Marion Hayden, Donald Walden's bassist in the Free Radicals, e-mailed these thoughts regarding her late friend”.
The world of jazz in general and Detroit in particular has truly lost a giant. As a protege of Barry Harris, Donald was the link from bebop styles through post-bop styles. His style of playing was very unique and was really a synthesis of his bebop roots and more contemporary influences such as John Coltrane and Joe Henderson. He demonstrated mastery of his horn and a deep understanding of the language of jazz. He was able to convey this knowledge in an academic setting and was beloved as a professor at both Oberlin College and University of Michigan.
As a colleague of Donald's at U of M, I can attest to the great influence he has had on young musician’s understanding of jazz music and its cultural roots.
He brought authority and authenticity to every musical experience. I really loved Donald's composing. Many of his compositions were expressions of personal conscience and experience: "Soweto/Detroit" was Donald's version of a tale of two cities, geographically separated, but similar in many ways; "Sweeter than You Know" is a gorgeous ballad written for his beautiful wife Marsha.
His most recent group project, the Free Radicals, was a wide open performance setting featuring some of Detroit's most dynamic musicians: Cassius Richmond (alto sax) contributed several compositions to the group; Dwight Adams (trumpet), Rick Roe (piano), Thaddeus Dixon (drums, a newcomer to the Detroit jazz scene and recent MSU grad) and myself (bass). Donald composed some thrilling material for the band — different styles and feels. We also have some compositions by Kenn Cox and Mulgrew Miller in the book. The Radicals were in the process of finishing a recording project and had performed to stellar reviews.
Donald's spirit and music will live on in all of us whose lives were touched by him. I will miss him deeply.
Walden in performance at an unknown location.
(MT Photo: W. Kim Heron)