Pianist Aaron Diehl and Vibraphonist Warren Wolf Plays Homage to Modern Jazz Quartet

Aaron Diehl, winner of the 2011 American Pianists Association’s Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz.

By Danny R. Johnson

BALTIMORE–Upon entering backstage of the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Concert Hall where pianist and composer, Aaron Diehl, was rehearsing at the piano with his quartet — you could swear you were looking at the likes of the late Modern Jazz Quartet pianist and musical composer, John Lewis, who worked tirelessly and countless of sessions with vibraphonist Milt Jackson, drummer Kenny Clarke, and bassist Ray Brown . I could not help but to commit to memory the hours I spent listening to the Modern Jazz Quartet albums of the 1950s through the 1990s as I sat in on Diehl’s rehearsal session.

It is only ironic that the 2011 American Pianists Association’s Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz winner, Aaron Diehl, 25, just so happens to have a fascination and enduring reverence for John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet music.

On a damp and wet October 2, Sunday evening, when the Baltimore Ravens were battling it out with the New York Jets just two miles down the street, Diehl was assembled with a talented group of musicians: Mack Avenue Records artist, Warren Wolf, vibraphonist, David Wong, bass, and Rodney Green on drums, in an effort to resurrect some of the glorious music the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) produced, recorded, and performed over a period of four decades.

Diehl is also a Mack Avenue Records artist. The record company, in collaboration with the American Pianists Association, is scheduled to release Diehl’s debut CD in early 2012, which will feature selections from John Lewis’ MJQ.

A native of Columbus, Ohio, who now lives in Manhattan, Diehl developed an early curiosity with John Lewis when he was studying at Juilliard School of Music.

“The rich and illustrious pieces of work which Lewis composed for the MJQ is an American treasure which I hope to reintroduce to the world,” stated Diehl. “This is why I have decided to work with the Lewis estate in an attempt to reintroduce Lewis’ music to a new generation of jazz fans.”

Diehl’s efforts are beginning to pay off with the successful Baltimore performance serving as a continuation of his world tour, which will introduce him to various jazz venues and audiences in America and Europe.

Warren Wolf: one of the most influential young vibraphonists playing anywhere

Vibraphonist Warren Wolf, winner of the 2011 First Annual Baltimore Jazz Award for Musical Excellence.

Watching Diehl and Warren Wolf perform together is like witnessing Milt Jackson and John Lewis mixing it up. Diehl has a heavy background in classical music and European forms; and he has applied those European forms to jazz, which is similar to what Lewis did with the MJQ. Alas, here comes Wolf, who also had his early beginnings deeply rooted in classical music.

Warren studied classical composers from Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and so forth; which makes him and Diehl perfect together!

Watching and listening to these young cats interact is truly a remarkable sight. Here was Warren Wolf who was at times a very hard driver on several of the pieces performed, but he manufactures a full, complete line, often inflected with a heavy vibrato.

Diehl is an almost diametrically opposed musical personality. His own piano playing is exceedingly spare. Indeed, at times he sounded as if he were not playing, but sketching out how he would like the music to go. When Wolf was direct and powerful, Diehl was thoughtful and restrained.

On another selection performed by the group – it starts out in a moody introduction, David Wong plays a double-time walking bass line on a Dorian scale. On drums, Rodney Green enters with his own ostinato pattern: three quick accents, followed by a bass drum stroke and a mallet stroke on a cymbal.

Wolf and Diehl play the melody in bare octaves. The bass ostinato undercuts the harmonies implied by the melody. With a sudden dramatic change in the rhythm section, the head begins. Wolf and Diehl play a varied version of the melody, harmonized by the piano’s block chords. Near the end of the selection, Green ends with a cymbal explosion, followed by chords from Diehl and Wolf.

The outstanding musical arrangement by Diehl and Wolf made all the performances flows with seeming effortless.

A few notes about Warren Wolf: He was born and raised in Baltimore, and was the winner of the First Annual Baltimore Jazz Award for Musical Excellence, which was presented on August 18, 2011. Wolf is a multi-instrumentalist, who has been trained since the age of three by his father, Warren Wolf, Sr., to play the Vibraphone/Marimba, Drums, and Piano.

For additional information on Warren Wolf, Aaron Diehl, and the American Pianists Association, click on the links below:

Warren Wolf: http://www.warrenwolfmusic.com/

Aaron Diehl: http://www.aarondiehl.com/

American Pianists Association: http://www.americanpianists.org/

Danny R. Johnson is San Diego County News’ Washington, DC based Entertainment & Travel News Editor


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