Today is jazz vibraphone player Warren Wolf’s big day. Mack Avenue Records—the home of Kenny Garrett, Gerald Wilson, Gary Burton, Sean Jones, and Christian McBride—makes available nationwide Wolf’s self-titled album Warren Wolf.
Wolf has two other albums available Incredible Jazz Vibe and Black Wolf on a Japanese label. Wolf is a household name there, and his reputation as a grade A jazz vibe player a la Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutchinson, Cal Tjader has been soaring in the states lately.
Wolf grew up in Baltimore. For eight years, he studied classical composition at the Peabody Preparatory school. At Berklee College of Music, Wolf studied jazz, and graduated in 2001. Wolf became a hotshot on the Boston jazz scene.
In recent years, Wolf has worked as sideman with Tia Fuller's quintet, with Christian McBride’s band Inside Straight, and with Karriem Riggins outfit Virtuoso Experience.
The Warren Wolf album is his best yet, Wolf said last week during a telephone interview with I Dig Jazz.
“With this record, I wanted to go out there and put my stamp on the world. Most of the album is bluesy. I wanted to make an album people could sit back and really listen to,” Wolf said. He achieved that, and he showed off every inch of his amazing chops.
How did you hook up with Mack Avenue Records?
They first noticed me when I played on a few tracks of my label-mate Tia Fuller's most recent album Decisive Steps. Christian McBride was on that album too. Christian started talking about this new band he wanted to start and premier at the Village Vanguard. From there we went in the studio and recorded Christian's band's Inside Straight. From those two albums, Mack Avenue had their eye on me.
You have two albums that were big in Japan. Is Warren Wolf your best album?
I think so. The Japanese records, in my opinion, were designed to get me out there in Japan, to make me a star in Japan. Those records were mainly standards. They are big on standards over there. With my new album, I did two standards but the other songs are all originals by myself and a couple of the guys in the band, and a few obscure tunes like Chick Corea's Senor Mouse. That’s a tune nobody would normally call.
What song on Warren Wolf really shows off your chops?
One for Lenny. I played that song at a super fast tempo. Normally, you will never hear a vibraphone player trying to play that fast. Nowadays, you don't even hear jazz musicians in general trying to play that fast.
Why did your dad insist you study classical music?
Music was always a big hobby of his. He got me into music around age 3. He always wanted me to be the best. So he knew studying classical music would help me out with technique and learning how to read.
Who is your favorite vibraphone player?
Milt Jackson. I like the way he played ballads. The ballads he played were very pretty. Coming up my dad played all the great vibraphone players for me Cal Tjader, Bobby Hutchinson, Lionel Hampton, and Gary Burton. My dad introduced me to all their music.
Is it true that horn players had more of an influence on you?
My dad also introduced me to a lot of horn players. I don't know if my dad picked that up that I liked horn players. I naturally gravitated to them. If you look at the music on my Ipod, you won't see a lot of vibraphone players. But, you will see a ton of horn players on it. My whole attack when I play music is like a horn player. I like how fast they play.
How do you measure up to your peers Steve Nelson and Stefon Harris?
I wouldn't say that I measure myself to anybody out there. We all are still students of the music game. I would say the one thing that Steve and Stefon have over me is they have more experience, especially Steve. Steve has been out there for a long time. Stefon came out in about 1995. So they have more experience touring, but we are all on the same level because we are still learning, and still trying to become better each and everyday.