Darby Wolf is a pianist, keyboardist, and organist living in the Western-Massachusetts area who performs regularly throughout New England and New York City and has toured nationally with various ensembles. He is an aficionado of vintage keyboards and music gear as well as an educator and a new instructor at JazzEdge. We’re very excited for the launch of his new organ course on February 10th! We had Paul sit down with Darby to ask him some fun questions about music.
Paul: When did you start playing the piano/organ?
Darby: I started taking piano lessons when I was about 7 years old with a family friend Mitch Chakour. I played piano and trumpet in school performances and bands. In middle school I took a great interest in the Hammond organ and also started playing in bands with friends. I started working regularly with different bands when I was about 15.
Paul: What kind of music were you first drawn to?
Darby: Growing up I was always listening to my parents’ record collection. The artists that really stood out to me were pop and rock groups from the 60’s through the 80’s. Motown records, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, The Temptations and artists like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, Steppenwolf, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin.
Paul: Who are your musical influences and heroes?
Darby: Too many to list but some of the biggest influences on me have been: Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Billy Preston, Steve Winwood, Jeff Beck, Jan Hammer, Prince, Michael Jackson, Deep Purple, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Herbie Hancock, Erykah Badu, Jimmy Smith, 2Pac, Beastie Boys, John Medeski.
Paul: What’s the most recent thing you’ve listened to that has really turned you on?
Darby: A friend just turned me onto this Chaka Khan record from the early eighties, Wha Cha Gonna Do For Me? The record has a bunch of the most in-demand session players on it from that era. The Brecker Brothers, Hiram Bullock, Greg Phillinganes, Dave Foster, Richard Tee. Greg Phillinganes plays the bass line for “We Can Work It Out” on a Mini Moog and it’s really incredible.
Paul: What kind of gigs do you play?
Darby: I’ve played a variety of different types of gigs. I’ve traveled with Rock and R&B groups such as Rubblebucket and the Bomb Squad with Jen Durkin and Brenna Gethers (from American Idol). Those groups played in clubs and theaters all over the country and often traveled for 1 or 2 months at a time. I’ve also worked with groups that stay much more centered in New England and work on the weekends or do regular weekly residencies. Most of the work I’m hired for is rock, r&b, blues, and jazz based. I often play with groups that heavily feature improvisation. I’m most commonly hired to play Hammond organ and play in a supportive role where I’ll sometimes cover bass parts to keep the lineups small. I commonly play in clubs, bars and restaurants and on occasion play private parties, weddings, and services. I recently accompanied music students for a recital at a private high school.
Paul: What do you practice? Or what do you like to work on in your practice sessions?
Darby: These days I learn many new songs every week depending on what gigs I’m playing so I work on ear training and transcribing songs, chord progressions, solos, etc. I often have to play left hand bass parts so I spend a lot of time working on independence between my hands. I spend a lot of time playing bass lines while simultaneously playing melodies, chord melodies, and improvising. I also lately have spent time reading Bach four-part chorales. They are a good challenge for me to read and they force both of your hands to stay active. You constantly have to change from playing 2 parts in each hand to 1 part in one hand and 3 in the other. You have to be creative in how you play them since the parts aren not written for keyboard.
Paul: If you were not a musician, what kind of work would you like to do?
Darby: I use mostly older vintage equipment so I’ve learned to repair and modify things as I go. I can do basic repairs on organs, Leslie speakers, and guitar amps and I’ve partially restored Rhodes pianos and Hohner Clavinets. I have a lot of fun repairing and customizing instruments so I could picture myself working in that field from the mechanical repairs to the more electrical side of tube amplifiers.
Paul: Complete this sentence: “Thank God I’m a musician, because if I weren’t I’d probably still be working at __________.”
Darby: …an ice cream shop.
Paul: List your Top 5 ‘stranded-on-a-desert-island’ albums.
Darby: This is tough but…
- Stevie Wonder – Talking Book
- Donny Hathaway – Live
- Jimi Hendrix –Electric Lady Land
- Jeff Beck – Wired
- The Black Crowes – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
*New Organ Course*
We’re excited to announce the release on February 10th of Darby’s new course for organ…Essential Hammond Organ!