Feelin’ the vibe: Warren Wolf is back in Boston for two shows Nov. 18
Vibraphonist Warren Wolf will be performing two shows at Scullers Jazz Club on Friday, Nov. 18. This is his return, finally, after having his performance there canceled in March 2020 when the club closed due to the COVID pandemic. Eclectic, joyful and open to a range of music, Wolf is fearless about weaving in the soulful sounds of his youth and contemporary experiences. A Baltimore native, he is currently working in San Francisco, where the Banner caught up with him by phone.
You and I spoke just days before you were scheduled to appear at Scullers in March 2020. What were your pandemic challenges?
Like most musicians, I could not go out and play music. And of course, I thought it would all be over in two or three weeks. The last time I played with musicians was in February 2020: a Christmas record. And that was pretty much it. I practiced at home, worked with students on Zoom. There was one place in Baltimore, An Die Musik, owned by Henry Wong, a good friend, and he was one of the first people to start having live concerts online. I went to his place, and we got started on that.
And what are you up to these days?
I’m happy to say that I’m playing full time! In 2022, I completed four tours in Europe and one in Mexico City as part of bassist Christian McBride’s group, Inside Straight. Right now I’m in residency with the San Francisco Jazz Collective, and I also teach at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.
Tell us about your work with Inside Straight.
We’ve been together at least 15 years. In addition to Christian and myself, there are Steve Wilson on alto sax and soprano sax, Carl Allen on drums and Peter Martin on piano. The music is chiefly acoustic. Our most recent recording is “Live at the Village Vanguard.”
Your most recent solo album, “Reincarnation,” released in 2020, is eclectic — not confined by perceptions of what jazz is. Can you comment on your genre-free work?
I have a love of music. My father was a musician — not a professional — and he loved to play. There was always music in our home, all sorts: ragtime, Motown, fusion, classical, 80s R&B like Anita Baker and the Yellowjackets, and Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Then, too, my two older sisters played a lot of hip-hop and R&B. So basically, my love of music comes from being around music since I was a child. And my latest album reflects that: jazz harmonies and fun, good music.
Did growing up in Baltimore have any influence on your evolution as an artist?
A tad bit. One thing is that Baltimore has always been a real bluesy city. I heard the sound of the blues there.
I see that you graduated from Berklee a while back.
I went to Berklee in 1997, and that gave me the opportunity to experiment with other forms of music. I later taught there. These days, I still have great friends at the school teaching and in administration.
From what you see and hear, do you suppose Boston has changed musically since you were a student and then a professor here?
The past few times I’ve been here, hanging out, I went to Wally’s to see the young talent. Because once upon a time, that was me. And Boston has Berklee and the New England Conservatory, so that the city is flooded with young, promising musicians; hopefully, people will step up and do things.
Any advice to the youth just starting out?
Soak up all the information you can from anyone and everyone, even someone you may not think highly of. Stealing is the name of the game!
What can people expect to hear at your upcoming show at Scullers?
We have a great cast of musicians. Lots of friends from Baltimore and D.C. Songs will be performed that were composed by everyone in the band. Oh, and I’ll be using a vocoder on two selections. You can hear a vocoder used by the late Roger Troutman of Zapp on Tupac’s “California Love.” The show overall will feature the R&B and fusion side of things.