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Take Five With Mike Wolk

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Mike Wolk:

Performing music that swings, sounds cool, with great harmony and melody is my life's work. I prefer the structure of straight-ahead jazz as it gives me a chance to play the lines, phrases and licks that create an emotional response from my bandmembers and the audience.

I live in Charleston, South Carolina, and originally am from Boston. I learned my music the old fashioned way - in bands and on the gig as well as countless hours at home on my axe. I never had a post-secondary musical education so it wasn't easy.

Instrument(s):

Piano, Hammond B3.



Teachers and/or influences?

I studied with Earl Greene for many years. I've been listening to jazz live and recorded for my whole life (56 years) and everything I hear influences me. But the primary influences have to be the music I heard in New Orleans when I lived there in the 70's as well as Bud Powell, Horace Silver and the great swing bands of Duke and Basie.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

When I saw Roosevelt Sykes play an old upright to a rapt audience at the Maple Leaf.

Your sound and approach to music:

My approach is to anchor the group and set up a feeling on every tune. It's an emotional state of mind that gets transmitted to the other bandmembers through the music. It's easy because we all know what every tune is about and if everyone does their part the creative output is first class.

Your teaching approach:

Learn the fundamentals first - scales and harmony. Listen to others and learn to swing. Memorize as much as you can.

Your dream band:

My present band IS my dream band. I couldn't ask to play with five more easy going and dedicated cats. So I'll answer this with a fictional band:

Art Taylor - Drums George Duvivier - Bass "Sweets" Edison - Trumpet Jimmy Forrest - Tenor Sax J.J. Johnson - Bone

Billy Strayhorn - Arrangements & Charts

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

My worst gig ever was playing solo piano in a stable for a pre-horse auction reception. The love bugs were mating that day and settling on everything that was bright white. Needless to say 56 keys were covered with them.

Favorite venue:

Our home base at Mistal in Charleston.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

Straight No Chaser - Thelonious Monk. This is the recording that made me love jazz.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Groovin' High Charlie Parker/Savoy

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

Playing quality live jazz to appreciative audiences when it is so difficult for people to have this experience.

Did you know...

I ride and race bicycles thousands of miles every year.

CDs you are listening to now:

Elaine Comparone: The Cat's Fugue Glenn Miller: String of Pearls (EP 45 from 50's) Benny Goodman: Best of (Columbia LP)

Desert Island picks:

Anita O'Day - Anita Sings the Most - (Verve) Duke Ellington - Ellington 55 - (Capitol)

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Mostly bad. There are hardly any venues for musicians to learn their craft. The focus is on big name festivals with no artistic integrity. The internet provides good networking opportunities.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Jazz festivals and clubs that actually feature jazz on a regular basis and pay musicians to play.

What is in the near future?

Keep my band working and playing more dates that call for six pieces. Accompanying good singers.

By Day:

Hoping I can retire soon so I can do music full time and do what I want to when I want to.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

Drifter.

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