Warren Wolf is known as a vibraphonist, but he isn't about to be pigeonholed.
"I'm a multi-instrumentalist. I still play all of them about equally as well as the vibes," says Wolf by phone while driving through Baltimore, where he lives.
Wolf is known as a go-to side man and performs regularly with Christian McBride & Inside Straight, the Donal Fox Group and Bobby Watson's Live And Learn Sextet. He also leads his own group, Wolf Pack, and records under his own name.
It was Wolf's father, Warren Wolf Sr., who started Wolf Jr. on his multi-instrumental musical path.
"He's a history teacher and on the weekends he had a band around Baltimore and he played vibes," says Wolf. "Vibraphone was the instrument he started playing in 1978 and I was born in 1979. He had always wanted me to play an instrument that would kind of separate me from everyone else. But, at the same time, he didn't hold back. He taught me drums. He taught me piano, and I'm self-taught on the bass, too."
Lessons began when Wolf was only 3.
"I was a normal kid, but I was practicing 90 minutes a day five days a week for years — from the age of 3 until I left for college.
"I always hated it. I'd come home from school and watch cartoons. Then from 5:30 to 7 p.m. it was, 'Let's go in the basement and practice.' Then after that go do your homework and eat dinner."
The younger Wolf did love music, though. He says Anita Baker's album "Rapture" was a favorite, as were albums by Charlie Parker and Bach's Concerto in A Minor.
It wasn't until he was in middle school that he saw some real benefits from being a musician.
"Around my sixth or seventh grade year we had band concert and they gave me a keyboard solo on one of the songs. I think it was 'Eye of the Tiger.' And I heard the reaction from my classmates. 'They were like, 'Yeah, Warren, play it!' ... From that moment on I knew it was going to be a major part of my life."
Wolf's father had made sure to expose his son to all types of music.
"He had me listening to Anita Baker, Weather Report, Yellow Jackets, so I understood all that from a young age as well as straight-ahead jazz," says Wolf.
The young Wolf studied classical under Leo LePage and John Locke, both of the Baltimore Symphony.
Wolf graduated high school from the Baltimore School for the Arts and moved on the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1977.
In the late 1990s he met famed bassist McBride at a concert and vowed that he would work with him.
It was later, however, when McBride was conducing the Snowmass Academy in Aspen, Colo., which Wolf was participating in, that they actually did play together.
"At that point in time he was just starting to write big band music," says Wolf.
McBride was organizing a big band performance at the event, but didn't have any music written for the vibraphone.
"I said, 'Don't worry about it, man. I know all your stuff ... Just tell me when to solo and I'll play it!'"
Afterward, McBride took Wolf's number.
"It took about seven years, but I finally got the call," says Wolf. "Christian had this fusion band at the time and he wanted to go back and play some straight-ahead stuff at the Village Vanguard."
McBride called some musicians he'd wanted to work with, including Wolf.
"It was just supposed to be a one-week thing, but people loved the sound of that band so much that they said, 'Christian, you've got to keep this together!' We did two dates after that and we went in the studio. Now here we are today five years later still together."
Wolf is just now getting his name out as a bandleader. He recently headlined the Atlanta Jazz Festival and he did a stint with his own group at the Village Vanguard.
"The major part of being a musician is just everything is up and down. Hot moments and cold moments. I really started seriously touring at age of 21. You start low, build your name up, be a side man for years and then be a leader. I'm at that leader point now, but it's like you have to start over again."
When: 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28
Where: The Square Room, 4 Market Square
Tickets: $29.50, $15 for students, available at www.thesquareroom.com
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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