, I am practicing the "Carnival of Venice" on marimba because I'm about to record it, and that thing is hard. Not so much technically hard but... just a lot of notes. Making sure I just nail them. So I'm practicing that a lot. But other stuff, not really. Because jazz music is so free for me. I don't have a rule, like "make sure you get this note, make sure you get that note." Because everything could be resolved in a certain way, it's just how you execute it, make sure you get your rhythm right.

GC: Does it matter to you what instrument you're playing? Does it all just become the same thing, or do you find that you're thinking about different things on different instruments?

WW: No it really doesn't matter. Me, I like to think as a drummer or vibraphonist. I mean I can play piano, but I don't really like it.

GC: You don't like the instrument?

WW: No. But I'm saying that mostly because it hurts. Also, I don't have the proper technique. People see me play piano, but I play them like I'm playing vibes. I've never had a lesson on piano. But fingerings... if someone said, "play the Eb major scale" I'll probably mess it up. I've just never had the training. I'm self-taught; I know what chords sound good. I know about as many chords as any other professional pianist. There are just certain things I can't execute right. But I'll do gigs on piano. Same with drums. It's hard to sit in on drums though because I'm left-handed, and I don't feel like making the trouble of making the switch. I could make a living as a pianist or drummer... which I do, sometimes.

GC: I guess for me, I try to tell my students that a certain amount of technique is important, but... like you get drummers that just practice chops all day and all night and they don't really know how to function musically. They can't hear. Do you find yourself trying to relate that to your students? How do you relate that?

WW: I'm not even there yet.

GC: [laughs]

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