There are 10 days until the Ben Markley Big Band featuring Terell Stafford plays Cedar Walton. I thought I'd share a Cedar tune and recording that 1) is a favorite of mine and 2) that I did an arrangement of. Additionally, I'll share some commentary and biographical info on Cedar and his recordings.
For those of you who don't know a lot about Cedar, I've included his biography from the National Endowment of the Arts. Walton was recognized as a NEA Jazz Master in 2010.
"One of the great hard bop pianists, Cedar Walton was also known for his compositions, some of which have become jazz standards, such as "Bolivia," "Clockwise," and "Firm Roots."
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 after-hours 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.
Eventually, Walton moved to New York. In 1955, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Germany where he performed in a military jazz ensemble. Upon his return to New York City two years later, he began playing and recording with Kenny Dorham, J. J. Johnson, and Gigi Gryce. 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 with Art Farmer and Benny Golson's band Jazztet.
Walton's next significant musical association was with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. During his years with Blakey (1961-64), Walton stepped forward as composer, contributing originals such as "Mosaic," "Ugetsu," and "The Promised Land" to the group's repertoire. Walton left the Jazz Messengers to lead rhythm sections and trios featured in various New York clubs and work as a sideman for well-known artists such as Abbey Lincoln (1965-66) and Lee Morgan (1966-68).
In 1974, Walton joined with bassist Sam Jones, drummer Billy Higgins, and saxophonist Clifford Jordan to form the group Eastern Rebellion, which would perform and record sporadically over the subsequent two decades. Other musicians rotated in and out of the band, including George Coleman, Bob Berg, Ralph Moore, David Williams, Curtis Fuller, and Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros. Higgins became a regular accompanist for Walton throughout the 1980s -- along with other stellar musicians such as Ron Carter,Bobby Hutcherson, Harold Land, and Buster Williams. In addition, he continued to perform in rhythm sections for Milt Jackson, Frank Morgan, and Dexter Gordon and accompanied vocalists Ernestine Anderson and Freddy Cole. He also led the backup trio for the Trumpet Summit Band, which started as a project for the 1995 Jazz in Marciac festival in France." - National Endowment for the Arts
One of the most prominent aspects of Cedar's playing is his ever-present ability to play the blues (not just on blues tunes, on everything!). He truly embodies the African esthetic that is present in Black American Music (Swinging and Blues Based) Jazz! In regards to blues tunes, Walton always had a steady diet in his sets and recordings.
Cedar's Blues is a great example of Walton's compositional style. Many of Cedar's tunes are already arranged (complete if you will). They are complete in that he wrote intros and codas for the pieces. They more than the typical standard song forms with a new melody (contrafact).
Walton didn't use many standard song forms as compositional vehicles. Other than the blues (of which he wrote several) he did write a contrafact on Love for Sale titled Hand in Glove. When Cedar writes on a blues form, he often adds compositional elements that distinguish his blues' from others. The head of Cedar's Blues is 16 bars and features two descending four bar pedal sections at the the last half of the tune. While the blowing changes revert back to the standard chords we expect over the 12 bar form it's tunes like Cedar's Blues and The Newest Blues that offer a glimpse some of Walton's compositional style on the blues.Two other blues tunes worth examining are Bremond's Blues and Holy Land (which I'll discuss later). These two tunes show Walton introducing some different harmonies in blues form and retaining the same harmonies for the blowing.
The recording I've selected features Walton's associate from the Jazz Messengers Curtis Fuller on trombone, longtime member of his trio Billy Higgins on drums, David Williams on bass (who succeeded the great Sam Jones) and Bob Berg on Tenor saxophone.