Minneapolis native Jeremy "Boot" Walker, our Artistic Director of Jazz in the Target Atrium, is a prolific composer and pianist who started playing the saxophone at age 10. Since he began studying jazz at 14, he has been intimately involved in this art form—studying with Frank Kimbrough, David Berkman and Benny Golson, among others. In 2005, Lyme Disease forced Walker to stop playing the saxophone; he turned to piano and composition instead.
Q: What is your earliest musical memory?
A: There are so many. My mom listened to folk, Henry Mancini, and Broadway cast albums (especially West Side Story). My dad listened to classical and my brother loved guitar music, but I vividly remember being drawn to the Pink Panther theme. When I first got a saxophone in the 5th grade, I spent weeks figuring out how to play it. I also remember going to Orchestra Hall for a Young People's concert. I was really into In the Hall of the Mountain King.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your transition from saxophone to piano.
A: It was so hard. I had barely played piano when I had to switch instruments. I couldn't play saxophone because of how much it hurt, caused by what turned out to be Lyme Disease. The first year I was frustrated for hours every day. Even though I had always loved the piano, if it weren't for help and encouragement from musicians like Ted Nash and David Berkman, I wouldn't have made the transition. It has been 10 years now and I don't miss the saxophone anymore.
Q: Who is your favorite jazz musician and why?
A: Duke Ellington. He is completely individualistic. He transcends genre, period, all of it, and his art deepened and advanced his whole life—his melody, his touch, his beat, everything. I can't say enough about Duke.
Q: Who are some other composers, bands and musicians you like?
A: I love Bartók, Villa Lobos, Poulanc, Beethoven (especially his late string quartets), Odetta, some Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.
Q: What have you been listening to lately?
A: A relatively obscure composer-trumpeter, Booker Little. He died very young, but his music is fully personal and ahead of its time. Also Bartók's string quartets and Pierre-Laurent Aimard's recording of Debussy's piano preludes.
Q: What do you like to do besides music?
A: I'm a cyclist—I have spent a lot of time on my bike since I was a kid. I was even a bike mechanic for a while. I also like a good bottle of wine, a good conversation and sitting somewhere with a nice view.
A: Confluence is really about an accumulation of influences. Because of the Minnesota Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Dakota (where the the best jazz musicians have played), we have access to so much exceptional music. It's also about living in a city that is only a few minutes from countryside. There are lot of things coming together here. Confluence is about that free-flowing influence.
The New Regionalism, the theme for the Atrium series this season, is the examination of the regional character of our music—of affirming and pushing it. It's important to let people know that jazz here, and everywhere, is a music of welcome, aspiration and 100-plus years of the highest artistic achievement.
Photo credit: Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press.
Jeremy Walker in the local media:
"Jazz composer Jeremy Walker gives an ear to Psalms," Star Tribune, April 10, 2013.
"'7 Psalms' a jazz-influenced exploration of faith," MPR News, April 12, 2013.
"Illness forces Twin Cities jazz man to put down sax—and sit down at piano," Pioneer Press, July 23, 2013