The first time I heard the sound of a piano whisper was when my son was six months old and he fell asleep on it in a rocking chair. Years later, I was completely impressed by the chamber band chamber ensemble sound it gave to a short piece of western music.
When he died of a sudden heart attack six years ago at age 29, he touched a huge swath of our family and the musical world we share.
In the wake of his death, an annual Walker Legacy Festival and a performance last weekend of his songs by the newly formed ARC Ensemble marks another profound legacy for Harry Walker, a technology entrepreneur who founded Walker.tv in 2004, and devotes much of his time to the restoration of music.
Not only did Walker hand over Walker.tv to his close friend, Scott Kahan, to run until he retired to his farm, but the site continues to live on as a public service as Kahan works to bring music from other composers—out of the musical muck and to the ears of audiences who are introduced to and inspired by a new insight into our shared musical heritage.
The festival director is Jesse Gamber. Noted entertainer and educator David Alan Miller, a long-time Walker fan and mentor, sits on the ARC board.
Cannonball Adderley writes “We begin with the pearl of Jordan’s cradle, the Gedrum Libri… this pearl is a sine qua non to all other jewelry and must be preserved.”
Along with other leading voices in the classical music world, and many who have just turned 60, Gamber was moved by a recent piece by Vince Guaraldi, famous for his work on television’s “Linus and Lucy” and later for “Peanuts.”
It was a song Guaraldi composed to celebrate the release of the film “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and became an almost instant classic, said to be reminiscent of the original song written for Guaraldi’s 1965 jazz classic, “Linus and Lucy.”
The 2017 Walker Legacy Festival featured members of the ARC Ensemble playing and listening to various Guaraldi compositions live. Guaraldi also served as music director, monitoring the performances and congratulating the musicians for a job well done.
Last weekend, the ARC Ensemble performed “Chandos,” a short piece of music written to warmly welcome visitors to Greece and, according to Guaraldi, “permanently tinta! [stir up] the sickly sun in the hotel room while the dishes are cleaned off the night table.”
Coming from Washington State, Guaraldi came to New York City in 1961 to study at Juilliard, where he met the late composer, Leonard Bernstein. When he returned to Western Washington after a short stint in the army, he formed an integrated jazz combo, The Transylvanian Nine (T9) with some of his fellow Juilliard students and quickly became involved in the jazz, jazz combos and New York City jazz scene.
He moved on to become the assistant organist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and made his New York debut performing with the orchestra at Carnegie Hall on November 7, 1960. His solos were a highlight of his T9 performance.
However, playing in a jazz trio with Rudresh Mahanthappa and Rickey Medlocke, who were also performing on the piece called “Chandos,” he was sidetracked by the “Glyphonic” sound in the setting and they eventually recorded their own arrangement, sans Guaraldi.
Soon enough though, Guaraldi would rejoin the T9 and together they recorded for Columbia Records with Ricky Riccobono and the saxophonist Morton Feldman on trumpet, Kirk Whalum on guitar, and Tony DeShon on bass.
Riccobono worked in engineering at the University of Washington for many years and became an even more accomplished jazz pianist as a result of his two decades of relationship with Harry. Before the end of 2011, as most members of the T9 were preparing to retire, the piece called “Chandos” received the Commission of the Year award from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and was nominated for a Grammy.
The Philadelphia Inquirer celebrated the T9’s 50th anniversary with an interview with the composers