The product of a musical household, Jim Walker grew up Greenville, Kentucky, where his early life was filled with piano and flute lessons. A scholarship to the University of Louisville started him in the direction of music education—but the “orchestra bug” bit him, committing his efforts to classical flute. Following college, Walker enlisted in the Army and went to West Point to join the USMA Band, simultaneously studying flute with Harold Bennett. In 1969, an audition with the Pittsburgh Symphony landed him the position of associate principal flute. After eight years in Pittsburgh, Walker set his sights on Los Angeles and won the principal flute position with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Jazz had always been a hobby, and exposure to L.A.’s live music scene rekindled his interest in jazz improvisation. By 1980 (after three years of improvisation practice) he was ready to move beyond the classical world, organizing a quartet featuring flute, piano, bass and drums. This tradition-breaking group became Free Flight. Leaving the Philharmonic to gain the freedom to pursue the group and the freelance life was a risk.
But many recordings, successive “most valuable player” awards, a number one record, four appearances on “The Tonight Show,” features on the “Today” show, concert hall success, and a growing demand for his masterclasses have proven his instincts correct. Few musicians today cross stylistic borders with the ease and beauty that is Jim Walker’s legacy.