SFCM’s Warren Wolf is Jazzed for Christmas

SFCM, Warren Wolf, Jazz, Vibraphonist, Christmas

This is the first Christmas album for jazz vibraphonist and SFCM RJAM professor Warren Wolf.

RJAM faculty member and vibraphonist Warren Wolf presents “Christmas Vibes”, a unique album of jazzy yuletide cheer with a brand new composition.

By Mark Taylor

There’s no shortage of Christmas music out there, but Roots, Jazz, and American Music instructor Warren Wolf puts a new vibe on the holiday classics that hopes to make families the hippest ones on the block this holiday season. The father of five was inspired by his own family to create his album, "Christmas Vibes"

Created during a tumultuous last year, it was up for Grammy consideration this season. Breaking from his previous work, Wolf took an even larger role than usual in creating this album. The artist hopes this music will bring some joy to the world at a time when many may need it most. Wolf sits down with the SFCM newsroom on his creative process, the surprises on the album, and his personal favorite track. 

What made you decide to put out a Christmas album?

I decided to do a Christmas record mainly because of my mother-in-law. She had been asking me to do a Christmas record for quite some time. It wasn’t until I performed a house show in December 2020 when I started to really consider doing the show. Once the show was a success, I immediately got on the phone with my record company, Mack Avenue records, And I told them the idea of recording a Christmas record. They were totally excited about the project.

"Christmas Vibes" has some classic holiday tunes, but also some left-field choices, what went into track selection?

The record company asked me to put out a few songs that were out of the ordinary. They also asked me to compose one song, which was a huge challenge for me, mainly because I wanted lyrics on the song. I decided to think about what goes on in my household during the night before Christmas and how my kids are so excited about what is to come. I called the song “Walk Up Little Kids, It’s Christmas”. I also wanted to do a few different songs such as “You’re A Mean, One Mr. Grinch” and “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”. I just wanted to change up a few numbers and not do the songs that most people would gravitate towards when recording a Christmas record.

A lot of new holiday music is pop, why was it important for you to create another option for jazz lovers?

I’m not opposed to creating a pop record of Christmas material. If we listen closely to the music that I’ve chosen, some of the material goes outside of the traditional jazz field. Take for instance, “Tchaikovsky The Sugarplum Fairy”, I put an R&B feel for pretty much the entire song. I left certain parts of Tchaikovsky’s song in my arrangement but at the same time, I wanted to still showcase my originality. 

You played a more prominent role in making this album (playing all the keyboard/piano parts) can you elaborate on that? 

We all know what 2020 looked like for the entire world. In the weeks leading up to the recording session, my record company called and asked me if we were still doing the recording session because Covid had just come out worldwide. And remember, this is before any mask or even thought about being worn in public places. So the night before the recording session, which took place in March 2020, my pianist called me and explained to me that he was very nervous about being in the studio with a bunch of musicians because of Covid. He apologized to me but ultimately he decided to withdraw from the recording session. So instead of me hustling to find another pianist, I decided to do all of the piano parts myself. So on day one, myself, Jeff Reed and my drummer Carroll Dashiell, we recorded every single track on the first day  but with me on piano. We also recorded all of the vocals on day one. On day two of the session, I recorded all of the Vibraphone parts, fender Rhodes, percussion tracks, and logic pro keyboard parts. One of the things that I really love to do is to showcase my abilities to  play multiple instruments during sessions. I plan on doing this more often in the future.

What do you hope listeners get out of this album? 

I really hope that listeners will get a clear sense of jazz musicians knowing how to have fun playing classic holiday Christmas songs. I also hope that listeners will just enjoy the record with their families. I feel as though, at least when I take myself out of the musicians chair, the record is something that can be played at say a family dinner and you can easily sit back and enjoy the music without it being too hectic.

Do you have a favorite track? 

Yes! My favorite track on the record is “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”. I have always loved this song when I’ve heard it on the radio. Most people are used to hearing this song in a slow 6/8/walkers feel. But I decided to change the feel of the song by putting a classic rock feel to it. My Vocalist Allison Bordlemay did a wonderful job of singing the song with me.

“Christmas Vibes” is streaming and available for purchase now.