|Birth name||Cyril Frank Walter|
September 16, 1915|
|Died||August 18, 1968
New York, New York
|Genres||Popular music, Jazz|
|Labels||Liberty Music Shops, Atlantic, Columbia, MGM, RCA|
|Associated acts||Stan Freeman, Greta Keller, Mabel Mercer, Lee Wiley|
Cy Walter (September 16, 1915 - August 18, 1968) was an American café society pianist based in New York City for four decades. Dubbed the "Art Tatum of Park Avenue," he was praised for his extensive repertoire (with an emphasis on show tunes) and improvisatory skill. His long radio and recording career included both solo and duo performances, and stints as accompanist for such elegant vocal stylists as Greta Keller, Mabel Mercer, and Lee Wiley.
Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Walter grew up in a musical family and received early classical training from his mother, a professional piano teacher. In 1934, after a summer job playing piano on the overnight New York to Boston night cruise, he enrolled briefly at New York University but soon accepted an offer to join the Eddie Lane Orchestra on a full-time basis. Four years later, he formed a two-piano team with Gil Bowers and played at Le Ruban Bleu when it opened. Solo engagements followed at upscale bars and supper clubs like the Algonquin, the Blue Angel, and Tony's on West 52nd Street. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Walter explored other musical surroundings: as pit pianist with the Jerome Kern musical "Very Warm for May," as accompanist for Mabel Mercer and Greta Keller, and as leader of his own orchestra at the night club La Martinique. He briefly ran his own club, Cy Walter's Night Cap, before being called to a fourteen-month stint in the Maritime Service.
From 1944 to 1952, Walter appeared regularly (as part of a duo piano team with Stan Freeman, and later with Walter Gross) on ABC's popular weekly radio series Piano Playhouse. Reaching an international audience over Armed Forces Radio, and with commentary by Milton Cross, Playhouse featured (in addition to the anchor duo) notable guest pianists from the jazz and classical worlds, teamed up "in all sorts of unusual combinations as duos, trios and quartets."
Walter found an ideal showcase for his talents when he opened the elegant Drake Room of New York's Drake Hotel on December 21, 1945. The following year, a Metronome profile noted that "The Cy Walter appeal can be summed up with two t's: taste and the tune. ... Sinatra, Whiting and other bigtimers are constantly dropping by... to pick up on some obscure show tune that he has resurrected from the vast storehouse of his musical mind... obscure little melodies that never made the Hit Parade and great timeless songs that have been lost in the shuffle." Walter continued at the Drake Room from 1945 until 1951, building a reputation as the "dean of Manhattan's piano professors," according to The New Yorker (1950).
By then a fixture on the New York music scene, Walter spent the rest of the 1950s performing at various Manhattan venues and recording both as a solo pianist and accompanist—-for example, on Ahmet Ertegun's fledgling Atlantic label. While not a prolific songwriter, he also crafted a number of songs in an advanced harmonic style. For example, he composed both words and music for "Some Fine Day" (1953), and collaborated with Alec Wilder on "Time and Tide" (1961) and Chilton Ryan on "You Are There" (1960) and "See a Ring Around the Moon" (1961).
In 1959, Walter was invited to resume playing solo piano at the Drake Room. This six-nights-a-week engagement would continue until a week before the pianist's death in 1968. "I guess by now I know how to work the Drake Room," he quipped with typical understatement to an interviewer in 1966.
- Piano Stylings of Cy Walter (Liberty Music Shops LMS-1007, early 40s)
- By Request (Request Records SW 107-112, early 40s)
- Cy Walter at The Drake Room Piano (Apollo A-14, 1948)
- Piano Moods (Columbia CL 6161, 1951)
- Holiday for Keys (Columbia CL 6202, 1952)
- Rodgers Revisited (Atlantic 1236, 1956 LP; Collectables COLS 6915, 2008 CD)
- Cy Walter Plays Gershwin Classics (Atlantic 8016, 1957)
- Hits from the Great Astaire-Rogers Films (RCA Camden CAL-533, 1959)
- A Dry Martini Please! (Westminster WP-6120)
- Cy Walter at The Drake (MGM E/SE-4393, 1966)
- Piano Playhouse - with Stan Freeman (MGM E-514, 1950)
- Manhattan - with Stan Freeman (Epic LG 1001, 1955)
- Porgy and Bess - Mabel Mercer (Liberty Music Shops, 1942)
- Songs By Mabel Mercer, Volume II - with Stan Freeman (Atlantic ALS 403); tracks reissued on The Art of Mabel Mercer (Atlantic 2-602, 1965 LP; Rhino/Atlantic COL-CD-6838, 2001 CD)
- Mabel Mercer Sings Cole Porter - with Stan Freeman (Atlantic 1213, LP; Rhino/Atlantic R2 71690, 1994 CD)
- Songs By Greta Keller (Liberty Music Shops)
- Greta Keller Sings Kurt Weill (Atlantic ALS 405)
- Night in Manhattan - Lee Wiley with Stan Freeman, Bobby Hackett, Joe Bushkin (Columbia CL 656, 1951; Sony Special Products WK 75010, CD; Collector's Choice 204, 2001 CD)
- Lee Wiley Sings Vincent Youmans - with Stan Freeman (Columbia CL 6215, 1952; Columbia 2OAP-1496; Collector's Choice 204, 2001 CD)
- Lee Wiley Sings Irving Berlin - with Stan Freeman (Columbia CL 6216, 1952; Columbia 2OAP-1496; Collector's Choice 204, 2001 CD)
- Bach, Bob. "Cy Walter," Metronome, Nov. 1946:25.
- "Cy Walter Dies; Cocktail Pianist," New York Times, 20 Aug. 1968:41.
- Walter, Cy. Liner notes to A Dry Martini Please! (Westminster WP-6120).
- Zion, Sidney E. "What's The Drake? It's Where Cy Walter Plays," New York Times, 26 Aug. 1966:37.
- Jones, Will. "Blonde 'Laps Up' Piano Magic," Minneapolis Morning Tribune, 28 May 1954:32.
- Crosby, John. "Small Program, Big Audience," New York Herald Tribune, 31 Oct. 1950.
- Gavin, James. Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret. Grove Weidenfeld, 1991, p. 65.
- "Small and Cheerful," New Yorker, Sep. 23, 1950:4.
- Jenness, David and Don Vesley. Classic American Popular Song: The Second Half-Century, 1950-2000. Routledge, 2005, p. 268.