June 15, 2024


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Interview with Chris Walden: I became the lead arranger at the “Oscars” 4 years ago: Video, new CD cover

Jazz interview with jazz composer and arranger Chris Walden. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Chris Walden: – I was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. My mother is a choir singer and from an early age I saw musicians coming to our house for rehearsals and I was fascinated by the instruments they would bring and play. I started learning to play recorder at age 4, piano at age 7, and trumpet at age 14. I became interested in jazz and played in the local high school big band. At age 16 I started to write my own big band arrangements. While still in high school I played trumpet in jazz clubs and in wedding bands on weekends. After the mandatory military service went to the music conservatory in Cologne, Germany where I majored in composition and minor in conducting and graduated with 2 master degrees. Throughout my 20’s I wrote arrangements for all German radio big bands and radio symphony orchestras, arranged and conducted for recording sessions, and started to compose for German film and TV. By the time I was 29 I felt I had reached the limit of what I can accomplish in Germany and decided to emigrate to Los Angeles in 1996.

After arriving in Los Angeles I started composing for TV movies for ABC and CBS, and I started my own big band. I started writing arrangements for producers like David Foster, Phil Ramone, and Tommy LiPuma. I wrote arrangements for artists like Aretha Franklin, Paul McCartney, Michael Bublé, Seal, Barbra Streisand, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Christopher Cross, Michael Bolton, Michael McDonald, Diana Krall, Kendrick Lamar, Elton John, Queen Latifah, John Legend, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, and many many more.

I worked as principal arranger on “American Idol” for seven year, and then “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” for 4 years. I became the lead arranger at the “Oscars” 4 years ago.

I’ve been nominated for a Grammy seven times, but so far have not won.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

CHW: – My sound as arranger/composer is determined by project I’m writing for.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

CHW: – My writing has evolved with the assignments I get.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: Chris Walden, LMR Jazz Orchestra & St. Dominic’s Schola Cantorum – Missa Iubileum Aureum: Golden Jubilee Jazz Mass, how it was formed and what you are working on today. 

CHW: – I love about this album that it was a new challenge for me, something I had never done before, setting the traditional mass liturgy to music.

Currently I’m composing music for a documentary for Netflix about gangs and violence in US prisons.

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?

CHW: – I did not select the musicians for this album, they were selected by the LMR Jazz Orchestra. They selected me.

New CD – 2022 – Buy from here

JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

CHW: – That depends on the kind of project I’m writing the music for.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

CHW: – There are many stories, but unfortunately I can’t share any of them here without discrediting anyone.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

CHW: – Good question, but I don’t know the answer.

JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?

CHW: – I don’t know how to answer that.

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

CHW: – Streaming services to pay one penny per stream to the artist AND composer.

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

CHW: – The news on PBS.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

CHW: – Listen!

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?

CHW: – I don’t really.

JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

CHW: – As I mentioned earlier, your questions are more geared towards instrumentalists, but I’m a composer/arranger, so a lot of them don’t really apply to me.

JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career? At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview? 

CHW: – I have never given a concert where I have not been paid, but I have been part of concerts that have been free to the public.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

 Quincy Jones, CW, Jorge Calandrelli (2011)

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