Pianist Cedar Walton | Biography of a Jazz Legend

This past August, we lost Cedar Walton, a great keyboardist who got his start as a member of Art Blakey’s band. I had the distinct privilege of seeing Mr. Walton perform on several occasions and it was always an inspiring display of musical virtuosity by both him and the members of his band.

Cedar Walton was born in Dallas, Texas in January 1934. He began studying piano with his mother, a concert pianist, but he also had the opportunity to see numerous jazz performances which greatly influenced the young piano player. He soon developed a preference for the playing styles of musicians such as Nat King Cole, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, and Art Tatum.

He moved to Colorado to attend the University of Denver where he began to gig regularly at local jazz clubs. It was during that period that he met Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and other musicians as they passed through town on tour.

He left school and headed for New York in 1955, and after a two-year stint in the army, he began recording and performing with Kenny Dorham, JJ Johnson, and Benny Golson. He also recorded an alternate take of “Giant Steps” with John Coltrane that was intended to be a part of the seminal album, but was not included until a later version of the CD.

In the 1960s, Cedar Walton began working with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and it was as part of this group that he began to establish himself as a composer and arranger. In 1964 he left the Jazz Messengers and became a member of the Prestige Records house band where he had the opportunity to record on a number of records.

Over the next few decades, he would lead and perform as part of various groups. As a recording artist, he also released more than 40 albums throughout the span of his career. He awarded as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters member in 2010.

He passed away after an illness at the age of 79 in his home in Brooklyn, New York.

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Published on: October 21, 2013

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