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Student Success Stories

At Walker|West

Our Music Students’ Success Stories

Since its founding in 1988, Walker|West has been here for our students above all. Today, we provide thousands of hours of music education each year to kids and adults at all levels of ability.

Walker|West alumni have performed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Our youth jazz ensembles are the only youth groups to perform annually on the main stage at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival – where international headliners also perform ─ and they have played for many thousands more at public and private events throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.

Standout Musicians & Stand-Up Citizens ─ Telling the Walker West Story Loud and Proud

We are a real community, but the individual stories are compelling. Consider:

Kitana Metcalf: 

The summer before her junior year in high school, saxophonist Kitana Metcalf competed at Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in New York City, winning her initial round. Watch her playing Straight to the Heart by David Sanborn. 

Amber Woodhouse: 

Amber Woodhouse was the first female ever accepted in the Dakota Jazz Ensemble and attended the Berklee College of Music. She now lives in Nashville where she performs in various groups as a singer and sax player. Amber has said, “The atmosphere at Walker|West is very uplifting and inspiring,” and she considers faculty member and ensemble leader Felix James a major influence. In August 2019, Amber was featured as one of Nashville’s emerging artists to watch by Slingshot.

Nikki Jean:

Nikki Jean is a songwriter, performer and recording artist who has received a gold record and performed at Madison Square Garden, among many other professional accomplishments in music. Nikki appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2011 in support of her new record and on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2015! Nikki’s heartfelt reflections include: “Thank you for the safe haven and home that is Walker|West. I hope you’re proud of me.”

Paris Strother:

Paris Strother received a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music after gigging all over the Twin Cities with Walker|West youth jazz ensembles and receiving diverse music instruction at our school. Prince became a mentor and backer of Paris’ Grammy-nominated, electro-soul trio KING. Paris, who has performed extensively internationally and is now based in Los Angeles, has said, “Walker|West is a great place! It really shaped me into the musician I am.”

Tasha Baron:

Tasha Baron went on to earn a B.A. in music from the University of Minnesota and attend the School for Improvisational Music in Brooklyn prior to recording with P.O.S. of Doomtree, Heiruspecs, Brother Ali and other major artists. Tasha has said, “My time at WWMA gave me skills, experience and confidence that helped shape me as a professional musician and educator.”

Aaron James:

Aaron James is a Grammy-winning bassist for Gregory Porter. Aaron has performed on three Grammy-winning albums and toured worldwide. He is the son of Walker|West instructor Felix James.

DeCarlo Jackson:

DeCarlo Jackson has toured internationally with the band Hippo Campus.

Greg Paulus:

Greg Paulus studied trumpet at Walker|West and continued his studies at the Manhattan School of Music. After a move to Brooklyn, he concentrated on electronic music. He toured with acclaimed indy band Beirut and started an electronic production team called No Regular Play. Greg has released recordings under his own name on Wolf + Lamb (“Nightime”) and Double Standard Records (“What’s Mine Is Yours”).

Kevin Washington:

Kevin Washington, now a teaching artist at our school, has played and toured as a drummer with amazing jazz artists such as Antonio Hart, James Carter, David “Fathead” Newman and Rodney Jones. Kevin says and means: “I knew I had to come back here. I want to be part of this place and be loyal.”

Nick Phillips:

Nick Phillips is a is a former Walker|West student and faculty member. He is a music producer, composer, instructor and engineer who has composed original music for major record labels. He produced music for internationally acclaimed artists such as Lauryn Hill, Keane, Trey Songz, Mos Def, and Emicida (São Paulo, Brazil). He is now composing music for for television at Asche & Spencer Music, Minneapolis.

deVon Gray:

deVon Gray was selected as an artist in residence at the Fitzgerald Theatre in partnership with MPR, and has collaborated on numerous instrumental projects with nationally recognized jazz and improvisational artists. You can catch deVon performing these days as a part of internationally renowned hip hop artist Brother Ali. deVon testifies that “Walker|West Music Academy has not only guided my introduction to this universal language, but also shaped my love for the origins and heritage of this language – especially where it relates to my cultural ancestry.”

Remy Taghavi:

Remy Taghavi released his first album of originals and arrangements with his combo, Metropolitan Port Authority, in 2009. Remi has said, “Through the guidance of Felix James and everyone at Walker|West, music found a way to speak to me in ways I had never before experienced.”

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