Aug 19, 2013
Cedar Walton, one of the great hard-bop pianists of all-time, has died in New York at the age of 79.
Walton was first taught piano by his mother, and, after high school, moved to Colorado to commence studies at the University of Denver. There, during afterhours jazz club gigs, he met musicians, such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and John Coltrane, who would sit in with Walton's group when traveling through town. Walton was drafted into the Army, and stationed in Germany, cutting short his rising status in the after-hours scene. While in the Army, he played with musicians Leo Wright, Don Ellis, and Eddie Harris.
In 1959, he recorded with Coltrane on his seminal album Giant Steps, but the recordings weren't included on the initial issue of the album; the alternate tracks were later issued on the CD version. From 1960-61, Walton worked as a key member of with Art Farmer and Benny Golson's band Jazztet.
But it was Walton's next significant musical association as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (1961-64) that pushed him into prominence as a composer and improviser. Walton tunes like "Mosaic," "Ugetsu," and "The Promised Land" were highlights of the group's repertoire.
Walton recorded nearly forty albums as a leader, and was a valued sideman on such classic albums as Joe Henderson’s Mode for Joe; Donald Byrd’s Slow Drag; Ornette Coleman’s Broken Shadows; Kenny Dorham’s Blue Spring; Dexter Gordon’s Tangerine; Pat Martino’s Strings; Abbey Lincoln’s Abbey is Blue; and Blue Mitchell’s The Cup Bearers. He appeared on Christian McBride’s album New York Time; McBride later wrote a song dedicated to him, “The Shade of the Cedar Tree”.