- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

When singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris starts talking about her musical inspirations, she’ll mention a source that seems fairly unlikely, given the state of radio today.

“I used to listen to Dick Cerri every night when I was in high school” says Miss Harris, who grew up in Woodbridge, Va., and who will be appearing at the Birchmere Monday. “I’d always have him on when I was doing my homework.”

Mr. Cerri was the host of “Music Americana,” a local radio show on WAVA that played folk music in the mid-1960s.

A military brat who spent much of her childhood in the Washington area after her father was stationed at Quantico, Miss Harris was able to take what she heard on the radio and parlay it into an intensely one-on-one musical teaching experience.

“I’d go out and buy a record of what I heard on the show and then go up to my room and learn the music. Most of them were no more than three chords, luckily.”

That radio-eclectic approach may be one reason why her musical tastes run the gamut from folk to country to rock. She’s as adept performing the songs of other people (witness her take on a Bruce Springsteen song) as she is singing her own work.

During the 1960s, she returned to the Washington area and appeared at a number of area folk/rock clubs. Back then, of course, the Dupont Circle area was a far cry from then-rural Woodbridge.

“It was a fantastic scene,” she says. “There was great music all around, and you could really create your own sound.”

And while the radio’s offerings may be less varied than they used to be, today she’s still exploring, thanks to a “wonderful” IPod, a gift from good friend Elvis Costello.

“He programmed it with about 4,000 hits,” she says. “I just set it to ‘shuffle’ and let it go. It’s got everything from classical to old blues and I still haven’t heard everything. I like to be surprised.”

Although she’s just breezing through town this time around, Miss Harris still has family in the Washington area, so she feels a special connection to the place that helped launch her onto the national scene.

“It’s kind of my musical hometown,” she says.

• • •

Meanwhile, jazz guitarist Doug Wamble (pronounced “womble”) will be playing at the Kennedy Center tonight. The Tennessee native cut his musical teeth in church, although he also says the old-time cowboy songs that his grandfather loved to sing gave him a musical grounding.

“Music was always around,” he remembers. “The whole family would gather around [his grandfather] and sing.”

But he never reckoned on music “as a job” until his freshman year at the University of Memphis, when he went to a Harry Connick Jr. concert and heard guitarist Russell Malone.

“He’s such a great guitar player,” says Mr. Wamble. “He made me feel that I just had to do this.”

“This” involved giving himself three or four years to see if he could make a career out of music, this time the guitar. He transferred to the University of Florida, where he eventually met three of the bandmates he now plays with regularly. Continuity of membership, for Mr. Wamble, is as important for a jazz ensemble as it is for any other kind of musical group.

“I approach my band like a rock band would,” says Mr. Wamble. “You have to look at all four of us as being integral to the music we play. We play like we’re a band, not just a bunch of musicians.”

That may be why one of Mr. Wamble’s biggest musical heroes is Duke Ellington, whose work with band members like Ray Nance and Billy Strayhorn helped develop his signature sound.

“Duke Ellington was incredibly cognizant of how individuals would play,” says Mr. Wamble. “He would cater to their strengths and challenge their weaknesses. That’s what I try to do with my band.”

His approach seems to be working. Mr. Wamble recently signed with Brandford Marsalis’ label. He is married to an opera singer and has a 4-month-old son.

And when he found out Russell Malone was living in Atlanta, he picked up the telephone and left him a message.

“I just wanted to say what his playing meant to me,” he says. “And he called me back.”

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