Cedar Walton: Cedar’s Blues

25 Aug

Cedar Walton died last Monday, the same week as pianist, composer and NPR host Marian McPartland. Even in death, it seemed, Walton was unfortunately overshadowed.

That was ironically consistent with much of Walton’s professional life: he recorded for John Coltrane’s 1960 album Giant Steps but was passed over for pianist Tommy Flanagan, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1961 on the same say as trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, he was more comfortable. according to William Yardley’s New York Time obit, as an accompanist than as a leader.

The art of accompaniment, said Walton, according to Yardley, most required, “total listening.” Like Walton’s music.

Walton played on more than 400 albums, “but somehow Mr. Walton remained something of an overlooked master, acknowledged by people in the jazz world but little known to the wider public,” wrote Matt Schudel on washingtonpost.com.

Walton’s, and McPartland’s, were the most recent losses of the jazz world at the piano: they came three months after Mulgrew Miller’s passing, which was less than two months after Don Shirely’s, which was approximately four months after Dave Brubeck’s.

“Walton was a class jazz act who could play intelligent, probing bebop and swing-based music in his sleep, but who refashioned familiar jazz traditions in his own ways,” wrote John Fordham at theguardian.com upon Walton’s death.

Walton left the University of Denver in the mid-1950s with $70 and a plan to teach music if he couldn’t play it professionally, according to an interview Walton did with Michael Mwenso. Walton said he and a friend parked their car in the Bronx when they couldn’t find a space in Manhattan.

He was drafted soon after and returned to his brush with Giant Steps.

Walton told jazzwax.com in a 2011 interview “it broke my heart,” when Giant Steps was recorded with Flanagan, but he spoke reverently of Coltrane and he blamed himself. “When it was time for me to solo on the session,” he told jazzwax.com, “I declined . . . The song was too hard for me. But you just didn’t do that. I was young. I should have done what Flanagan did — take a solo on the break . . . I know now you just didn’t do that.”

Walton’s heart and career recuperated nicely over the next five decades. Whatever his reticence, he recorded approximately 60 albums as a leader and many familiar songs, including the piece Cedar’s Blues linked to above.

Almost 40 years later, the Giants Steps recordings with Walton were released. Walton told jazzwax.com: “I had no idea they were still around.”

“His name has always been a watermark of quality, and of particular qualities, for any recording he’s taken part in, as leader or sideman,” wrote Richard Brody at newyorker.com. “Walton had a blend of power and swing, modesty and complexity, hearty tradition and fervent innovation.”

Innovation came naturally. According to Schudel’s washingtonpost.com story: “Asked in 1987 about his approach to writing music, Mr. Walton told the Los Angeles Times: ‘I’ll say, ‘Hey, man, dig this!’ and then play something. If you call that writing, I’m writing all the time.”

sources: nytimes.com, theguardian.com, washingtonpost.com, newyorker.com, jazzwax.com


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