WW: Was it Wally's?
GC: I don't think it was Wally's, was there another place?
WW: I thought the first time that you and I met was with Tim on a New Years gig.
GC: Yeah, a New Years gig with Rodney Green in Pennsylvania. With Chris Bacchus. I remember that, that was a while ago. Alright, so when did you start playing with Christian McBride?
WW: I started in 2008. I got a call from a woman in this office, somebody he was working with at the time. They said, "Mr. Wolf, Christian McBride would like to have you in his band for one week at the Village Vanguard." He had these things called the "Christian McBride Situations." I think a lot of people knew how badly I wanted to play with Christian so I thought it was a prank call. I was like "man, stop playing" and they said "no we really want you to play, we'll take care of everything, we've got the hotel." So I went up, and we all thought it was just going to be a week. So it was me, Steve Wilson, Carl Allen, Eric Reed. So after the show's over, people were raving about that band. Keep the band together, keep it together. So he said okay, and booked a gig somewhere in South America, and then we did Monterey right after. I thought that was going to be it. At that point, I was in Houston, doing many gigs here and there, I've never actually been in a band. As a matter of fact, I didn't even think bands existed in jazz anymore.
GC: Wow, that's really telling.
WW. Yeah. But then they were saying we're going in the studio and doing a record. I still thought it was like no big deal, I mean how many cats go into the studio and release records and then go off and do something else? But after we released the record, we got some gigs. Again I was like "okay, a couple gigs, I'm used to this." But they said "no, we're going to keep it going!". That record was Kind of Brown, and we've been touring that record even up until today, 4 years later!
GC: Does he have a new record coming out?
WW: We just recorded it back in Spring of this year. So hopefully it will be coming out at some point next year, when he's done with this Monterey All-Stars Tour.
GC: I don't know how much time we have before we hit... there's so few people here, I wonder if they'll delay it... anyway, in closing: what are your thoughts - I would deduce that, because you have probably very few memories of life without being a multi-instrumentalist (and you play bass too, we don't even have time to talk about that) - what are the benefits of being a multi-instrumentalist for you?
WW: For me it gives me the knowledge to know what I want to hear in my band. There's so many times where I'm doing my own gigs, and if the piano player isn't doing something right, I can get on the piano and tell you "try this". Same with the bass player. I could at least show them something, what I'm hearing. Also it helps with teaching. I'm teaching now at Baltimore School for the Arts, as the jazz instructor. I can always sit down at least with the rhythm section and tell every one of them to try this, try that. At least from the rhythm section perspective. When it comes to horns, I could tell you how to solo but I can't work on sound much. It just helps me be a complete musician. It gives me knowledge; I don't want to have to say "okay, I know vibraphone stuff". I like to know it all.
GC: Speaking of vibraphone, legend is that you don't even own a vibraphone! How do you feel about that?
WW: I feel fine. (laughs) I actually sold my vibes about 5 years ago on eBay.
GC: Because you never use them?
WW: Nah it wasn't that, I was playing gigs on them. I just needed some money because I was trying to finish a CD of mine. The thing is, my dad has a set of vibes, I can use them... which I do, when I need it. I just don't have one in the house. I live almost 30 miles from my parents, I just don't feel like driving down there all the time.
GC: Where do you live?
WW: I live in Owings Mills. They live in Baltimore City. The way I practice nowadays - people ask "do you practice?" and I say "no" and they don't believe me, but I really don't. I tend to do a lot of mental practicing. And it's not even just jazz, it could be whatever. The more and more I can hear stuff, it's like I have the ability to hear stuff and it goes through my head down to my arms or fingers. I'm not saying I don't practice at all, there are certain times where I might want to work out little kinks. I feel fine though, if I don't have the vibes. I mean there's been times where I try to practice, then just get bored. I mean, it could be because I practiced so much as a kid. A lot of people just don't do that nowadays. I ask the kids in my high school how much they practice, the answer is "hardly ever". I did it a lot! And that's not trying to say I'm the best...I just don't really know what to work on physically. When I hear stuff on record though, I hear it and go "oh that's nice! I like that." And that could be from the worst musician! I could pick up something from the best musician or the worst musician. I'll take their ideas and ball it up and out comes... what I heard.
GC: I mean, I should be practicing. But I don't have the time. Because I spent a lot of time in the 90s practicing, I feel like on piano I can get away with it... trumpet is a different story, but I feel like I can still play at a certain level without practicing. It would be nice to have time, but I have a child and a job. And you have three kids?
WW: Yeah, three kids. They live in Boston with their mom. Even when we were all living together, when I was trying to practice, it was really hard to do it. Because my kids would be like "hey could I join in with you?" and I'd be like "no no, leave me alone."
GC: I have the same problem.
WW: Now I'm remarried, my wife is a ballet dancer. And every now and then... I haven't completely just shut off. Like right now, I am practicing the Carnival of Venice on Marimba because I'm about to record it, and that thing is hard. Not so much technically hard but... just a lot of notes. Making sure I just nail them. So I'm practicing that a lot. But other stuff, not really. Because jazz music is so free for me. I don't have a rule, like "make sure you get this note, make sure you get that note". Because everything could be resolved in a certain way, it's just how you execute it, make sure you get your rhythm right.
GC: Does it matter to you what instrument you're playing? Does it all just become the same thing, or do you find that you're thinking about different things on different instruments?
WW: No it really doesn't matter. Me, I like to think as a drummer or vibraphonist. I mean I can play piano, but I don't really like it.
GC: You don't like the instrument?
WW: No. But I'm saying that mostly because it hurts. Also, I don't have the proper technique. People see me play piano, but I play them like I'm playing vibes. I've never had a lesson on piano. But fingerings... if someone said "play the Eb major scale" I'll probably mess it up. I've just never had the training. I'm self-taught, I know what chords sound good. I know about as many chords as any other professional pianist. There are just certain things I can't execute right. But I'll do gigs on piano. Same with drums. It's hard to sit in on drums though because I'm left handed, and I don't feel like making the trouble of making the switch. I could make a living as a pianist or drummer... which I do, sometimes.
GC: I guess for me, I try to tell my students that a certain amount of technique is important, but... like you get drummers that just practice chops all day and all night and they don't really know how to function musically. They can't hear. Do you find yourself trying to relate that to your students? How do you relate that?
WW: I'm not even there yet.
WW: My students... it's a classical oriented school. So jazz is like an elective, but they enjoy doing it. It's not even about chops. For instance, I was telling my bass player - he's just trying to get the right notes in, but he's making mistakes. So when he thinks he hits a right note, he plays real soft. I said "don't do that! If anything, right now I want to hear you maintaining that beat and that pulse. At least figure out what key you're in, but we'll get to the other stuff later." So it's not about chops so much for me. It's more about making sure they're playing in the key with some type of decent rhythm. Playing as a unit, getting an overall sound, making sure dynamics are there. That's what's more concerning me right now. That's a whole other conversation, because the jazz thing just isn't there, isn't present. I'm just trying to help them learn this stuff. And it's not even jazz, just contemporary music. You could play smooth jazz and still play changes. It's more just like trying to get them to understand the concept of chord changes and such. For me I'm like "this is easy, you can't hear that?" But they can't.
GC: Do you enjoy teaching?
WW: Um...(pause) Yes. I think my biggest thing that I have to work on when it comes to teaching is being more patient. I pick up music very easily. Over the years you get better, but it just came very easy to me. And it still comes easy for the most part, I mean there are certain challenges but it's like "okay, that's fine." A lot of my students, I look at them and talk with them, have conversation s with them, but they just don't understand it so much. I always wonder "why can't you guys get this?" I've learned to be more control and calm, let them take their time.
GC: Did you ever want to move to New York?
WW: Couple reasons for that. For one, this isn't the 1940s and 50s anymore. Back then, if you want to play jazz, yes you have to move to New York. Everyone wanted to be seen by Bird and all the cats back then if you wanted to get the gig. But how it is now with the prices in New York, a lot of cats are going to the city fresh out of college and they're playing these gigs in restaurants for very little money. It's like the money that was good back then, except they're still doing it now and the cost of living went up like 5 times. I mean if a person wants to live that life, I'm not hating against them, that's fine. There are plenty of musicians who's plan is to never get married, have a family, they just eat, breathe, and live that shit. That's not me. Me, I had kids at an early age. That's another reason. I had my first child when I was 20. And she's now 12, going on 13. I have three kids, like I said, and I couldn't... maybe I could have, I don't know, but I didn't think I could afford living in New York. My girl is the oldest, and I have two boys. Eventually they're going to get older and I want them to have their own rooms and things like that, so I look at it and think that's either going to be a 4 bedroom apartment or 4 bedroom house combined with the unsteadiness of the gigs... I couldn't afford New York. That's why I came back to Baltimore. I was teaching in Boston at Berklee for 2 years right after graduation, but it just got so expensive in Boston I decided to come back to Baltimore. It's pretty reasonable to live here, you can get to D.C. in 30 minutes, 45 to Philadelphia, New York, and there's an airport and you can get just about anywhere, any major city. And the other thing, I really believe that if you really play your tail off, they'll find you, if they really want you. I mean, people who want to go to New York... that's cool for them, it's just not for me. And besides, I don't really like New York. I like to go there and do what I have to do. I like to go to New York and then come home. I'm a family guy, I like Owings Mills. I have grass! I can see deer running around! I have to deal with buses and shit, I live in a nice quiet neighborhood in a 4 story house. In New York, a 4 story house would be like 3, 4,000 dollars or something...
GC: To rent.
WW: Yeah, and I'm buying.
GC: Yeah, I hear you. Where do you see yourself in ten years? How are you going to get out more as a leader? Is that inevitable, are you trying to work on it?
WW: I'm trying to work on it now, because I've released my first record last year, on the Mack Avenue label. The next one will be recorded February and March, two different bands. It's just about getting the right team together, in order to push me and it takes the promoter of the club to actually believe in that person, give them a chance. So it's a matter of what happens on that end. Then there's another side, there's other sides I want to conquer, I want to get back on the classical side of music. There was a point in time where I thought about moving to L.A., play R&B and pop music because I like that style of music too. I remember about 4 years ago I got an offer to join Ne-Yo's band, playing drums.
GC: Really? Wow.
WW: I got the offer, I'd rather just play straight ahead... at that point in time.
GC: I bet is pays better with Christian.
WW: Probably, because I've heard those R&B gigs pay at the max like 500 bucks.
GC: I've heard that. Because then you can get anyone to do it.
WW: The thing about those R&B gigs... not all, but the majority of them, you get more things quicker. Endorsements quicker, life might be better depending on who you are. You get to travel on your tour bus, you get to wear regular street clothes on the gig, access to a lot of different women, if you're that type of person.
GC: Want me to keep that in there?
GC: (laughs) Well I think that's why a lot of young people will do that, because they're still out there having fun. (Signal to go onstage...)Oh, we're ready? Alright. I think that's good.
WW: You sure? We could do more over the break. I've got a lot to say, man.
GC: Actually, my saxophone student has to transcribe this. So this should be good.