Yamaha Flute artist Jim Walker has been hailed internationally as an unparalleled interpreter of the classical repertoire, an inventive jazz musician and as a consummate entertainer whose charismatic appeal crosses all musical boundaries. His inimitable sound, superb musicianship and astounding virtuosity have made him one of the most respected and sought-after performing artists of our time.
A native of Kentucky, Walker has been playing the flute since age 10, to which he was introduced to by his father, a band director. "When I first saw the flute, it wasn't love at first sight," recalls Walker. "However, I was up to the challenge and in two months I was playing it reasonably well." Walker went on to play in his school band with his spotlight being on two passions. "Besides flute I played other instruments and my first focus was on band music and jazz," he says. "Also, I was a big sports junkie and had to divide my time between my two loves: sports (especially basketball) and music."
Walker's professional music career began when he was invited to join The Louisville Orchestra while he was a senior at The University of Louisville, from which he graduated with honors. Following graduation, he went on to enlist in the Army and play with the United States Military Academy Band at West Point. "Performing at West Point was very demanding," remembers Walker. "The quality of the musicians in the band was very high." In 1969, Walker won the position of Associate Principal Flute with The Pittsburgh Symphony, which was then under music director William Steinberg. Eight years later, he successfully auditioned for The Los Angeles Philharmonic as the principal flute under the direction of Zubin Mehta.
A lifelong and passionate admirer of jazz, Walker played sax in his high school jazz band and at University of Louisville's jazz lab band. However, his first adult foray into the art form occurred in 1974. "In Pittsburgh some of the orchestra musicians and I organized the ‘Pittsburgh Symphony Jazz Group'," recalls Walker. "15 people came to our first – and only – concert and the group was retired soon after that." That experience brought out a missing sentiment in Walker. "It reminded me that I loved jazz in a big way. It also made me realize that I wasn't strong enough for it yet."
When Walker arrived in Los Angeles to play with The Los Angeles Philharmonic, he began practicing improv and developing his jazz skills. "I was playing classical music 98% of the time at that time," he says. "I needed to get back in touch with missing elements." He gives serious credit to Jamey Aebersold, an American jazz saxophonist and music educator, whose "Play-A-Long" series of instructional books helped Walker in expanding his improvising ability.
In 1980, after three years of "shedding", Walker founded "Free Flight," a jazz quartet featuring flute, piano, bass and drums. The award-winning ensemble went on to record numerous albums and CD's including "Beyond the Clouds," "Illumination," "Reflections" and "Flight of the Dove." Walker left the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1985 to pursue a multi-faceted career in jazz, studio work, chamber music, solo performances, publishing, and teaching. Currently he performs globally with professional orchestras, as a soloist, and still tours and records with "Free Flight."
He has collaborated with musicians such as Mark O'Connor, Wayne Shorter, John Williams, James Galway, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Leonard Bernstein, and many others and has a number of best-selling recordings to his credit. Walker's solo and ethnic flutes are featured on many motion picture soundtracks: Anna and the King, The Patriot, Titanic, Amistad, Seven Years in Tibet, The Joy Luck Club, and hundreds more.
In August 2008, Walker will receive the National Flute Association's highly coveted Lifetime Achievement Award. The Award will be presented to him at the NFA Annual Convention taking place in Kansas City, Missouri. "I've been an active member of the NFA for over 35 years," says Walker. "It's truly enjoyable to be able to receive this award and it's really cool timing." Walker is being recognized for his tireless contributions to the flute community, which have raised the visibility of the flute as a medium of expression and have provided new and valuable opportunities to flutists of all levels and abilities.
Presently, Walker serves as the Senior Lecturer and Coordinator of Flute Studies at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music and is also the Instructor of Flute, Chamber Music and Music Technology at the Colburn Conservatory of Music. He has also held visiting teaching positions at Duquesne University, Carnegie-Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of North Texas, the University of Texas-Austin, and Arizona State University. "Teaching has always been a part of what I love to do," acknowledges Walker. "I also teach many private students; you can classify me as a classic workaholic."
The relationship between Yamaha and Walker is now in its fourth decade. "I started playing Yamaha in 1980," recalls Walker (he plays on the Yamaha YFL-991DH.) "I first discovered Yamaha flutes on a tour of Japan with the Pittsburgh Symphony. I was given a prototype flute and right away saw that they were incredibly serious about creating high-quality instruments. That's when Yamaha came onto my radar." Once Walker formed "Free Flight," Yamaha came on board to help out Walker. "I've been with them ever since. I play Yamaha because of the consistency, the design, and the amazing value throughout the line. Their dedication to education places them in a uniquely lofty position in the world of flute makers."
Whether performing concertos, chamber music, jazz improvisation, motion picture soundtracks, pop recordings, class teaching, writing book or lecturing around the world, Walker crosses stylistic borders with ease and brings a distinctive sound and an exhilarating approach to the world of music.
For more information on the artist please visit: www.jimwalkerflute.com.