In-Demand Arranger and Film Score Composer Chris Walden Leads His Own Big Band on Full-On!, First Recording in Seven Years
When he’s not busy creating orchestral settings for major pop stars like Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Michael Bublé and Diana Krall, the prolific composer-arranger-conductor Chris Walden focuses his attention on his first love, swinging big band jazz. The in-demand Walden must have been extremely busy over the past seven years because he hadn’t recorded an album of his own since 2007‘s Kurt Marti Suite. But he’s back with a vengeance on Full-On!, his fourth recording as a leader for the Seattle-based Origin Records.
An irrepressibly swinging outing that showcases Walden’s ambitious writing, along with potent solo contributions from some of Los Angeles’ first-call studio musicians, Full-On! finds the five-time Grammy-nominated German-born artist delving into the music that is closest to his heart. “I make my living mostly as an arranger for record dates for artists who don’t have anything to do with jazz, or just remotely to do with jazz,” he says. “Those are my commercial gigs and they pay well, but my big band is really my creative outlet.”
“I would definitely say that I come from a traditional school of writing that is very much influenced by Neal Hefti and Sammy Nestico,” says the acclaimed composer-arranger. “I always strive to take it beyond that and be more adventurous, and Thad Jones is definitely one of those more adventurous writers that influenced me, along with Bob Brookmeyer and Bill Holman. But I always feel a strong connect to the root of big band writing with the great Basie arrangers.”
Born in Hamburg, Germany on October 10, 1966, Walden began playing recorder at age five and piano by age seven. By 13, trumpet became his main instrument and he began writing compositions and arrangements for local high school bands at age 16. After graduating high school at 19, he went on to study popular music at the Music Academy in Hamburg. At age 21 he moved to Cologne to study with trumpeters Jon Eardley and Malte Burba and arranger Jerry van Rooyen at the Cologne University of Music. He graduated in 1994 with two masters in trumpet and composition/arrangement. In 1987, Walden joined the German National Youth Jazz Orchestra as a trumpet player. Its leader Peter Herbolzheimer early on noticed Walden's interest in arranging and composing and became an important mentor for the aspiring musician. In 1991, Walden assisted Herbolzheimer in orchestrating the music to the German feature film Schtonk!, which received an Oscar nomination in the category “Best Foreign Language Film.” This led to work as a composer for more feature films and many TV movies and series in Germany. Walden also served as the musical director for four years for the televised German Movie Award show, “Deutscher Filmpreis.” Walden emigrated to Los Angeles in 1996 at the age of 29 and quickly gained work scoring TV movies for ABC, CBS, A&E, the Hallmark Channel and the SciFi Channel. He also wrote arrangements for recording sessions of singers Christopher Cross, Michael Bolton, Nancy Wilson and Paul Anka. In 1999, he formed the Chris Walden Big Band and they debuted with 2005’s Home of My Heart, which received two Grammy nominations. They followed with 2006’s No Bounds and 2007’s Kurt Marti Suite. And now comes their most potent outing to date in the aptly-named Full-On!
Walden plans to bring his swinging aggregation, which makes rare appearances in jazz clubs around Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara, to Japan later this year to play an engagement at the Blue Note in Tokyo. He also hopes to make an East Coast tour in the near future. “I don’t expect to bring money home from a tour like this,” he says. “It would be more of a fun thing to do.”
Hearing this invigorating, swinging music would be a fun thing for the East Coast audiences as well.