“Music satisfies San Dimas man’s mind and soul for six decades”
Ed Wolfe taught instrumental music and directed bands in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at San Dimas High, Bonita High, Ramona Middle School and Lone Hill Middle School for 40 years before retiring. Wolfe directs the San Dimas Brass Ensemble and the San Dimas Jazz Workshop Big Band. (John Valenzuela/Staff Photographer).
–By Imani Tate, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Music went from “Mama said” to “I want” for Ed Wolfe Jr. while he was in junior high school. His new attitude led to five decades of dedicated personal and professional performing, mentoring and passing on the magic of music to children.
Although retired from education since 2008, Wolfe and music remain constant companions.
Wolfe communicates with 1,300 people on Facebook. Many are music peers, educators, friends and relatives. But 800-plus are former students dating back to 1969 when he started teaching in his native Albuquerque, N.M., and 31 years at Lone Hill Middle School and Bonita and San Dimas high schools in Bonita Unified School District.
“That’s how I keep track of my kids,” said Wolfe, the “music man” of San Dimas who has mentored ingenious prodigies and now peerless performers, including Brendan Reilly, a teen winner of Monterey Jazz Festival’s vocal excellence distinction now burning up stages in Europe, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Performing Arts Center and Apollo Theater with an array of gospel, jazz, blues and pop artists. Wolfe, 67, also chairs the San Dimas Senior Citizens Commission and conducts jazz and brass ensembles playing professional and community gigs.
His truck-driving and salesman father Edward Sr. jokingly prided himself on his ability to “play radio.” His mother Mary Ellen Wolfe, an English, Spanish and religious studies teacher at St. Mary’s High School, was an accomplished cellist with the Albuquerque Civic Symphony. She augmented the family income by taking in laundry to pay for Ed’s and his brother David’s music lessons.
Ed started music lessons at 5 because Mary Ellen thought her sons needed education and culture. She was in another room when she heard a 6-year-old Ed, she thought, expertly playing the song “Black Boots.”
“She said, ‘Eddie, I didn’t know you were that good.’ David, who was only 2, quipped ‘That’s not Eddie. That’s me.’ He had heard the song and played it by ear. I did 26 piano recitals by the time I was in high school, but David got so good and did so well, I stopped playing piano and focused on trumpet. David, who’s now a Ph.D. mathematician, jazz pianist and flutist, is still a musical monster,” Wolfe bragged.
“I’ve seen him play Bach with his right hand in one key and his left in another key. He’s just amazing. Someone asked him to play a song last year he didn’t know. He called me on the phone and had me sing it to him. He played it on the piano while I was singing it. You can’t describe my brother’s talent and range in one sitdown,” he said.
Wolfe’s pride stirs whenever he hears good stuff – be it his brother, a legendary musician or a student. He is admittedly a hard taskmaster, pushing and encouraging students and peers to play at optimum levels, but his love of music and people playing it make everyone play better for and with him.
Wolfe added trumpet to his instrumental choices in fourth grade. His “I’ve-got-to-do-this-because-Mama-said-so” attitude disappeared in middle school when he was able to challenge other students for musical chairs. He went from 15th trumpet chair to second in less than a year. As a Highland High School sophomore, he was proficient enough to become student band teacher. Among his “students” was brother David.“When I went to the podium to conduct, David raised his hand and asked if he should call me Ed or Mr. Wolfe. I said shut up,” Wolfe recalled, laughing. “But although it was a challenge to teach my brother, I discovered I loved teaching and wanted to teach music.”He acquired more performance experience, completed a bachelor of music education and a master’s in composition at the University of New Mexico and started teaching in his hometown in 1969. He moved to California in 1977 to teach BUSD students in San Dimas and La Verne. Hundreds of his former students teach or play music, but music was not his teaching goal.“Education was more important. I was teaching children, not just music,” Wolfe stressed.
“Music is a wonderful motivator, improves all academic tasks and requires discipline. All kids were welcome in my program. If they couldn’t play, I taught them to play. But it was more important to teach them how to become productive, kind people of good character. I wanted them to be the best they could be as human beings and to face challenges with confidence.”
An example of his confidence-building techniques surfaced at a San Luis Obispo festival in the 1980s.
“It was a rickety old stage and then the lights went off in the middle of our set. We finished the tune in the dark. I didn’t know if the judges were listening or not. They’d probably left. We didn’t need to see them or the music sheets to play,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe has 40 years of wonderful memories and he won’t stop counting as long as he can play or conduct music anywhere.”