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A young man with a horn

Alicia Colombo

By Lawrence H. Geller

Jim Walker has two claims to fame.

He shares his name with a famous mayor of New York in the 1920s: Jimmy Walker. No, he wasn’t named in Mayor Walker’s honor, despite having been born in 1926 – the year he took office. Still, Walker chuckles at the name comparison when he gets asked about it occasionally.

His second, and far more remarkable, talent is that he’s probably the only nonagenarian to play “Trumpeter’s Lullaby” publicly, as he did at a talent show for PPH (formerly Philadelphia Protestant Home) in Lower Northeast Philadelphia where he lives. Walker turns rhapsodic when discussing “Trumpeter’s Lullaby,” which is a very difficult piece of music.

“I first heard it played by the late Al Hirt [an award-winning 20th century musician] and I was enchanted,” said Walker. “I hadn’t played [the trumpet] for a few years, and never imagined I would ever have the chance to play anything publicly again, let alone the ‘Trumpeter’s Lullaby.’ Never.”

But as we all know, life has many twists and turns. When the talent show was announced, he didn’t sign up initially. At 94, he wasn’t even sure where his trumpet was. But with the encouragement of his wife, Pat, among others, he began looking for his beloved brass instrument. And, voila! There it was in the storage closet on a top shelf way in the back.

Signing up for the talent show was the easy part. He didn’t even have the sheet music at first, but a loving niece bought and mailed it to him.

The other problem was a big one: He needed practice. “To play the trumpet well, you have to build up your lip to fit around the mouthpiece to produce a quality sound,” he said. “That is a challenge.”

By the day of the talent show, he was ready and received enthusiastic applause for his performance. Stepping up to challenges has been a theme running throughout Walker’s life.

As a teenager, he drew attention to himself by blowing a bugle. When asked if he was any good at it, he laughed, “I don’t know about that. But I was loud.”

He then decided to play music seriously and took up the trumpet. After purchasing one in a pawn shop, he took lessons for four years.

World War II was raging when he graduated from high school, and he enlisted in the Air Force. Walker became a fighter pilot and was ready to fly off into the “wild blue yonder,” just as the war had ended. “Thank goodness,” he said.

Marriage and children followed, while he went to night school at La Salle University. Starting out as a draftsman, he rose to supervisor in mechanical design. All the while, fulfilling his love of music with a big dance band and several symphonies in Ambler, Bucks County and Chestnut Hill.

“We played everything from Beethoven to Carmen to Les Misérables,” Walker said.

Next time, Walker won’t have to be coaxed into performing. “I know where my trumpet is now,” he chuckled.

Lawrence H. Geller is an actor, writer, activist and creator of the Anne Frank Theatre Project.

Categories: Milestones eNews Music


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