Cedar Walton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cedar Walton
Cedar Walton Dachau 2001.JPG
Background information
Birth nameCedar Anthony Walton Jr.
BornJanuary 17, 1934
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
DiedAugust 19, 2013(2013-08-19) (aged 79)
Brooklyn, New York, United States
GenresJazz, Hard bop

Cedar Anthony Walton Jr. (January 17, 1934 – August 19, 2013) was an American hard bop jazz pianist. He came to prominence as a member of drummer Art Blakey's band, The Jazz Messengers, before establishing a long career as a bandleader and composer. Several of his compositions have become jazz standards, including "Mosaic", "Bolivia", "Holy Land", "Mode for Joe" and "Ugetsu/Fantasy in D".[1]

Early life[edit]

Walton was born and grew up in Dallas, Texas.[2] His mother Ruth, an aspiring concert pianist, was his first teacher,[3] and took him to jazz performances around Dallas. Walton cited Nat King Cole, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum as his major influences on piano.[4] He began emulating these artists' recordings from an early age.

After briefly attending Dillard University in New Orleans,[2] he entered the University of Denver as a composition major, but was encouraged to switch to a music-education program with the goal of a career in the local public school system. This later proved extremely useful, as he learned to play and arrange for various instruments, a talent he honed with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.

Walton was tempted by the promise of New York City through his associations with John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Richie Powell, whom he met at after-hours sessions around Denver, Colorado. In 1955, he decided to leave school and drove with a friend to New York City. He quickly got recognition from Johnny Garry, who ran Birdland at the time.

Later life and career[edit]

Walton was drafted into the U.S. Army and stationed in Germany, cutting short his rising status in the after-hours jazz scene. In the Army he played with musicians Leo Wright, Don Ellis and Eddie Harris. On his discharge after two years, he picked up where he left off, playing as a sideman with Kenny Dorham, on whose 1958 album This Is the Moment!, he made his recording debut.[5] He joined the Jazztet led by Benny Golson and Art Farmer and played with them from 1958 to 1961. In April 1959 he recorded an alternate take of "Giant Steps" with John Coltrane, though he did not solo. In the early 1960s Walton joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers as a pianist-arranger (on the same day Freddie Hubbard joined the group), where, for the next three years, he wrote and arranged such originals as "Ugetsu" and "Mosaic".[citation needed]

He left the Messengers in 1964 and by the late 1960s was part of the house rhythm section at Prestige Records. In addition to releasing his own recordings there, he recorded with Sonny Criss, Pat Martino, Eric Kloss, and Charles McPherson. For a year, he was Abbey Lincoln's accompanist, and recorded with Lee Morgan from 1966 to 1968. In the mid-1970s he led the funk group Mobius. He arranged and recorded for Etta James from the mid-1990s on, helping her win a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday (RCA Victor) in 1994.[6]

Many of Walton's compositions have become jazz standards, including "Firm Roots", "Bolivia" (perhaps his best known), "Holy Land", "Mode for Joe" and "Cedar's Blues". One of his oldest compositions is "Fantasy in D", recorded as "Ugetsu" by Art Blakey in 1963,[7] and as "Polar AC" by Freddie Hubbard, first in 1971.

In January 2010, Walton was inducted as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master.[8]


After a brief illness, he died on August 19, 2013 at his home in Brooklyn, New York, aged 79.[9]

Billy Higgins partnership and The Magic Triangle[edit]

Walton played and recorded with drummer Billy Higgins from the mid-1960s through the 1990s. Higgins and Walton first recorded together in 1965 for Eddie Harris's The In Sound LP, and Higgins played on Walton's first album, Cedar! (1967). They continued to play and record together regularly through the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 1970s, bassist Sam Jones formed a working trio, The Magic Triangle, with Walton and Higgins.[10] They recorded albums under both Walton's and Jones's leadership, and played on several 1970s albums by Art Farmer and Clifford Jordan (including Jordan's Glass Bead Games and Farmer's Art Farmer Quintet at Boomers). Though they did not record as The Magic Triangle, Jordan's albums Clifford Jordan and the Magic Triangle on Stage, Firm Roots, and The Highest Mountain cited the trio's informal name. They also backed up Hank Mobley, Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, and Idrees Sulieman in the 1970s on live and studio recordings. Drummer Louis Hayes sometimes replaced Higgins during this period for recordings and live performances.

In 1975, The Magic Triangle became the core of the Eastern Rebellion jazz collective, which featured (at different times) saxophonists George Coleman, Bob Berg and Ralph Moore, trombonist Curtis Fuller, and trumpeter Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros. Eastern Rebellion released seven albums between 1975 and 1994, all featuring Walton and Higgins.

Sam Jones died in late 1981, and Walton and Higgins carried on with bassist David "Happy" Williams, who also joined them on the four final Eastern Rebellion recordings. Walton, Williams, and Higgins recorded regularly throughout the 1980s and early 1990s under Walton's leadership. Walton and Higgins also appeared on recordings by Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Slide Hampton, Junior Cook, Bobby Hutcherson, Frank Morgan, and Jackie McLean (sometimes with other bassists in place of Williams).

With bassist Ron Carter, Walton and Higgins recorded two live albums in 1991 at the Sweet Basil Jazz Club as the Sweet Basil Trio. A third Sweet Basil Trio record, this time with Williams on bass, was recorded in 1993.

Writing of The Magic Triangle's collaborations with Clifford Jordan, pianist and essayist Ethan Iverson wrote: "Taken as a collection, the Jordan–Walton canon from the seventies is some of the best jazz ever recorded....If I had to pick only one from that collaboration for a desert isle, it would be Jordan’s Night of the Mark VII."[11]


As leader/co-leader[edit]

With Eastern Rebellion

With the Timeless All Stars

With Ian Shaw

  • 1999: In a New York Minute (Milestone)

As sideman[edit]

With Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt

With Art Blakey

With Ray Brown

With Kenny Burrell

With Donald Byrd

With Benny Carter

With Joe Chambers

With Junior Cook

With Ornette Coleman

With Johnny Coles

With John Coltrane

With Larry Coryell

With Sonny Criss

With Kenny Dorham

With Teddy Edwards

With Art Farmer

With Curtis Fuller

With Benny Golson

With Dexter Gordon

With Johnny Griffin

With Steve Grossman

  • Love Is the Thing (Red, 1985)
  • A Small Hotel (Dreyfus Jazz, 1993)

With Slide Hampton

  • Roots (Criss Cross, 1985)

With Eddie Harris

With Jimmy Heath

With Joe Henderson

With Billy Higgins

With Freddie Hubbard

With Bobby Hutcherson

With Milt Jackson

With Etta James

With The Jazztet (Art Farmer and Benny Golson)

With Bjorn Johansen

  • Take One (Odin, 1987)

With J. J. Johnson

With Etta Jones

With Philly Joe Jones

With Sam Jones

With Clifford Jordan

With Kimiko Kasai

  • Kimiko Is Here (CBS/Sony, 1974)
  • Kimiko Kasai (Kittye, 1990)

With Eric Kloss

With Abbey Lincoln

With Pat Martino

With Christian McBride

With Charles McPherson

With Blue Mitchell

With Frank Morgan

With Lee Morgan

With David "Fathead" Newman

With Houston Person

With Dave Pike

With Sonny Red

With Woody Shaw

With Archie Shepp

With James Spaulding

With Idrees Sulieman

With Sonny Stitt

With Jay Thomas

  • Easy Does It (Discovery, 1985)

With Lucky Thompson

With Stanley Turrentine

With David Williams


  1. ^ William Yardley, "Cedar Walton, Pianist and Composer, Dies at 79", The New York Times, August 20, 2013.
  2. ^ a b "Pianist-Composer Cedar Walton Dies at Age 79" Archived 2013-12-15 at the Wayback Machine, DownBeat, August 20, 2013.
  3. ^ John Fordham, "Cedar Walton obituary", Guardian, August 23, 2013.
  4. ^ Deardra Shuler, "Cedar Walton and Barry Harris to play Jazz at Lincoln Center" Archived 2013-06-24 at archive.today, New York Amsterdam News, June 20, 2013.
  5. ^ "Cedar Walton" (obituary), The Telegraph, August 20, 2013.
  6. ^ Appelbaum, L., Before and After: Cedar Walton, JazzTimes, November 5, 2004.
  7. ^ Bailey, Phil (1985), Volume 35 - Cedar Walton, Jamey Aebersold, 1985.
  8. ^ Lifetime Honors, National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters. Archived 2013-09-21 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Mark Memmott, "Jazz Pianist Cedar Walton Dies", NPR, August 19, 2013.
  10. ^ Goldsby, John (2002). The Jazz Bass Book: Technique and Tradition. San Francisco: Backbeat Books. p. 81. ISBN 0879307161.
  11. ^ Iverson, Ethan (April 9, 2016). "Cedar's Blues". ethaniverson.com. Retrieved May 12, 2020.

External links[edit]