Gary Walker

Host, Morning Jazz and Music Director

In jazz radio, great announcers are distinguished by their ability to convey the spontaneity and passion of the music. Gary Walker is such an announcer, and his enthusiasm for this music greets WBGO listeners every morning. For the past 22 years, this winner of the 1996 Gavin Magazine Jazz Radio Personality of the Year award has hosted the morning show each weekday from 6:00 -10:00. And, by his own admission, he's truly having a great time.

"It's rare that I don't want to get up and come in to work in the morning. I really love this job, and I don't think everyone can say that." Walker declares with satisfaction. He's probably right in that assumption. But listeners preparing for work each morning with Gary on the radio will no doubt admit, he makes it easier to head off to work no matter how we feel about it.

His love of jazz is apparent, and he says it's a feeling that began during adolescence growing up outside of Detroit in the mid 1960's. He remembers his dad bringing home a new radio with an FM band.

"This was pretty new at the time. Almost all of radio was on AM," recalls Walker. "There were only two stations on this new FM band, and one played jazz. They often broadcast live from a club known as the Twenty Grand, and though I can't remember the artists, I will never forget the feeling of that music. It seemed that the musicians and the crowd were having such a great time. I just wanted more of that feeling."

His next recollection is of an occasion when his mother dropped him off at the record store. He had planned to buy a novelty pop album that day. However, amid the display posters and album covers promoting new releases, Gary noticed an album by Henry Mancini entitled Music From Peter Gunn. He sampled a few cuts in the listening booth, and enjoyed what he heard. It was the first jazz record he would buy.

"I didn't know it was jazz, I just knew I liked it," he says. "Frankly, I believe most of us approach jazz that way - we discover it by accident."

Though he may have learned about jazz by accident, his interest in the music grew deliberately. While his peers were listening to rock and roll, Gary aggressively sought jazz. He listened to Miles Davis, Ramsey Lewis and other cutting-edge artists. He was a finance major at the University of Texas at the time. He remembers passing the campus radio station, and noticing that everyone had so much fun. He soon abandoned finance and graduated with a degree in Mass Media. He continued his studies at the University of Akron in Ohio where he was a radio announcer on the school's jazz radio station. He continued to hone his broadcasting skills, and became proficient at the technical aspects of radio production.

Soon he moved to New York City with plans to broaden his career endeavors. Within five weeks he landed an announcer's position on Saturday mornings at WBGO. The station was new then, but Gary remembers it as a special place.

"My first day here, I ran into Mercer Ellington (Duke's son)," recalls Walker. "I couldn't believe it...one of the greatest band leaders around, and he was sitting right here. Around the same time other great artists would drop by regularly. I met Wayne Shorter, Woody Shaw and Dexter Gordon."

After 24 years with WBGO, legendary artists continue to visit the studios, many to join Gary during Morning Jazz. He believes their visits are part of what set the station apart from other jazz stations. However, he also believes that other jazz 88 announcers, producers and programming staff contribute to the distinction of the station.

"I think we're the best jazz station in the country, perhaps the world," he says plainly. "I think that because of the knowledge we have here, the fun we have here and the music that is created here. No one else does what we do."

No matter how gratifying Gary finds his work, nothing brings him as much joy as his 20 year old son, Nate. From early visits to Jazz 88 with his dad, his son became a first year trombone player in the school band. Gary says, "Nate knew I was going to interview Wynton Marsalis and told me, 'Dad, tell Wynton I'm playing the trombone, but next year I might switch to trumpet.' When I passed this information on to Wynton, Marsalis' response was, 'you tell your son if he wants to elevate his social status, he should make that change as soon as possible!'" Just a note: Nate still has a trombone and Wynton has more social status. Nate's dad has neither, but loves his work at Jazz 88!

Ways to Connect

Bill Charlap — pianist, bandleader and the artistic director of Jazz in July at the 92nd Street Y — knows a thing or two about being a custodian of jazz traditions.

The new album by saxophonist Don Braden and bassist Joris Teepe is called Conversations — as good a title as any to describe the results, both musical and colloquial, of their visit to Morning Jazz. They came with drummer Steve Johns, played a few tunes, and spoke with Gary Walker about the origins of the new record.

Conversations, which was released in May, features two drummers, Gene Jackson and Matt Wilson. For their album-release gig, Wednesday night at the Zinc Bar, Braden and Teepe will enlist drummer Jeremy Warren.

Pianist Ahmad Jamal started his career as a child prodigy, moving on to quartets and then trios as his main voice for expression. The world would know about Ahmad with the 1958 LP Live At The Pershing, featuring the runaway jukebox hit "Poinciana." At 86, Ahmad Jamal is still expressing a vibrancy — this time with a love letter to an iconic city in Southern France, pulled together with longtime bassist James Cammack, drummer Herlin Riley and worldly percussionist Manolo Badrena.

When Steve Slagle named his new album Alto Manhattan, he had two connotations in mind. The first, of course, refers to his instrument, alto saxophone. But he was also thinking of the neighborhood where he lives, known to its Latino residents as "Alto Manhattan," or "The Heights." 

The album features a special guest, saxophonist Joe Lovano, as well as the percussionist Román Díaz, the drummer Bill Stewart, the bassist Gerald Cannon and the pianist Lawrence Fields. Slagle came into our studio to talk about the album, and play some music with Fields. The full band (sans Lovano) performs tonight at the Jazz Standard.

John Abbott

With his new release, Zenith, pianist Michael Wolff has captured the diverse spirit of a solo recording done exceptionally well. The album includes an original New Orleans bounce, some Coltrane in ragtime, Sufjan Stevens and more. 

Michael stopped by Morning Jazz to chat about his past associations with Sonny Rollins, Cal Tjader, Cannonball Adderley and Nancy Wilson — and play some inspired piano  on our Steinway grand.

Leo Sidran, Gary Walker and Ben Sidran together for Morning Jazz
Steve Williams

Ben Sidran observes life through a prism. As a musician and an interviewer, he's always looking to encourage dialogue. This week he stopped by Morning Jazz to play and talk about Picture Him Happy, a swinging new album with provocative lyrics.


Inside the front cover of saxophonist Walt Weiskopf’s new album, there’s a quote from writer Pearl S. Buck: “To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.” For Weiskopf, keeping young has meant exploring a wide vocabulary of styles – from big bands to Frank Sinatra to his long-running gig with Steely Dan. Fountain of Youth  finds him leading a tight quintet with vibist Behn Gillece, pianist Peter Zak, bassist Mike Karn and drummer Steve Fidyk.

With Live At The Bistro, trumpeter Sean Jones realizes a lifelong dream of capturing his musical experience live. The results range from a torch lighter to a post-bop mover, from a down-home blues to a sanctified shouter. Jones has creative assistance from what he calls “a combination of essential forces of spiritual energy and group synergy” — which is to say, pianist Orrin Evans, saxophonist Brian Hogans, bassist Luques Curtis and drummers Obed Calvaire and Mark Whitfield, Jr.

Kevin Eubanks has been a head-turning jazz guitarist since his debut album, Guitarist, almost 35 years ago. His new release, East West Time Line, is the latest in a series of self-assured statements since he walked away from his job as leader of the Tonight Show Band, in 2010. 

On Zenith, Michael Wolff approaches the solo piano encounter with masterly mischief, attitude and gratitude for those who came before, including John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Jerome Kern. He also looks to present-day artists like Sufjan Stevens, makes a homegrown nod to New Orleans, and toasts his wife, noted actress and director Polly Draper.

With his first recording 30 years ago, we learned about "Net Man" — bassist Charnett Moffett. On Music From Our Soul, he revisits some of the feelings of those three decades, enlisting master saxophonist and flutist Pharoah Sanders, inventive guitarist Stanley Jordan, soulful pianist Cyrus Chestnut and drummers Jeff "Tain" Watts, Mike Clark and Victor Lewis.

 

 

When Christian Sands was 12 years old, Dr. Billy Taylor was already telling folks about this young pianist who had a presence in the music like he'd already been here once. Christian McBride felt it too, and made Sands a core member of his Grammy-winning trio.

The key for Sands is in the title of his new album, Reach. And it's in his playing, which grabs your attention with his every intention.

Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson has always had his light  shine through whatever inspiration might strike: what would post-bop feel like wedded to Motown? Why is Johnny Hodges so hip? His musical I Have A Dream project.  After all, he was a Jazz Messenger. One of Blakey's musical scribes. Seems natural that Made In America, Watson's new album, would embrace a broad view of historic African-American achievement.

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks' creative power can guide his guitar into the center of any attention: home-cooked Philly funk, a jam at Bradley's, a beautiful duet recording and tour with Stanley Jordan, a power fusion encounter with Dave Holland. And of course a 15-year bandleader on The Tonight Show

His new album, East West Time Line, demonstrates how music can feel when it's not only intelligent and engaging but also steeped in what Lester Bowie called "serious fun."

Dayna Stephens' saxophone playing is vigorous, edge-walking and full of soulful imaginative expressions — a place where a listener gets to journey and Stephens finds answers. Gratitude is a beautiful follow up to his 2014 album, Peace. Returning are pianist Brad Mehldau, guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland. There's one Stephens composition, "The Timbre of Gratitude," along with interpretations of Billy Strayhorn (where Stephens shares a beautiful baritone), Pat Metheny and others.

Pianist Billy Childs has demonstrated a range of creative skills — as a pianist with Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and Dianne Reeves; as the composer of masterly chamber jazz experiences; as a bandleader and arranger paying tribute to singer-songwriter Laura Nyro.

With Four in One, its sophomore effort, Heads Of State puts its money where its mouth is. As the album’s title suggests, this is a band that presents a unified front even as it showcases the individual talents of pianist Larry Willis, bassist David Williams, saxophonist Gary Bartz and drummer Al Foster.

Mark Whitfield and his family band with Gary Walker at WBGO
Isaiah McClain


Guitarist Mark Whitfield’s skillset is so varied. He’s been on the road with Brother Jack McDuff, Dizzy Gillespie, Carmen McRae and Chris Botti. He’s friends with George Benson.

Mark says he’s most proud of his most recent events – his first recording in 7 years was just released, and the fact that it was made alongside his two sons; pianist Davis and drummer Mark, Jr. Both father and sons are Berklee grads - and so is band bassist, Yasushi Nakamura.

Susan Brecker with Gary Walker
Steve Williams

It was 10 years ago this month we lost saxophonist Michael Brecker to a rare form of bone cancer. His widow, Susan Brecker, has organized an all-star benefit concert in his honor on Wednesday night, featuring artists including Wynton Marsalis and Diana Krall. She recently spoke about the concert and her husband's legacy, and you can listen to our conversation here.

The first time I saw guitarist Yotam Silberstein perform he was part of the Jimmy Heath Big Band, and he was just Yotam. Before that, however, the legendary  James Moody had returned from a jazz workshop, telling anyone who would listen about "this young Israeli kid who plays like an old man!" The Moody compliment has depth as listeners have discovered on 4 previous releases comfort with the works of John Lewis, Clifford Brown and Joe Henderson, and a love for Brazil and Latin music, resulting in attention getting performances with Paquito D'Rivera and Monty Alexander.

In the liner notes for "Infinitude", the new recording from sisters Ingrid and Christine Jensen, it's called "Nordicity", an organic description of the trumpeter and saxophonist.  I don't know about all that, but our own beloved and well lived Michael Bourne admires the absolute musical creativity which emerges from a seemingly casual environment. "Infinitude" - the state or quality of being infinite or having no limit. What a gift for the jazz musician, and here, they achieve fliight.

Victor Provost started his  musical life in the Virgin Islands, steel drumming along with the horn players he heard on his father's Cannonball Adderley, Chick Corea and Joao Gilberto  records. He studied hard, toured with Paquito D'Rivera, came to the U.S. intent on blending his Island Roots with jazz.

His success  is "Bright Eyes", a new recording, alongside pianist Alex Brown, brother Zach on bass, drummer Billy Williams, Jr. There's a most impressive guest list too, including Paquito D'Rivera, vibist Joe Locke, trumpeter Etiennne Charles and saxophonist Ron Blake.

Pianist Art Hirahara has a diverse resume, spending time  with Charlie Haden, Vincent Herring, Stacey Kent, Dave Douglas and Jenny Scheinman, in addition to recordings of his own dating back to 2000. Art has also studied West African drumming , influences that are part of the palette. His sound is clean, techniquely astute but exploring.

The genre known as Soul Jazz was responsible for bringing legions of fans to jazz, and keeping them satisfied too! Author Bob Porter, in his recently published book, "Soul Jazz" says it's probably the reason many had a radio around in the first place.  One of the powerhouse trio groups was The Three Sounds. Featuring pianist Gene Harris, bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy, standards stood up and moved. Originals guaranteed you'd be back for another listen.

Originally published November 7, 2016.

Ted Nash of Jazz at Lincoln Center brings his ambitious new album project - musical interpretations of great presidential speeches on freedom - to Morning Jazz with Gary Walker.