Myron Walden: Eclectic Reedman
In words often used to describe the music of Duke Ellington, Myron Walden is a saxophonist beyond category. More so than many other musicians, Walden himself eschews reliance on any one instrument, not tenor or alto nor soprano nor bass nor... well, you get the idea. The voice that he is striving to use in any particular setting can vary widely from time to time; there is no favorite child in this man's family of instruments.
The same can be said of the music he plays. Three current releases (1) conjure Miles Davis, (2) reflect his innermost feelings of love, and (3) jump with countrified vigor. Look up the word "eclectic" in the dictionary, and you'll find a photo of Myron Walden.
While it is not uncommon for saxophonists to stray from their main instrument, or to explore musical variety, Walden is a committed non-denominational. The driving factors are usually the voice, range and weight that he is seeking on a particular performance or composition. Although not unusual on the surface, the fact that he expresses no favorite does suggest a big melodic and tonal palette.
Walden's work ethic is something to behold, having appeared with six different lineups in September and October (some of them as part of a fundraising effort for The Jazz Gallery, the Greenwich Village non-profit venue). And, he is releasing three different recordings between mid-November, 2009 and January, 2010. After a recording hiatus of four years, during which Walden wrote feverishly and wood-shedded the tenor saxophone, the first new release to hit stores was the November 17, 2009 issue of Momentum, to be followed by In This World and Countrified.
Momentum was inspired by the range of expression from Miles Davis' 1960s bands, recordings and compositions. This fall's Jazz Gallery performances included Walden on tenor saxophone, with Darren Barrett on trumpet, Eden Ladin on piano, Yasushi Nakamura on bass, and John Davis on drums.
In This World is a labor of love and gift to his wife, a project that captures feelings of reflection. This aggregation features Walden on tenor, soprano saxophones and bass clarinet, Jon Cowherd on piano, Mike Moreno on acoustic and electric guitar, Yasushi Nakamura on bass, and Obed Calviare on drums.
Completing the eclectic trilogy, Countrified is a funky, down-home project which he describes as "southern fried soul meets a little blues and rock and roll." For that performance, Jared Gold plays organ and Kenneth Salters is on the drums.
He took three other projects to the Jazz Gallery and other NY stages this fall, including a tribute to Stanley Turrentine, duo-sax reflections from earlier work, and a trio set.
Walden started studying alto in early childhood, and then added bass clarinet. The inspiration to play other reed instruments came about "because I felt I wasn't able to sonically convey in a way that could and would equate emotionally to the alto and its register. I had played some of the current music on alto, and listening back, it didn't feel right. It was not as impactful as I thought it could or should be." Realizing that, and doing something about it, was basically the process of growing upor simply, growing.
His first jazz model was Charlie Parker, and one other band that always moved him was Miles Davis' quintet. "What moved me? The comping? The drums? The repertoire? All of the above."
So, Walden asked himself how he could achieve that presence without copying; what could he change that was actually changeable? "It came down to the blend of the tenor and trumpet that gave it that edge, that depth, that blend."
While as an altoist he liked the sound that Parker and Dizzy Gillespie could get, with their higher frequency and agility, "the sound that Miles and Wayne Shorter got had more weight, less agility." Walden understood the musical vocabulary and could play the melody. "But the weight and sound and texture of the trumpet and tenor was closer to what I wanted to do."
If he wasn't going to mimic or cover the songs that Miles played, yet still wanted that sound, "I needed to move to the instruments. Even when I was only playing alto, I think my sound and style were more characteristic of a tenor. So, here I am."
Walden was born in 1972, when Parker was already dead for 15 years, so he never even came close to hearing Bird in person. It may seem unusual for a performer of Walden's originality to be using Parker as a gauge for the sound he wanted to create, then comparing and contrasting with Miles, who died when Walden was barely out of high school. While he had no chance to hear either of them when they were still making the sort of straight-ahead acoustic jazz that influenced so many others and that primarily characterizes his playing they were both critical influences on his developmental years.