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Published: Thursday, 4/20/2006

Saxophonist Jack Walter: 'I've got my life back'

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Jack is back.

Toledo saxophonist Jack Walter is returning to the stage for the first time since a debilitating stroke four years ago.

"I didn't think I'd ever play again. I'd given up," said Walter, 75.

But his musician friends, especially pianist Jim Gottron, refused give up on the jazz saxophonist and encouraged him to start playing again.

"I've known Jack for 35 years, and he was quite an astounding player," Gottron said. "Unfortunately, he had that stroke and he was pretty depressed. He didn't want to do much with his music, didn't want to pick up his horn. But Jeff Brenneman and myself wanted to see if we could get him playing again. We told him not to try to play a song or a scale, but just play one note. Then try playing two notes. And that's what he did. It's great to see him playing again."

In an interview this week, Walter said, "They did everything but throw my horn at me. And I thank them because I've got my life back."

Walter was born in Port Clinton and moved to Toledo when he was a toddler. He said he knew he wanted to play the saxophone the first time he heard the instrument.

"When I was about 9, my aunt said I should listen to music and bought me tickets for 75 cents to the Paramount Theater," Walter said.

When he got there, he sat through two movies before Wayne King played with his live band.

"The show came on, here comes this guy with an alto sax, and when he started playing, I don't know, something happened to me," Walter said.

The 9-year-old kid stuck around the rest of the day and night, sitting through five movies just to hear the band play, and his aunt eventually showed up looking for him.

"We were walking home in the snow and I said I wanted a saxophone for Christmas, and that's what I got. That's how it all started," Walter said.

He has been playing the saxophone ever since.

When he was 18, he and Toledo pianist John Mast went to Detroit to see Charlie "Bird" Parker. After the first set, they went up and spoke with the jazz legend, who invited the teens to sit in and play the next set. Mast jumped at the chance but Walter was hesitant, knowing Parker's place in jazz history.

"He's the father of all saxophonists," Walter said. "When he asked me what I played, I looked down at the floor and said, 'alto sax.' He asked if I wanted to join him in the next set. And he was serious! I wish I had, just so I could say I did it. But I wasn't ready yet."

In 1957, Walter moved to New York City and lived in Greenwich Village, working a day job and hanging out at the city's thriving jazz clubs at night.

"[Saxophonist] Pepper Adams and I were very close for those two years. He introduced me to everyone," Walter said. "I used to go to the Cafe Bohemian once or twice a week to see the best jazz group ever - Miles Davis' group. He had John Coltrane and Cannonball [Adderly] and a very young Bill Evans on piano. ... I was in walking distance to a lot of the clubs and practically lived at the Five Spot, where Pepper Adams was playing."

In Toledo, he played in the Tony Celeste Band with Claude Black. He traveled with Bernie Cummings' band, and also played with Toledo jazz guitarist Arv Garrison.

After his stroke, Walter could no longer use his fingers well enough to play the sax. But the feeling and agility has been improving steadily. He doesn't play as fast as he used to, he said, but his tone has returned and he enjoys playing ballads.

"It's OK. I never was one for playing a lot of notes, although I could if I wanted to. I wanted to play with a lot of feeling," Walter said.

Alto saxophonist Jack Walter will perform at 9 and 11 p.m. Saturday in Murphy's Place, 151 Water St., with Clifford Murphy, Claude Black, and Bob White. Tickets are $6, $10, and $15. Information: 419-241-7732.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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