Myron Walden: Eclectic Reedman
"A lot of musicians just want to hear how good they sound, when they do something right. I wasn't brought up that way. People were always telling me what I was doing wrong. I didn't run from it; maybe I didn't belong up there at Augie's. But I listened to Jesse tell me how to do it. He and Vincent Herring taught me, showed me. I trusted Vincent to direct my musical growth. Vincent could say, 'You've got to get this, man, because if you keep playing this way, you'll starve,' and for some musicians, that would be a breaking point. For me, it strengthened me. I use instances of challenge to give me strength, as opposed to letting it break me down."
Now, at the ripe old age of 37, Walden is becoming the teacher, and is realizing that young children need encouragement more than frank negative criticism. As they mature, it becomes more important that they realize where their shortcomings are, and they need to be able to face them.
"Challenges give me strength," he said. "As I become an elder, I realize that young children need encouragement more than pointing out all the negatives. Eventually, as the student matures, they must realize their shortcomings. Then, if they are not able to face them, they're living a lie, living in a make-believe world. They need to face the reality of things. It made me stronger."
Now, there's more than one type of learning, and more than one thing needing to be learned. He could play his horn, but it took awhile before he knew the standard repertoire and could sit in with others. Walden recalled a gig when he subbed for Hamiet Bluiettat Visiones, in Greenwich Village. He was out of high school and college. Drummer Greg Bandy was the leader, and the band included Gary Bartz. "I didn't know any of the tunes that he'd be calling out; one after the other. It was pretty rough, and I was constantly involved in situations where I was forced to learn things. Knowing how to play the saxophone wasn't enough, there was 50-60 years of music that I had to get a handle on, immediately."
Another seminal time in his development occurred in 1997, when Walden joined the Brian BladeFellowship Band at its inception, and he continues to record and perform with the group today. His soulful, passionate solos on the alto saxophone and bass clarinet are frequently cited as moving and exciting parts of this ensemble's performances and Blade has credited Myron's voice as one of his inspirations for his compositions.
Among the many other people who have taught Myron Walden a thing or two, he also credits his wife as playing a key role. "My wife and I are as close as two can be. When I gave the recording [In This World] to her, I told her how much I love her and wanted to write something that was representative, and I asked if she thought it captures it."
His wife, whom he describes as "the most appreciative and loving person I know," responded. "In not-so-many words, she said, 'Slower, and lower.' Some people may have been insulted by that, but I'm not that way. I wanted to get it closer to my intent. Her, not being a musician, saying that, was probably the most profound thing that anyone has ever said, in the terms of getting my music do to what I intended it to do, to convey more depth, and the sentiment of love. I'm not sure she totally understood what she was saying. She is not a musician; I could take the most truth from that. "
Because sometimes as musicians we can over-study something, we might like it because the chords are hip, or moving in an interesting way, we sometimes don't hear...can't step outside of it and say: How does it make me feel? A layman, non-musician, is more able to do that."
Pausing from the fascinating anecdotes of his development, Walden reflected on the state of the jazz business. "Music in general is facing a challenge. The economy at large has presented the world with a situation that is difficult to surmount. People are losing their homes, their jobs; their kids can't go to college. These situations weigh on the arts, which are in decline in the schools. It seems they are the first to be cut, especially in the inner city."
There is no appropriate one-line answer, he averred, there are many things that will ultimately affect the fate of the arts and performers. "But I sense that because of the economy, artists have had to depend more on themselves, and in a way I think that's a good thing. They need to look towards themselves, to find the reasons they are doing this. And if the reasons don't add up...what next?"
He asked a rhetorical question: "Can you imagine a famous artist being dropped by a label? If the big jazz names aren't secure in this, what kind of chance does an up-and-coming artist, without a following yet, without supportive backing, have?"
Even the most accredited and accomplished artists have looked at this situation and taken charge. "Individual artists need to take charge. In the rock, field, a big name like Prince has done it; in jazz, Branford Marsalis, Dave Douglas. The younger generation, Marcus Strickland. Kendrick Scott and others are taking advantage of a new opportunity. Because of the Internet, they can make a move for themselves, and be in charge of their own destiny."
In some ways, Myron Walden's current batch of 2009-2010 albums best reflects the way music made him feel at that early age. Beyond those recordings, the Brian Blade Fellowship left a long-lasting impression on him, which he frequently cites as a meaningful, influential experience. "Here was a jazz master who knew country, blues and early rock. Brian helped me realize the vast possibilities in music. My passion is too expansive to be limited to one style. I like to express myself and my emotions beyond the conventions of any one genre."
Rather beyond category, one thinks.