UIW Music Student Reflects on His Journey, Roots and Inspirations

February 9, 2024
Dazhir WalkerDazhir Walker has been drawn to music almost as long as he’s been alive. His fascination with exploring notes, rhythms and chords began in his childhood as he played with toy pianos and xylophones. Any time he saw a piano – whether at school, a store or anywhere else – he had to play it, experimenting with putting different notes together. This musical spark was set ablaze when he started fourth grade and attended a music class during the school day.

“That’s where I actually really started to learn the music,” he recalled.

What he learned in his fourth-grade music class paved the way for him to join band as a euphonium player the next year. Soon after, his formal studies in piano – the instrument he had always been drawn to – began. He quickly grasped the fundamentals and outperformed what was expected at his age. When the traditional beginner and intermediate piano books no longer challenged him, he moved on to the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and other famous composers. 

Equipped with a strong technical foundation, Walker enrolled in his high school jazz band his freshman year. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Walker is a former U.S. Army musician, a Music Industries major in UIW’s Department of Music, a jazz pianist, member of the Cardinal Singers and “very talented,” as Bill Gokelman, professor and chair of the Department of Music, described him. It was ultimately his passion for jazz music that solidified his path in life.

Dazhir Walker playing to music“My jazz studies are the really important part of my music, and where do I even begin with that?” he laughed as he struggled to find the words to express his love for his craft.

It turns out, it began in the little moments of his youth – moments like driving to school with something on the radio or listening to the soundtrack to which house chores got done.

“I grew up listening to hip hop, R&B, neo soul, a little bit of gospel here and there,” he remembered. “So, it was the African American side of the arts that definitely drew me over towards jazz. I have no problems with classical piano or romantic era piano, but those just didn't speak to me as well as jazz, because jazz allowed me to express myself more.”

It was jazz greats like Oscar Peterson and John Coltrane who inspired him to go pro with his passion. While he originally intended to study music in college in his home state of Florida, a detour in his life’s plan brought him to the U.S. Armed Forces. Walker knew he could continue playing the piano as a musician in the military, so he started knocking on doors – Air Force, Army, Navy – asking how he could audition for the branches’ bands. It was the Army who first opened the door and offered him an audition. Just a few days later, Walker got the call.

“I auditioned on two pieces,” Walker explained. “They rate you on a 0 to 40 scale. I was able to score high enough because they called me the very next Monday and said, ‘Hey, you made the band, you can go ahead and sign your contract, get rid of whatever contract you had before. Congratulations.’”
His Army experience was everything he was looking for. As a musician in the armed forces, he got to do it all – concert piano, jazz assignments, rock and even marching band opportunities. It was on one of his missions while stationed at Fort Sam Houston that he learned about UIW. An assignment brought him to the Broadway campus for the first time for a Veterans Day ceremony in 2019. Two short years later, he returned to UIW as a student in the School of Professional Studies. After leaving the Army, he knew he never wanted to leave music, so he enrolled full time in UIW’s Department of Music as an undergraduate student.

“Everything just happened to fall into place,” he said.

His time at UIW has helped solidify what his next steps will be, too. Prior to becoming a student, Walker was working to create and produce his own music. Now, as a Music Industries student, he plans to apply what he’s learning to continue that endeavor. Upon reflecting on this year’s Black History Month theme – “African Americans and the Arts” – he shared that he even plans to write dedication pieces to the greats who have influenced his own musical style.

Dazhir Walker playing piano“Without those musical influences, I don't even think I would be where I am right now,” he shared of the Black artists who have inspired him with their art. “Keeping some of those songs of those artists in my repertoire is what's able to keep the creative juices flowing within me. I plan on releasing some dedication songs that essentially encapsulate a lot of the influences that I've had, whether it be Erykah Badu (singer and songwriter), Tevin Campbell on the gospel side, Robert Glasper for piano, Stevie Wonder … as many influences as I can possibly name. It really has made me who I am.”

This gift of inspiration is one Walker now hopes to pass on through his own art. Just as music has helped him in times of stress and trouble, he wants his music to serve as the same remedy for others.

“If there's anything that I have found purpose in and I found life’s meaning in, it is music,” he reflected. “So, even if my music is able to reach just one person, that means the entire world.”