By Dan Emerson
Rising-star vibraphonist Warren Wolf plans to show several sides of his musical personality Tuesday-Wednesday, February 8-9 at the Dakota jazz club. On Tuesday night, multi-instrumentalist Wolf will present a show he’s been touring with for about two years, a retrospective look at the evolution of his main instrument, the vibes.
“A lot of people get confused and call it a ‘xylophone,’” the 42-year old Wolf says. “I want to let people know about all the wonderful musicians past and present who have played the instrument, and show how it has evolved, sound-wise, up to today.”
He says the “interactive” presentation features music by trailblazers like Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson, Roy Ayers, Dave Samuels (whom Wolf studied with) and Gary Burton, along with current players like Stefon Harris and Joe Locke.
Wednesday night’s show will feature “groove and R&B standards, just having a good time” from Wolf’s fourth recording for Mack Avenue, “Reincarnation,” along with a few of Wolf’s originals. Wednesday night only, vocalist Amani Grace Cooper will join Wolf and his quartet, which also includes Alex Brown on piano and Fender Rhodes keyboard, Eliot Seppa on upright and electric bass and young drummer Carroll Dashiell III. Wolf will also play some keyboard.
Growing up in Baltimore, Wolf was only three years old when he took up drums, piano and vibraphone, practicing at least 30 minutes a day on each instrument. “My father wanted me to be a complete percussionist.” He expects to also play some keyboards at the Dakota, “depending on the moment.”
As a bandleader, Wolf released his first two albums on the Japanese-based label M&I, “Incredible Jazz Vibes” and “Black Wolf,” along with several self-produced CDs: “RAW” (featuring Wolf on both drums and vibes) and the Latin tinged “Chano Pozo Wolf,” on which he plays vibes, drums and keyboard.
One of the most noticeable stylistic developments in modern jazz the past few years has been the growing influence of R’n’B and hip-hop rhythms, a movement Wolf has participated in. The first time Wolf played the Dakota (in 2009, he thinks) he was playing a jazz-hip-hop mix with performers including drummer Kareem Riggins, and remixer/producer Pete Rock and hip-hop turntable-ist DJ Dummy. He likes the way artists young and old, like Gary Bartz, Roy Ayers, Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper and others are incorporating those modern beats into “today’s” sound.
This week’s shows will be Wolf’s fourth visit to the Dakota. Regarding upcoming recording projects, Wolf says he’s working on new compositions and in negotiations for his next studio release. Wolf will be back at the Dakota in April as a member of the SF Jazz Collective.
Along with jazz, Wolf spent years studying classical composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Paganini, Brahms, Vivaldi and Shostakovich. He also studied ragtime from the songbooks of Scott Joplin, Harry Brewer and George Hamilton Green.
He attended the Peabody Preparatory for eight years studying classical music with former Baltimore Symphony Orchestra member Leo LePage, and, at the Baltimore School for the Arts, studied with current Baltimore Symphony Orchestra member John Locke. After graduating from Baltimore School for the Arts in June of 1997, Wolf enrolled at the Berklee College of Music.
During his time at Berklee, he studied Caribbean rhythms with vibraphonist Dave Samuels, along with one semester with vibraphonist Ed Saindon. His jam-mates while at Berklee included Jeremy Pelt, as Jeremy Pelt, John Lamkin, Darren Barrett, Wayne Escoffery, Richard Johnson, Kendrick Scott, Walter Smith, Jason Palmer, Rashawn Ross and others. He was co-leader of a quintet with trumpeter Jason Palmer at the historic Wallys Cafe, and was the house drummer at Wally’s for two years
Wolf also became an instructor in the percussion department at Berklee and also taught a beginners keyboard class.
After two years at Berklee, Wolf hit the road as a pianist with the Rachel Price Group. He is currently the drummer of choice for alto saxophonist Tia Fuller, and a member of the Donal Fox Group, which includes bassist John Lockwood and drummers Dafnis Preito and Terri Lyne Carrington. He also performs with alto saxophonist Bobby Watson’s Live and Learn Sextet, Karriem Riggins’ “Virtuoso Experience” and Christian McBride’s Inside Straight.
Dan Emerson is a freelance writer and musician.