Wolf got good vibes from Ellington’s legacy

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VIBRAPHONIST Warren Wolf immersed himself in the legacy of Duke Ellington thanks to saxophonist Joe Henderson's 1992 recording Lush Life, which focused on the music of Billy Strayhorn.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/10/2014 (2852 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

VIBRAPHONIST Warren Wolf immersed himself in the legacy of Duke Ellington thanks to saxophonist Joe Henderson’s 1992 recording Lush Life, which focused on the music of Billy Strayhorn.

If that seems like a circuitous route on the surface, it’s actually very clear.

Henderson loved the music of Strayhorn, the longtime arranger and composer associated with Ellington and his orchestras.

ANNA WEBBER PHOTO Warren Wolf was inspired to play the vibraphone by his father, a teacher who was a multi-instrumentalist with a weekend jazz band.

“Listening to that music made we want to check out the legacy of Ellington,” Wolf says.

“It’s very important to go back to the beginnings of jazz and share what Ellington means to me and how he’s influenced my career and many others,” adds the 34-year-old musician, who will share the fruits of that musical search in three concerts here on the weekend as part of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series.

The show, Ellington and More, will feature a variety of Ellington music, Wolf says in an email exchange.

“Duke Ellington had a wide, long career in music, so to attempt to cover all areas I would need to perform many different shows. The audience can expect to hear classics such as Take the A Train, Sophisticated Lady, C Jam Blues, In a Sentimental Mood, Caravan, Come Sunday and It Don’t Mean a Thing.”

Wolf mainly plays the vibes in his quartet, but he also plays drums and piano.

“Sometimes I’ll have a piano or Fender Rhodes… and in the far back there will be another drum set. I toured for a few years as the drummer with saxophonist Tia Fuller,” he says.

The vibes have a strong history in jazz, but not the recognition of, say, the trumpet or saxophone.

“My father, Warren Wolf Sr., drew me to the vibraphone. Though not a professional musician, he had and still does have a serious love for music. Outside of his day job (as a teacher in Baltimore), he had a group that performed around the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area on the weekends. So as a young kid, seeing my father play the vibes in his group was the beginning of my music/vibraphone tutelage. Actually, watching my father play the vibraphone, drums and piano is the sole reason why I play music,” he says.

Wolf is holding a master class while here on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Berney Theatre in conjunction with the University of Manitoba jazz studies program. He tries to hold as many as he can while on the road.

“Being active in the classroom is very important. I was on faculty at Berklee College of Music for a few years in the percussion department before starting my full-time music career. It’s important to let students hear from musicians who are living the life as a full-time musician, verbally and musically. In my master classes, I try to talk about everything from music, creating compositions, improvisation, business, what to expect and, in general, the life of a musician.”

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Stefon Harris was the bright young vibes player on the scene, and now he is in a role as more of veteran and mentor. Wolf was asked if he sees himself in such a role as his career progresses.

“I really don’t see myself as a veteran in music yet because I’m still learning on an everyday basis. There’s a group that I’m a member of called the SFJAZZ Collective where I’m being challenged every day because of the complexity of the music.

“But every now and then, I will meet a younger musician who comes to me for advice, which is very humbling. I guess it’s humbling because I used to be that young guy who was always looking for help in making it in the music business and now people come to me, which again is weird because I’m only 34 years young.”

Wolf is bringing his quartet, Wolfpack, to Winnipeg: Mark Meadows on piano, Kris Funn on bass and John Lamkin on drums.

The band will perform Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Berney Theatre. Tickets are $38 at 204-477-7534.

chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

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