Cedar Walton, 1934 - 2013

August 20, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the 1980s, I used to go hear Cedar Walton at Bradley’s or the Knickerbocker in duos with bassists like Ron Carter and Buster Williams.  He was a musician’s musician.  Few jazz musicians become famous, but even among jazz pianists he was probably less well known than many of his peers.  Still, he played with most of the greats – Coltrane, Rollins, Hubbard, Gillespie. 

In the early 1960s as part of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, with Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter, he contributed several lasting compositions to the group’s book.  His tunes too are less well known, probably because many of them depart from the standard forms.  “Firm Roots,” “Mode for Joe,” and “Clockwise” are part of the jazz repertoire, but they’re not necessarily the tunes that you would call at a jam session.  His best-known tune is “Bolivia,”  with its simple but unmistakable opening bass line.

(Cedar's solo starts at about the 3:40 mark.)

(One detail of his biography that may not make it into the obits: When he first came to NYC from Texas in the 1950s, one of his day jobs was at the Automat. It was a different New York back then.)

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