Myron Walden: Eclectic Reedman
Herring would take Walden around to clubs like Bradley's, where he introduced Walden to Gary Bartz. "In fact, he thought I played like Gary Bartz, and that's why he took me to hear him. I found the similarities, too. I said Wow. That sounds like me."
Herring knew Walden's playing so well, "but also knew I needed to get better at it. So, he took me to hear someone who can do it so much better. He pointed me in a direction, and connected me with people like Nat Adderley. And through him I was able to play with Jimmy Cobb, Walter Booker, and other great musicians."
Some lessons one can take from books, others from recordings, others from sitting-in in clubs. To help him develop his range, Walden even tried social osmosis, or so it seems. Mark Turner had eye-opening range and played with such authority that Walden was captivated.
"I first met Mark Turner a session of a mutual friend Victor Atkins (the pianist from New Orleans, on the faculty of the University of New Orleans music department). I was floored. I wanted to do that, on alto. Not his lines, but with his authority and extended range."
So, Walden asked him how to do it. "I'd get advice like 'Practice overtones, do the scales, practice long tones.' I kept asking him how he actually did it, and he couldn't give me a concise answer, so I started hanging out with him and started a band with him."
In fact, Turner was sharing a house in Brooklyn with Joshua Redman and drummer Jorge Rossy. "With Turner and Redman in the same house, I wondered: Is this contagious? Turner had some range, and I kept asking 'how do you do that?' I figured I should live there, and catch it."
But in the end, it came down to "a lot of trial and error, and I'm still in that mode today." In one way or another, they would keep telling him that "you've got to hear it." He didn't really get the point, "until after all that practicing, I finally got it. You practice mundane things like the scales, in the middle range and the high end and the low end. You eventually hear it, you do it. They were telling me the truth."
"Challenges Give Me Strength"
That brash woman at Augie's also "told me the truth," but in reality her demeanor momentarily destroyed his spirit. Perhaps others would have let such criticism affect their commitment to the music, but not Walden, it steeled him to do greater things. Not that he'd recommend that sort of regimen to other artists.
"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 Bluiett at 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 Blade Fellowship 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.