Walt’s been a part of my as long as I can remember. I started studying music with him at McDonogh 15 when I was in pre-school. I wasn’t supposed to be in band, but Walt knew my dad and he let me hang around. I went on to study upright bass with Walt. He lived on St. Phillip Street at the time in Big Jim Robinson’s old house right off Rampart Street, across from the park. I would carry my bass over to his house every Saturday morning. I didn’t look forward to those lessons. He was hard on me. Extremely strict. He pushed me harder than any other teacher I’ve ever had. We would sit for hours playing scales up and down, a cigarette dangling from his lips.
His salt and pepper beard. His rock solid build. His stare. His playfulness. Walt was a great athlete. He studied karate for years. He became a black belt. He was proud of karate and applied many of the lessons to life and music. I remember him staying up late at night after our shows, practicing for hours. He made a bet one night that he could kick the sign hanging outside Preservation Hall. The other party eventually backed down. I don’t know if it was because the wage was too high or they actually thought he could do it! There was no doubt in my mind he could.
Walt could be intimidating. One minute ice cold and soft as a kitten the next. He was solid as a brick wall, which could be deceiving since he had the temperament of an artist. He was often misunderstood. He could stop you mid-stride with his glare. In grammar school, I saw him peg a kid once with an eraser from 30 feet away without even looking! I would not want to ever be on Walt’s bad side.
He was an exceptional musician. He took music seriously. Few people know he was the bass player on “Working In A Coal Mine.” He taught me to respect and study the fundamentals of music. He imparted the importance of practice and hard work. Walt taught school in New Orleans for decades. A mighty achievement. Hundreds, thousands, of students passed through his classrooms.
Walt battled his own demons up until his transition. It was difficult to watch, knowing he didn’t have the will to fight anymore. Katrina left an open scar on his soul. It was hard to stay upset at Walt for long. Walt had lots of sides, as we all do. Some good, some regrettable but mostly lovable. He had the gentlest of hearts and at the same time could be hard as nails. He left behind a great legacy. His son Nicholas is one of the finest, most talented musicians I’ve ever known. I don’t know a world without Walt. I miss his chuckle dearly.