Cedar Walton (left) played a two-piano number with Bill Charlap in a Jazz in July concert on July 23, 2008. Photo © Richard Termine/92Y
The world lost two legendary jazz figures last week: Cedar Walton and Marian McPartland. Both were familiar and welcome guests on 92Y’s stage. Today, we honor Cedar Walton, who made several appearances on 92Y’s Jazz in July Festival, beginning with his debut on July 20, 2006.
Born in Dallas, Cedar Walton was one of the great hard bop jazz pianists. He first came to fame as pianist for Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, for whom he composed such classics as “Mosaic,” “Bolivia” and “Ugetsu.” He enjoyed a long association with singer Abbey Lincoln, and he formed his own small groups, working with drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Ron Carter. He also regularly performed in rhythm sections for Milt Jackson, Frank Morgan, and Dexter Gordon and accompanied vocalists Ernestine Anderson and Freddy Cole. In 2010 he was named an NEA Jazz Master.
Jazz in July artistic director Bill Charlap and Mr. Walton were close friends. On January 22, 2010, Mr. Walton was the guest on NPR’s “Piano Jazz” radio show, and Bill filled for regular host Marian McPartland. 92Y asked Bill for his thoughts on his friend’s legacy. He wrote:
Cedar Walton was one of the greatest musicians in jazz history. His sound, his time, the profound melodic line, the depth of his harmonic language—all were part of the individuality and integrity that ensure the name Cedar Walton be remembered as one of the all time great jazz artists. In addition Walton made an important contribution as a major composer. Firm Roots and Ironclad, two of Walton’s many wonderful compositions, perfectly describe his musical aesthetic.
To know Cedar Walton was to know his brilliance and his humor, which, like his music, had layers of meaning. I feel lucky to have been able to call him my friend and will forever be in awe of his genius.
As will we all.