RIP Cedar Walton 1934-2013
“One of the great hard-bop pianists” – National Endowment for the Arts
One of the famed alumni of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Cedar Walton was one of the most acclaimed—and busy—pianists of his generation. Just two months after playing a tribute at the Blue Note (with Barry Harris) to the late Mulgrew Miller, Walton passed away today at his Brooklyn home at age 79. He was scheduled to perform with the latest edition of his Easter Rebellion ensemble at the upcoming Monterey Jazz Festival.
Taught piano by his mother in his native Dallas, Cedar Walton studied music at the University of Denver before moving to New York in 1955. The Army became his first significant gig, however, and his early bandmates while stationed in Germany included Leo Wright, Don Ellis, and Eddie Harris. After returning to New York, he recorded and/or played with Keny Dorham, J.J. Johnson, the Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet and John Coltrane (Giant Steps)in the late 50s and early 60s. He became a Jazz Messenger in 1961, joining Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard for three years. In the mid to late 60s, he worked as Abbey Lincoln’s accompanist; recorded with Art Farmer, Hank Mobley, Pat Martino, Charles McPherson and Lee Morgan; and served as “house pianist” for Prestige Records. He also co-lead a bop quartet with saxmen Clifford Jordan, George Coleman or Ralph Moore; bassists Sam Jones or David Williams; and drummer Billy Higgins, an ensemble that became Eastern Rebellion in 1975. Also in the mid 70s, Walton rejoined Blakey for a tour of Japan and again recorded with Art Farmer. During this time period, he also headed Mobius and Soundscapes, experimenting with electric piano and funk grooves. ”
From the late 70s, Walton continued to perform in rhythm sections for Milt Jackson, Frank Morgan, and Dexter Gordon and accompanied vocalists Ernestine Anderson and Freddy Cole. In 1981 he joined the Timeless All-Stars with Harold Land, Bobby Hutcherson, Curtis Fuller, Buster Williams and Billy Higgins. He also led the rhythm section for the Trumpet Summit Band, which started as a project for the 1995 Jazz in Marciac Festival in France. Over the past two decades, he continued touring and recording with his trio, appearing on the Muse, Evidence, Steeplechase, Verve, and High Note labels. His most recent releases, all on High Note, included One Flight Down (2007), Seasoned Wood (2008); Voices Deep Within (2009), Cedar Chest (2010), and The Bouncer (2011).
Also known as a composer, Walton was best known for “Bolivia,” while other compositions have also become jazz standards, including “Firm Roots,” “Clockwise,” and “Cedar’s Blues.” In 2010, Cedar was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Watch this interview with Cedar made on August 8 last year: