Cedar Walton

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 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 "Fantasy in D".[1]

Cedar Walton
Background information
Birth nameCedar Anthony Walton, Jr.
BornJanuary 17, 1934
Dallas, Texas, United States
DiedAugust 19, 2013(2013-08-19) (aged 79)
Brooklyn, New York, United States
GenresJazz, Hard bop

Early life

Walton was born and grew up in Dallas, Texas.[2] His mother Ruth was an aspiring concert pianist, and was Walton's initial teacher.[3] She also 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 recordings of these artists from an early age.

After briefly attending Dillard University in New Orleans,[2] he went to the University of Denver as a composition major originally, but was encouraged to switch to a music education program targeted to set up a career in the local public school system. This switch later proved extremely useful since Walton learned to play and arrange for various instruments, a talent he would hone 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 various after-hours sessions around the city of 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 that time.

Later life and career

Walton was drafted into the U.S. 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. Upon his discharge after two years, Walton picked up where he left off, playing as a sideman with Kenny Dorham (on whose 1958 album This Is the Moment! Walton made his recording debut),[5] J. J. Johnson, and with Gigi Gryce.[6] Joining the Jazztet, led by Benny Golson and Art Farmer, Walton played with this group 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 for three years, on the same day as Freddie Hubbard. In this group, which also featured Wayne Shorter, he demonstrated a keen sense of arranging in originals such as "Ugetsu" and "Mosaic". He left the Messengers in 1964 and by the late 1960s was part of the house rhythm section at Prestige Records, where in addition to releasing his own recordings, he recorded with Sonny Criss, Pat Martino, Eric Kloss, and Charles McPherson. For a year, he served as Abbey Lincoln's accompanist, and recorded with Lee Morgan from 1966 to 1968. During the mid-1970s, he led the funk group Mobius.[6] Walton arranged and recorded for Etta James from the mid 1990s helping her to win a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday (RCA Victor) in 1994.[7]

Many of Walton's compositions have been adopted as jazz standards, including "Firm Roots", "Bolivia", "Holy Land", "Mode for Joe" and "Cedar's Blues". "Bolivia" is perhaps his best-known composition, while one of his oldest is "Fantasy in D", recorded under the title "Ugetsu" by Art Blakey in 1963,[8] and as "Polar AC" by Freddie Hubbard, first in 1971.

In January 2010, Walton was inducted as a member of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters.[9]

After a brief illness, Walton died on August 19, 2013, at his home in Brooklyn, New York, at the age of 79.[10]


As leader/co-leader

With Eastern Rebellion

With the Timeless All Stars

As sideman

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)

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 Eric Kloss

With Abbey Lincoln

With Pat Martino

With Christian McBride

  • New York Time (Chesky, 2006)

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 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. "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. Cedar Walton page at Last.fm.
  7. Appelbaum, L., Before and After: Cedar Walton, JazzTimes, November 5, 2004
  8. Bailey, Phil (1985), Volume 35 - Cedar Walton, Jamey Aebersold, 1985.
  9. Lifetime Honors, National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters. Archived 2013-09-21 at the Wayback Machine
  10. Mark Memmott, "Jazz Pianist Cedar Walton Dies", NPR, August 19, 2013.
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