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Saxophonist Donald Walden Dead at 69

Donald Walden, a tenor saxophonist, composer and teacher, died of cancer April 6th in his Detroit home. He was 69. Although born in St. Louis, Walden was a fixture on the Detroit jazz scene since the 1950s. In addition to recording under his own name, Walden played with Dizzy Gillespie, Aretha Franklin, Elvin Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones and many others, including several of Detroit’s legendary Motown artists, such as Stevie Wonder, the Temptations and the Four Tops.

Walden began playing saxophone at 15, studying improvisation with Barry Harris and Yusef Lateef. His recordings included A Monk and a Mingus Among Us, Focus: The Music of Tadd Dameron and A Portrait of You. He also appeared on pianist Geri Allen’s Timeless Portraits and Dreams. Allen was one of many musicians mentored by Walden; others included violinist Regina Carter and bassists Rodney Whitaker and Bob Hurst.

During the 1980s, Walden opened a jazz performance venue called New World Stage, which catered to audiences of all ages.

In 1985, Walden received the Governor’s Arts Award for his work with the Detroit Jazz Orchestra, which he led. In 1990, he produced “Yardbird Suite,” a big-band tribute to Charlie Parker at the Detroit International Jazz Festival. He was also named a Jazz Master by Arts Midwest, in 1996.

Walden began teaching at universities in the ’90s, becoming a tenured professor at the University of Michigan.

Originally Published