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Warren Wolf: Beyond Perfect Pitch

By Published: August 20, 2013
WW: My students... it's a classical-oriented school. So jazz is like an elective, but they enjoy doing it. It's not even about chops. For instance, I was telling my bassist—he's just trying to get the right notes in, but he's making mistakes. So when he thinks he hits a right note, he plays real soft. I said "don't do that! If anything, right now I want to hear you maintaining that beat and that pulse. At least figure out what key you're in, but we'll get to the other stuff later." So it's not about chops so much for me. It's more about making sure they're playing in the key with some type of decent rhythm. Playing as a unit, getting an overall sound, making sure dynamics are there. That's what's more concerning me right now. That's a whole other conversation, because the jazz thing just isn't there, isn't present. I'm just trying to help them learn this stuff. And it's not even jazz, just contemporary music. You could play smooth jazz and still play changes. It's more just like trying to get them to understand the concept of chord changes and such. For me I'm like "this is easy, you can't hear that?" But they can't.

GC: Do you enjoy teaching?

WW: Um...[pause] Yes. I think my biggest thing that I have to work on when it comes to teaching is being more patient. I pick up music very easily. Over the years you get better, but it just came very easy to me. And it still comes easy for the most part, I mean there are certain challenges but it's like, "okay, that's fine." A lot of my students, I look at them and talk with them, have conversation s with them, but they just don't understand it so much. I always wonder, "why can't you guys get this?" I've learned to be more control and calm, let them take their time.

GC: Did you ever want to move to New York?

WW: Couple reasons for that. For one, this isn't the 1940s and '50s anymore. Back then, if you want to play jazz, yes you have to move to New York. Everyone wanted to be seen by Bird and all the cats back then if you wanted to get the gig. But how it is now with the prices in New York, a lot of cats are going to the city fresh out of college and they're playing these gigs in restaurants for very little money. It's like the money that was good back then, except they're still doing it now and the cost of living went up like five times. I mean, if a person wants to live that life, I'm not hating against them, that's fine. There are plenty of musicians who's plan is to never get married, have a family, they just eat, breathe, and live that shit. That's not me.

Me, I had kids at an early age. That's another reason. I had my first child when I was 20. And she's now 12, going on 13. I have three kids, like I said, and I couldn't... maybe I could have, I don't know, but I didn't think I could afford living in New York. My girl is the oldest, and I have two boys. Eventually they're going to get older and I want them to have their own rooms and things like that, so I look at it and think that's either going to be a four-bedroom apartment or four-bedroom house combined with the unsteadiness of the gigs... I couldn't afford New York. That's why I came back to Baltimore. I was teaching in Boston at Berklee for two years right after graduation, but it just got so expensive in Boston I decided to come back to Baltimore. It's pretty reasonable to live here, you can get to D.C. in 30 minutes, 45 to Philadelphia, New York, and there's an airport and you can get just about anywhere, any major city.

And the other thing, I really believe that if you really play your tail off, they'll find you, if they really want you. I mean, people who want to go to New York... that's cool for them, it's just not for me. And besides, I don't really like New York. I like to go there and do what I have to do. I like to go to New York and then come home. I'm a family guy, I like Owings Mills. I have grass! I can see deer running around! I have to deal with buses and shit, I live in a nice quiet neighborhood in a four-story house. In New York, a four-story house would be like three, four thousand dollars or something...

GC: To rent.

WW: Yeah, and I'm buying.

GC: Yeah, I hear you. Where do you see yourself in ten years? How are you going to get out more as a leader? Is that inevitable, are you trying to work on it?

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