Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Walton, Cedar (Anthony, Jr.)

Pianist Cedar Walton has displayed throughout his fifty-year career a deep melodic sensibility within the hard bop landscape. With his work with trumpeter Kenny Dorham, drummer Art Blakey and others, Cedar has demonstrated that versatility and dedication can expand on past innovations, even in the daunting landscape of modern jazz.

Cedar Anthony Walton Jr. was born on January 17, 1934 in Dallas, Texas. Growing up in Dallas, Walton received his initial musical education from his mother, who taught Walton the fundamentals of the piano. From his preliminary experiences with music, Cedar set his sights on a career in music. Upon graduating from high school, he enrolled at the University of Denver. During this time, Cedar attended local Denver clubs where he sharpened his performance experience.

Throughout his time in Denver, Walton was introduced to the stars of the jazz scene when they would pass through Denver including tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie (and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. Cedar attended college until 1954, deciding a year later to move to New York City in order to start his professional career.

Shortly after arriving in New York City, Walton was drafted into the military and was stationed in Germany. While in the military, Cedar continued to perform in a jazz group, receiving the opportunity to play with trumpeter Don Ellis tenor saxophonist/organist Eddie Harris and saxophonist Leo Wright.

Upon his discharge, Walton returned to New York City where he began to receive steady work, performing around town with alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson and bandleader Gigi Gryce. Following his stint with Gryce, Cedar joined Kenny Dorham’s group, making his recording debut on Dorham’s 1958 album This Is The Moment! for Riverside Records.

Following his stint with Dorham, Walton joined trombonist J.J. Johnson’s group. With Johnson, Cedar went on his first tour and played the famed Village Vanguard for the first time. The same year, he performed on John Coltrane’s groundbreaking record Giant Steps for Atlantic Records.

1959 also saw Walton performing on singer Abbey Lincoln’s album Abbey Is Blue. Included on the album was trumpeter Tommy Turrentine, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, bassist Bobby Boswell and drummer Max Roach. By 1960, Walton joined tenor saxophonist Benny Golson and trumpeter Art Farmer’s ensemble Jazztet. The ensemble is considered a seminal group of the hard bop movement along with pianist Horace Silver’s quintet.

In 1961, Walton became a member of drummer Art Blakey’s group the Jazz Messengers with saxophonist Wayne Shorter, trombonist Curtis Fuller, bassist Jymie Merritt and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard.For three years, Cedar acted not only as a pianist, but an arranger and composer as well.

Walton’s recording debut with the group was 1961’s Mosaic for Blue Note Records. On the album’s title track, Walton crafts a frenzied introduction that is improved by Blakey’s insistent power on the ride cymbal. Walton’s solo reflects the overall feel of the song while adding an almost acrobatic touch that includes profound intervallic movement. The inclusion of three horns enhances the harmonic terrain of the group, giving the ensemble a bold sound.

Walton remained with the Jazz Messengers until 1964, leaving the group in order to pursue band-leading and freelance opportunities throughout New York. During his time with Blakey, Cedar wrote several tunes that became a mainstay of the bandleader’s repertoire including “Mosaic,” “Bolivia,” and “Ugetsu,” also known as “Fantasy In D.” The following year, he accompanied tenor saxophonist Jackie McLean on a tour of Japan.

From 1965 until 1966, Walton performed with Abbey Lincoln as her accompanist. Cedar then spent the next two years recording with trumpeter Lee Morgan, appearing on his albums Charisma, The Rajah, Sonic Boom and others.

In 1966, Walton recorded ,i>Cedar!, his first album as a leader. Released on Prestige Records, the album included Kenny Dorham, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Leroy Vinnegar. The album included originals and standards such as “Take the “A” Train” and “My Ship.”

The same year, Walton performed on tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson’s album Mode For Joe, writing the album’s title track. Included on the album were Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Joe Chambers.

On the album’s title track Walton sets up the cool atmosphere of the song with a bright voicing that he sparsely plays. The addition of the vibraphone, trumpet, bass and drums playing in unison with Walton augments the feel of the phrase. What’s most impressive about Cedar’s performance is how to accompanies the vibraphone solo. Cedar plays behind Hutcherson with a little more vibrato as if to mirror the timbre of the vibraphone.

From 1967 until 1969, Walton became a house pianist for Prestige, performing on records by tenor saxophonists Teddy Edwards, Eric Kloss, Charles McPherson and Houston, alto saxophonist Sonny Criss and guitarist Pat Martino.

Starting in the late 1960s until the early 1970s, Walton maintained the rhythm section of bassist Sam Jones and drummers Billy Higgins and Louis Haynes in several trios. In the early 1970s, Walton performed with tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley as well as freelancing with trumpeter Johnny Coles, and tenor saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Lucky Thompson. In 1973, Cedar reunited with Blakey for a Japanese tour.

The following year, Cedar formed the group Eastern Rebellion with Jones and Higgins. The group started out as a revolving ensemble that included tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan. By 1975, Jordan was replaced by George Coleman. The group has recorded and performed intermittently over the years with a rotating cast of musicians including Curtis Fuller, bassist David Williams, tenor saxophonists Bob Berg and Ralph Moore and trumpeter Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros.

The subsequent year, Walton recorded with vibraphonist Milt Jackson in Tokyo, forming an association that lasted until the 1990s. The mid-seventies also saw Cedar beginning to experiment with funk music and electric sounds with his group Soundscapes. He spent the late 1970s performing with alto saxophonist James Spaulding, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Philly Joe Jones.

Cedar began his career in the 1980s by developing a trio with Billy Higgins and Ron Carter. In 1981, Cedar joined the group Timeless All-Stars, a sextet that included Higgins, Curtis Fuller, Bobby Hutcherson tenor saxophonist Harold Land and bassist Buster Williams.

In 1985, several of Walton’s transcriptions were published in Nine Jazz Originals Cedar Walton as part of the Jamey Aebersold series A New Approach to Jazz Improvisation. The same year, Cedar performed with trombonist Slide Hampton, saxophonists Dale Barlow and Steve Grossman. A year later, Cedar performed on the score to director Spike Lee’s film She’s Gotta Have It.

In 1991, Walton paid tribute to Blakey with the album The Art Blakey Legacy. The album was recorded live at Sweet Basil in New York and featured former members of the Jazz Messengers including Lou Donaldson, trumpeter Philip Harper, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson and trombonist Steve Turre. Cedar would later revisit Sweet Basil for the 1997 live album You’re My Everything.

In 2000, Walton appeared on Jackie McLean’s album Nature Boy. On “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” Walton presents the song by playing a sentimental sounding introduction that perfectly executes the ballad feel of the song. Throughout his accompaniment and solo, Cedar effortlessly implements a sophisticated touch while still maintaining a strong, dynamic affect within the ensemble.

In 2001, the Hal Leonard Corporation released “The Cedar Walton Collection,” a collection of his songs as well as arrangements of standards performed by Walton. The same year, Cedar began an association with High Note Records, beginning with Promise Land through his latest release Seasoned Wood in 2008.

Walton currently lives in Brooklyn, New York and maintains an active performing and recording schedule.

Select Discography

As a leader

Cedar! (1966)

Plays Cedar Walton (1969)

Breakthrough (1972)

Firm Roots (1974)

Mobius (1975)

Animation (1978)

Cedar’s Blues (1985)

Live At Maybeck (1992)

Roots (1999)

Naima (2005)

Seasoned Wood (2008)

With Art Blakey

Mosaic (1961)

Caravan (1962)

Free For All (1964)

Indestructible (1964)

With John Coltrane

Giant Steps (1959)

With Jackie McLean

Nature Boy (2000)

With Lee Morgan

Charisma (1966)

The Rajah (1966)

Sonic Boom (1967)

Contributor: Eric Wendell