I first met Walter Blanding in a master class at LaGuardia High School
I first met Walter Blanding in a master class at LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts in New York City. It was 1986 or so, and he was a dread locked 15/16 year old playing a whole lot of saxophone. We played Take the A Train. Yeah… A year later, I conducted an all-star high jazz band with him, Christian McBride, Farid Baron, Lil John Roberts, and other fantastic young musicians from Philly, New York and Washington D.C. The venerated Philadelphia music educator George Allen and I assembled the band to play Duke Ellington’s music at a National Music Educators Conference in Boston. They played Such Sweet Thunder and sounded fantastic. At that time, there probably was not a single high school band in America playing this music. Even though the educators’ reception to the kid’s concert was tepid, I was very proud of those youngsters. I think the reaction was more a rejection of Duke’s music than the kids playing however, but I am still feel blessed whenever I see any of those ‘kids’ today. Matter of fact, we just saw my man, trumpeter Andre Carter at the Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland, and he is still carrying a deep groove around with him.
When Todd Williams left our septet in 1993, Walter joined. Walter then left in 1994 around the time that his twin daughters, Maya and Shai, were born. We continued to play gigs with each other sporadically. I always loved him and his playing. Down through these 30 years, his development as a player and composer/arranger has been a source of great pride and happiness. Walter speaks 4 languages English, Hebrew, Italian and Spanish, he lives in the gym and stays in tremendous shape, and plays his horns with deep blues feeling, harmonic sophistication and directness.
My son Jasper was born in 1995. He lived on the west coast with his mother but came to New York to stay with me several times a year and came on tours all summers (which he hated). Walter’s daughters were his best friends from birth. The plane didn’t touch down before he was saying “Mai and Shai?”. We had a lot of fun pillow fighting, telling stories and doing all sorts of stuff that parents do with kids that make you remain a kid. And when they would dismiss us to play by themselves. Walter and I would go practice our horns. It could go on for hours. Them AND us.
Sometime in 2006, Walter and I were walking back from a movie with our kids. The dusky sun set streets and buildings aglow with burnished orange and they were walking ahead of us prancing and holding hands with the unprotected intimacy of pre-adolescent kids who have been friends from babyhood. We commented on how beautiful the vision of them was in that moment, and Walter said,“Man, these are the times that people remember, but they are now.” I came home, wrote this song and called it, These are Those Soulful Days.
It has a singable “in mode” melody but a very tricky and long harmonic progression. Features our two horns trading written phrases that are also to be partially improvised, it’s deceptively difficult to phrase. From the recording “From the Plantation to the Penitentiary”.
Throughout these sessions, Walter and I had been hunched over our
nusic and microphones, looking at each other for all kinds of subtle cues in phrasing. It’s hard to explain because the music you’re inventing is in an undefined non-physical space and the written music is very concrete, so you’re using your ears to ride that wave and find the gaps and the similarities in intention and dynamics. You’re looking hard, but your eyes aren’t seeing but actually doing something akin to watching in order to communicate and respond to impulses more internal and immediate than sight. We were concentrating so hard on playing together for those two days that as the last notes died away, we just spontaneously hugged each other and said,“Shit! That was intense.”
Now Maya and Shai are 21, and seniors in college and Jasper is 20, and a junior. This is These are Those Soulful Days