David Walker is a young man filled with aspiration and talent. This combination has afforded the humble saxophonist a position among a pantheon of locally recognized musicians. Walker is a recent award recipient of the 41st Annual Richard R. Deas Student Concerto Competition in the UNCW Division.
The late Dr. Richard R. Deas, former chair of the UNCW Department of Music, helped to create the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra in 1971. Later, in 1976, he assisted in developing this correlating music competition as a way to give talented young musicians an opportunity to perform with a symphony orchestra.
Raised in Leland, Walker remembers his growing interest in the saxophone as a young student at Belville Elementary School. When a high school band came to perform at his school, his passion for the instrument became solidified.
Walker credits his current musical success to a few inspirational people he has connected with along the way. His high school band director, Christopher Cook, was the first real influencer by encouraging him to join the marching band. Cook had a big effect on Walker academically.
“He pushed my understanding of jazz and what I could really get out of the music,” says Walker. “The world of music really opened up for me.” It was at this time that Walker decided he would major in music.
Walker was filled with the determination to take his passion for the saxophone to the next level. He began taking private lessons with Michael Waddell who came highly recommended by Jim Varno, an instrument repair technician for Brunswick County and avid performer on the music scene. After about a year of lessons under his belt, Walker auditioned for the UNCW music program.
With his acceptance to the program in the Fall of 2014, he began studying under Dr. Frank Bongiorno, professor and current department chair of UNCW’s music department.
“I owe a lot to Dr. Bongiorno,” Walker admits. “I am so impressed by the way he interacts with his students. He takes an individualized approach to each student.”
Walker adds that when each player attains a certain level of expertise, Bongiorno encourages them to play music suitable to their individual style.
In preparing for the competition, Walker explained how he had to choose a concerto piece to play from memory. On the day of the competition, he remembers being extremely nervous, especially when it was decided that he’d be the first to perform. To top things off, he had used his hour break from his campus job for the performance.
“It was the hardest thing I’d ever done,” he recounts. After he returned to work that day, he received the news that he had won the competition. At first, he didn’t believe it. The news was so surreal that he admits it took him an entire day to process it.
As a musician, Walker is regarded as someone with presence. He credits this not only to Bongiorno but also to Leroy Harper, Jr., a saxophonist who used to play with James Brown. Bonjiorno helped shape his classical style, while Harper influenced his rock and jazz style. Walker met Harper at an open mic night at a sports bar in Leland where Leroy had been part of the house band. The two formed a friendship and Walker received a lot of inspiration from him. “I shape my [jazz] sound after the way he plays,” he says, “I don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing without him.”
Walker has formed his own band with a handful of college friends and plays locally in downtown Wilmington. The band, FEEBS, can be seen at Bourbon Street on Friday and Saturday nights and Walker feels that “the band has potential with a decent local following.” They play a variety of tunes from Childish Gambino to Elvis.
Walker is looking toward the future and wants to pursue a master’s degree in music performance while also teaching at the collegiate level. He explains that his interest in teaching stems from his desire to “give back to students like my teachers have given to me.” He has aspirations of performing globally one day.
As a promising musician, Walker is grateful for the influence and support that has been bestowed upon him from his mentors, as well as family members. Both his parents and grandparents have been avid supporters of his musical endeavors and were extremely pleased to learn about his recent honor. The encouragement and support are paying off. There is no doubt that the sky is the limit for this talented young man.