Jim Walker: Renaissance Man of the Flute
Few other flutists in history have made such indelible marks in so many musical circles. From classical to conservatory to
orchestral to jazz to pop, television to film to the concert hall, Jim Walker has never met an
audience that didn’t love his powerful, “stand and deliver” performances.
His star began to rise 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 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 a commitment to teaching.
Having retired from the world of movie soundtracks, is now has raised his teaching commitment to a new level. He is continuing to fill his students’ lives with music (for more than five decades) 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 on to become a graduate and “Distinguished Alumnus” of the University of Louisville 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 Flute, Chamber Music and Music Technology, at The Colburn Conservatory of Music, and as Professor of Practice and Coordinator of Flute Studies at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, Jim devotes the majority of his time steering the careers of young flutists. Currently he is teaching at The Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, CA. He has been a return guest artist/teacher at Jeanne Baxstresser’s “The Consummate Flutist”. 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 visiting professor
at the University of North Texas, the University of Texas-Austin, and Arizona State University.
Jim has taught hundreds of flutists both privately and 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 master classes. 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 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.
Jazz had been Jim’s earliest musical 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 a unique fusion of jazz and classical music, propelled Free Flight to take the music world by storm. Jim’s unique combination of vision and determination pushed the group to multiple appearances on The Tonight Show and The Today Show and brought them a number one record (Slice of Life). By the time Jean-Pierre Rampal—the granddaddy of modern classical flutists,
in his biography of 1990, called “Jimmy” his “favorite jazz flute player”, Jim was a bona fide “jazz flute man”.
Life was equally good for Jim Walker in LA’s famed studio scene. Until 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 Leonard Bernstein, James Galway, and the LA Guitar Quartet.
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, one can reach the stars.
He is a living legend, and a true Renaissance Man of the Flute.
Jim Walker is a Performing Artist for Burkart & Resona Flutes and Piccolos