Gavin Walker
Alto saxophone, flute, clarinet

Born: February 6, 1941
Montreal Quebec
Current home: Vancouver BC

Raised in both Montreal and New York City. Parents were musical (father played flute and mother, piano) and encouraged young Gavin's interest in music. Piano lessons were first but clarinet lessons coincided with Walker's growing interest in jazz... especially small group swing. A huge turning point for Walker came when his clarinet teacher took Gavin for two nights to hear modern jazz clarinetist Buddy DeFranco and his group with Kenny Drew (piano) and Art Blakey (drums)... Walker's conversion to modern jazz was complete and so was his desire to play music.

In Vancouver from 1959, Walker played in various high school bands and rhythm and blues groups and taught himself the alto saxophone. Other interests intervened at this time . . . school, and an interest in theater but, again, an event recharged Walker's jazz pursuit. At an informal jam session at the Black Spot (a club on Dunbar Street that featured younger musicians just starting out) Walker took his alto and played a few tunes... in the audience were local 'heavies' Glenn McDonald and Walker's then favourite local altoist Dale Hillary. McDonald said, "Man, you've got a good sound and you're going to be a good player but you've got to really get in the woodshed". This marked a turning point for Walker and inspired by Hillary and McDonald's encouragement and influenced by Sonny Rollins' well publicized 'Sabbatical' that was going on in 1961, Walker decided that he wouldn't 'come out' again until he could 'really play'.

The sixties were a period of practice, study, and self-evaluation, punctuated by several trips to New York and San Francisco, where he lived for brief periods and where, in 1964, he met and befriended altoist John Handy, who opened up a whole world for Walker. Gavin stayed at Handy's house, enabling him to learn first-hand from one of the most accomplished and innovative players of the saxophone. Prominent San Francisco players came by the house and Handy also introduced Walker to many of the leading players who were booked in the Bay Area's many clubs. Walker was amazed at how many of these jazz 'giants' were approachable and willing to give informal lessons, advise or just 'hang out'. Throughout this period Gavin supported himself by driving a cab and giving private lessons and enjoyed the moral and financial support of his wife at that time, Lila.

By 1970 Walker felt ready to 'come out' and played some sessions in Seattle with bassist Chuck Metcalf and pianist Stu Goldberg before entering the Vancouver scene. He began working an after-hours gig with pianist/organist Mike Taylor and did a couple of concerts with avant-guardist Walter Zuber-Armstrong (bass clarinet/flute/composer) with Prince Lasha as the other reed in Zuber-Armstrong's ensemble, and also joined a commercial jazz-rock band called "The West Coast Toast" which worked steadily for about a year or so. During this time Walker found opportunities to put together his own groups for gigs and concerts. The association with Mike Taylor led to a recording date for Van-Los called "Brute Force". Commercial work with singers Lovie Eli and Pepper Neeley ensued as well as steady work in strip clubs such as Isy's and the Penthouse (yes, strippers used live bands to do their stuff and most of the material was jazz!). An important step artistically was Walker's establishment of a Sunday night jazz gig at "Le Chat Noir" (a now defunct coffee house in Gastown). Other gigs ensued at long-gone clubs like "The Nucleus" and "The Egress" and at various restaurants and bars. Perhaps the longest association with any club was the legendary "Classical Joint" coffee house in which Walker and his quartet played every Thursday from 1975 until the Joint's closing in 1991. A virtual Who's Who of Vancouver players passed through Walker's group... bassists Neil Swainson, Rene Worst, Lincoln Goines, Wyatt 'Bull' Ruther, Paul Ruhland; pianists Glenna Powrie, Chris Sigerson; drummers John Nolan, Audie Wong, Rocky Weems, Blaine Wikjord, and John Sumner. A mainstay was guitarist Michael Guild (one of the most under-rated players on the Vancouver scene). If there was no other jazz in Vancouver there was always "Thursdays at the Joint". Walker also taped many shows for CBC Radio (Jazz Radio-Canada, Jazzland etc) and Vancouver's short-lived jazz station (CJAZ). He also wrote and performed soundtrack music for Rod Filbrandt's animated film, "Beat". Walker's jazz quartet has also made several appearances at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival in the 80's and 90's.

Walker's career in broadcasting came in 1980 when he was asked to host a CBC show called "Jazzland" which featured Canadian and International talent and lasted two and a half years with Walker as host. The show was moved to Halifax and was an early victim of CBC's budget cuts. It became a disc show with a staff announcer in Halifax. Walker now hosts "The Jazz Show", a weekly three-hour program in which he picks all the music, on University of British Columbia radio station CITR. It airs Monday evenings from 9:00 p.m. until midnight. Walker's extensive knowledge and 'hands-on' experience as a jazz player has made this show one of the most listened to in its genre.

In recent years Walker has been less active as a player, doing a few private and select gigs and away from clubs, but he hopes in the near future to become more active on Vancouver's scene. Walker's distinctive sound on the has been missed and although Gavin admits to influences by Jackie McLean and Art Pepper and of course his friend John Handy, the late great German jazz critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt paid Walker the highest compliment after hearing him with his "Jazz Triangle" (Walker with bass and drums only) at the Western Front... Berendt said, "Gavin Walker is one of the most distinctive alto saxophonists I've heard since Eric Dolphy".

Appears on the following recordings:

Mike Taylor - Brute Force - Van-Los Music VLM3606 - 1973

Gavin Walker (alto sax)
Mike Taylor (piano, organ)
Martell Singleterry (drums)
Albert St. Albert (congas)

Brute force
Lover man
Too old to dream
Black thunder
For all we know (Walker out)
Up in Gavin's flat
For booking information contact: Phone 604-618-7472
Photo of Gavin Walker by Brian Nation

Vancouver Musicians Association