Few other flutists in history have made such indelible marks in so many musical circles. From jazz to pop to classical, television to film to the concert hall, Jim Walker has never met a crowd that didn’t love his powerful, “stand and deliver” performances.
His star began to rise in 1969 when Jim was named Associate Principal Flute in the Pittsburgh Symphony after a stint playing in the US Military Academy Band at West Point. He quickly gained the admiration of colleagues and audiences in Pittsburgh and set his sights on Principal Flute jobs. After eight years he won the Principal Flute position in the Los Angeles Philharmonic and never looked back.
To be Principal Flute of a major orchestra is to sit at the pinnacle of the profession. Most flutists who reach that height are content to spend the rest of their careers there, but Jim felt an eagerness and aspiration to move his music-making forward yet again. After seven successful seasons of performing, recording, and touring with the Los Angeles Philharmonic—during which time the New York Philharmonic briefly borrowed him as Principal Flute for their 1982 South American tour—Jim left the orchestra, diving off the mountaintop into the world of jazz, studio recording, and teaching.
Jazz had been one of Jim’s puppy loves, and he was inspired to get back to it by LA’s lively club scene. After a few years of avid listening in dives, gaining confidence undercover in the practice room, he organized his jazz quartet Free Flight. Flute, piano, bass, and drums playing jazz-classical fusion, Free Flight took the music world by storm. Jim’s unique combination of vision and determination pushed the group to appearances on the Tonight Show, The Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Center and the Playboy Jazz Festival. Their recordings have always received rave reviews and are unique in the music landscape. By the time Jean-Pierre Rampal—the granddaddy of modern classical flutists—called “Jimmy” his “favorite jazz flute player” in the 1990’s, Jim was recognized as a “Most Valuable Player” by NARAS in Los Angeles.
Life was equally good for Jim Walker in LA’s famed studio scene. Until his retirement from the studios in June of 2010, he was a first-call studio flutist for the better part of two decades. His bold, expressive playing can be heard on hundreds of soundtracks and commercial recordings. His playing became the gold standard from Hollywood to Carnegie Hall and unlocked the door to studio and concert collaborations with everyone from John Williams and Paul McCartney—“the thrill of a lifetime,” says Jim—to Wayne Shorter, Leonard Bernstein, James Galway, and the LA Guitar Quartet.
After all, the reviews have been written and the stage and studio lights dim, however, Jim has said that the one aspect of his career he will maintain to the grave is teaching. He has been filling his students’ lives with music for five decades now, just as his own parents—Bob, a jazz clarinetist and public school band director, and Barbara, a church organist—filled his upbringing in Greenville, Kentucky, with piano and flute lessons. He went to the University of Louisville where he was selected to be a member of the Louisville Orchestra (his first real "classical gig". He became an Honors Graduate and “Distinguished Alumnus” of as well as the University’s first “Alumni Fellow” (from the School of Music). To this day Jim credits a parade of flute teachers with helping him rise through the ranks, from Sarah Fouse and Francis Fuge in Kentucky to the Metropolitan Opera’s Harold Bennett, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s James Pellerite, and internationally renowned flutist and conductor Claude Monteux.
Jim’s gratitude to his teachers is returned to him by his students. As Professor of Practice and Coordinator of Flute Studies at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and Professor of Flute and Chamber Music at The Colburn Conservatory of Music, Jim devotes at least twenty hours a week to steering the careers of young flutists. Before coming to Los Angeles, Jim’s teaching career included positions at Duquesne University, Carnegie-Mellon, and the University of Pittsburgh, and since arriving in Southern California he has been invited to be a visiting professor at the University of North Texas, the University of Texas-Austin, and Arizona State University.
Jim has taught hundreds of flutists at these renowned institutions. Many of them have gone on to successful orchestral careers, holding Principal Flute chairs in major symphonies from Phoenix to Boston to Beijing. Still, others have careers in fields as varied as gospel music and arts administration. Jim is not interested in simply training musicians; he inspires each pupil as a whole person, and students leave his tutelage feeling empowered, reaching for the stars. With such a legacy, it is no wonder that students on four continents have flocked to hear his recitals and masterclasses. Jim’s creativity allows him to reach not only these students but also others he never sees with his editions of flute masterworks on the Alfred Music Publications Young Artist Series. He is also now completing a set of flute method books filled with unique, fun, highly instructional exercises so that future generations can continue to benefit from his wealth of knowledge and generosity.
Dynamic soloist, legendary orchestral and studio musician, celebrated jazz flutist, and an inspiration to countless students worldwide, Jim Walker is living proof that with enough creativity and determination, it is possible reach the stars.
He is a living legend and a true Renaissance Man of the Flute.
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