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Cedar Walton

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Cedar Walton
Walton in 2001
Background information
BornJanuary 17, 1934
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
DiedAugust 19, 2013(2013-08-19) (aged 79)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
GenresJazz, hard bop
Occupation(s)Musician, composer

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]

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.[9] 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."[10]


After a brief illness, Walton died on August 19, 2013, at his home in Brooklyn, New York, at age 79.[11]


As leader/co-leader[edit]

Year recorded Title Label Year released Notes
1967 Cedar! Prestige 1967
1968 Spectrum Prestige 1968
1969 The Electric Boogaloo Song Prestige 1969
1969 Soul Cycle Prestige 1970
1972 Breakthrough! with Hank Mobley Cobblestone 1972
1973 A Night at Boomers, Vol. 1 Muse 1973 live
1973 A Night at Boomers, Vol. 2 Muse 1973 live
1974 Firm Roots Muse 1976 live
1974 Pit Inn East Wind 1975 live
1975 Mobius RCA 1975
1976 The Pentagon East Wind 1976
1976 Beyond Mobius RCA 1976
1977 First Set SteepleChase 1978 live
1977 Second Set SteepleChase 1979 live
1977 Third Set SteepleChase 1983 live
1977–78 Animation Columbia 1978
1980 Soundscapes Columbia 1980
1980 The Maestro with Abbey Lincoln Muse 1981
1981 Piano Solos Clean Cuts 1981
1981 Heart & Soul with Ron Carter Timeless 1982
1982 Among Friends Theresa 1989 live
1983 The All American Trio with Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette Baystate 1984
1985 Cedar's Blues Red 1985 live
1985 The Trio 1 Red 1986 live
1985 The Trio 2 Red 1986 live
1985 Cedar Walton Timeless 1986
1985 Bluesville Time Criss Cross 1986
1986 The Trio 3 Red 1986 live
1986 Blues for Myself Red 1986
1986 Cedar Walton Plays Delos 1987
1988 Standards with the VIP Trio California Breeze 1988
1988 Standards Vol 2 with the VIP Trio California Breeze 1988
1990 Duo with David Williams Red 1991 also released as Off Minor
1990 As Long as There's Music Muse 1993
1992 Cedar Walton at Maybeck Concord Jazz 1993 live
1992 Manhattan Afternoon Criss Cross 1994
1996 Composer Astor Place 1996
1997 Roots Astor Place 1997
2001 The Promise Land HighNote 2001
2002 Latin Tinge HighNote 2002
2005 Underground Memoirs HighNote 2005
2005 Midnight Waltz Venus 2005
2006 One Flight Down HighNote 2006
2008 Seasoned Wood HighNote 2008
2009 Voices Deep Within HighNote 2009
2010? Cedar Chest HighNote 2010
2010 Song of Delilah Venus 2011
2011 The Bouncer HighNote 2011

Posthumous releases

  • Reliving The Moment – Live At The Keystone Korner (HighNote, 2014) – live rec. 1977–78
  • Charmed Circle (HighNote, 2017) – rec. 1979

As leader of Eastern Rebellion

As a member[edit]

The Timeless All Stars

As sideman[edit]


  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 December 15, 2013, 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 June 24, 2013, 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 September 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Goldsby, John (2002). The Jazz Bass Book: Technique and Tradition. San Francisco: Backbeat Books. p. 81. ISBN 0-87930-716-1.
  10. ^ Iverson, Ethan (April 9, 2016). "Cedar's Blues". ethaniverson.com. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  11. ^ Mark Memmott, "Jazz Pianist Cedar Walton Dies", NPR, August 19, 2013.

External links[edit]