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Warren Wolf: Beyond Perfect Pitch

George Colligan By

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[ Editor's Note: The following interview is reprinted from George Colligan's blog, Jazztruth]

Warren Wolf is an amazing young multi-instrumentalist from Baltimore. He plays the drums quite well, and I've hired him and worked with Wolf the drummer in a number of settings. He is the premier young vibraphonist on the scene. He also plays piano and bass extremely well. I hope he doesn't play anything else! You might have seen him with Christian McBride or his own group. I was able to finally sit down with him and find out how he turned out so well.

George Colligan: Warren Wolf! I've been meaning to do this for a while, finally getting to it! How'd you become such a bad motherfucker?

Warren Wolf: [laughs] That's a very long story.

In basic detail, my dad, Warren Wolf Sr.. His main day job was a school teacher. He was a Baltimore City Public School teacher, he taught History—U.S. history, World history, things like that. He also had a band on the side. Music was a serious hobby of his. I would say around 1978 or 79, the year I was born, he wanted to buy an instrument. He wanted to do something completely different than what everyone else was doing, so no saxophone, trumpet, or drums, things like that. So he bought a vibraphone. I was born in November '79, and a couple years later, three years later, he got me started.

GC: Wow, so you started at three. Wow!

WW: Now that's not just vibes, that's everything. From the vibes to basic piano to drums. It started at three. Most people, as far as drummers go, most people know that I'm a left-handed drummer. I'm not a left-handed person though. I'm a left-handed drummer because my father's a left-handed person. So the way he played drums—that's how I saw the drums coming up. I saw the drums set up as a lefty. So I thought "oh, that's right, that's how it's supposed to be." Then I got older and started going out and seeing all these cats playing right-handed drums and I realized that I'm the wrong person. So that's the drum side... as far as mallets go, I took lessons at Peabody Preparatory with Leo LePage. He's now deceased, but he was with the Baltimore Symphony. He was also a jazz drummer when he lived in Boston back in the day. Took lessons with him every Saturday for like an hour, outside of my normal practice that I did every day from the age of three to seventeen, I practiced 5 days a week, 90 minutes. 30 minutes on drums, 30 on vibes, 30 on piano. That ranged from jazz to classical to pop music to Motown. Everything, just about. My father wanted to give me a crash course in music.

GC: That's very regimented, for such a long time. It sounds like it must have been very focused if you were compartmentalizing it like that.

WW: It was very focused. I mean, my dad—he knew what he wanted me to be from the moment I was born. I didn't have a choice so much.

GC: But you do love it.

WW: No I do love it. I didn't really start loving it until middle school jazz band. But before that—what kid wants to be in the basement? I had a typical childhood—I went to school, got home and watched my cartoons. But when my parents got home, around 5, it gave them a half-hour wind-down time and then my father was like "okay, let's go," and we were in the basement from 5:30-7pm every day. After that, I do homework, eat dinner, go to bed, do it again the next day. Saturdays were the day at Peabody, an hour at Peabody. Then after that—I have two older sisters, so I would just play with them or go outside in West Baltimore. Same for Sundays—I didn't grow up in church, so they were just another free day, with family or whoever.

GC: So would you do music that day?

WW: No, no music.

GC: So you don't know life without music.

Warren WW: Pretty much. It's pretty much all I know. I mean, just like any typical kid, at least what I saw growing up in Baltimore, I see sports on TV and rap music and so I knew that stuff, but music was and is my life.

GC: Did you do any listening? I assume he had a lot of records.

WW: He had a pile of records. I don't recall anything in particular. But I always had a good ear; I just didn't know it then. He'd put on the Yellowjackets, Spyro Gyra, Anita Baker...all of those records are what I remember. That's what he played in his band. He had kind of a fusion band that played around Baltimore, called the Wolf Pack.

GC: I don't know them.

WW: No, no, it wasn't a band that actually went out. Just a local band that played restaurants.

GC: Was it like... did you ever know that band Moon August?

WW: Oh yeah, I knew them, with Harold Adams on tenor. I think they were more on the swing side.

GC: Really? I thought they got...smooth...at a certain point.

WW: I think they did a mix of things; they played classic songs like "Sugar," "Stolen Moments." Then they'd easily go into something like "Sweet Love" by Anita Baker. That's what I grew up listening to. And my parents still do this to this day, they still play a lot of Motown songs from back in the day. I heard all of that stuff, Motown, Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson—I heard all that stuff growing up.

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