Jim Walker: From Hollywood to Carnegie Hall, to Indian Hill!

Whether or not you realize it, you have probably heard music performed by flutist Jim Walker. The former principal flute for the LA Philharmonic, and founder of acclaimed jazz quartet Free Flight, Walker has performed twice on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and the Oscars with Paul McCartney; and his flute, considered the industry “gold standard,” can be heard on over 750 major motion picture soundtracks. Now focusing on mentoring young talent, Walker will be the featured performing artist and clinician at the Indian Hill Music School Flute Festival March 28, and will perform with Maestro Bruce Hangen and the professional Orchestra of Indian Hill on March 29.

What drew you to study flute?

My father (great clarinetist/band director) owned an old flute from college and asked if I wanted to play flute. As simple as that.

You started as a classical flutist, beginning with the Pittsburgh Symphony, then landing a dream job with the LA Philharmonic, and a stint with the NY Philharmonic. You then dove into the jazz scene and formed the acclaimed quartet, Free Flight. What turned you toward jazz?  

The influence of my dad, Bob, was significant. His swing quartet, The Four Sharps, used to practice in our home. In high school I got to go along with my dad to the “dance jobs” the group played. I also started my jazz LP collection in 1957 and spent lots of hours listening and trying to play along with Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, and Herbie Mann.

Until just a few years ago, you had been a first-call studio flutist for nearly 20 years, and have appeared on hundreds of soundtracks and commercial recordings. You’ve performed multiple times on the Tonight Show and the Today Show, and in the studio with legends like Paul McCartney, John Williams, Leonard Bernstein and John Galway. Your flute sound became the industry “gold standard.” Can you recall a particular moment that stands out?

I have been enormously blessed with being in the right place at the right time, and fortunately prepared for those moments. The Oscars with Paul McCartney was an amazing experience. Being on The Tonight Show and getting invited to return the next evening by Johnny Carson was unbelievable. Recording “The Suite from West Side Story” with Leonard Bernstein and the LA Philharmonic was very cool. Working with John Williams on many scores was always a dream experience.

You’re focusing mainly on teaching these days, correct?  What sustains you as a teacher?

At this point in my teaching career I am so fortunate that all of the students I work with are extremely talented and hungry to work with me. It is a dream come true to work with so many brilliantly talented young people.

What can a student learn from studying flute, or any instrument?

Obviously, one learns the fundamentals of music, which make up a fascinating science. The joy of playing music is almost indescribable. When a group of musicians (as in small group, or large symphony orchestra) are on the same musical wavelength, magic can occur. The discipline of focused practice has implications to almost every other career. Learning how to express emotions and feelings through one’s instrument provides a crucial step in the emotional/psychological development of all individuals. It could even lead to a career…

What your one most indispensable bit of advice to a young person starting an instrument?

Don’t be frustrated that in the beginning you can’t do all that your ears suggest to you. Be patient with yourself as you continue your trek through the ever-interesting path of becoming a great player.

You’ve had a rich career of performing, recording, teaching… what is next for Jim Walker?

Trying to improve my improvisation. Trying to maintain my standards of sound-making and flute technique. A recording project with Jose Valentino (a great, young jazz player from Florida). Trying to lower my golf handicap and trying to raise my tennis rating. Keeping my weight under control and staying active.

Jim Walker will appear at Indian Hill Music School as part of the Indian Hill Music School Flute Festival, and will perform classical and jazz selections with Maestro Bruce Hangen and the professional Orchestra of Indian Hill on Saturday, March 29. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit our website

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