In addition to talking about the ballads Walton played and composed, I wanted to talk a little about some of his influences. Solo piano performances as well as ballads (whether in the trio or solo context) provide a lot of insight into a pianist's influences. In an interview in 2010 with Ethan Iverson, Walton says of his influences,
" I was so hungry. There were many Nat King Cole records… Before I left Dallas, I remember the first recording of “Satin Doll” by Duke Ellington on Capitol. I couldn’t believe it. I played that 78 record over and over. I can remember that as an outstanding experience – the clarity."
EI: What about your exposure to Bud Powell?
CW: By the time I heard Bud, I think he’d been sick. He wasn’t the Bud that I heard on record in Texas, like “Somebody Loves Me,” “Parisian Thoroughfare” – all his great records. I heard his “Over the Rainbow,” which I still sort of play like him. “Petty larceny” you might call it.
Walter Davis Jr. told me about watching Bud. Bud could play endlessly. They’d have to say, “Okay, Bud, that’s enough.” Bird and Dizzy, they had to use their lungs. But Bud was endless in this magical thing he had come upon. As far as the records, the history of piano goes, he succeeded people like Teddy Wilson and Earl “Fatha” Hines in that style – even Ellington. And he played horn-like, as you know, figures up here[mimes treble clef] but unusually structured. And his chordal knowledge, as it turned out, was very influential – to say the least! He was absolutely innovative.
EI: Did you try to learn Bud’s lines in Texas?
CW: Mmm-hmm. I was trying to learn everybody’s lines. I was very impressionable. Also, I was fascinated with Bud’s accompaniment on the records with Miles and Bird. I heard those chords – they’re so rich. And as much as he could do with lines, he was doing that as well as he did this.
I was a fanatic, trying to absorb all the material off the records, but you could only get to a certain degree. You had to see someone playing this.
EI: So who showed you stuff at the piano?
CW: A guy named Gil Coggins.
EI: Oh, right, he’s on some of the Miles records.
CW: On one at least. He wasn’t a great soloist; he was a great accompanist. He had played with Lester Young, too. I met him over here in Bed Stuy in a brownstone on Washington Avenue. His mother rented out rooms to those of us who had just got to town. Even before I moved in we became friends: I would go over and he would show me stuff he had learned while he was with Miles. He was very respectful of Miles. Miles knew a lot of harmony; Miles was a student of harmony. He came up with a new version of George Shearing’s “Conception” – you remember that piece? I forgot what Miles called it.
Ethan Iverson does a wonderful job with these interviews. The entire interview with Cedar as well as an interview with my former teacher David Hazeltine can be found at Ethan Iverson/Cedar Walton Interview
The pacing of Walton's solo piano introductions are also very influenced by Tatum. Cedar Walton at Maybeck is a shining example of Walton playing in the solo context. In this record, his influences are acknowledged while his playing is still inherently Cedar.
Two original ballads that Walton penned were I'll Let You Know (which shows up on the recordings Mosaic and Roots as well as the above listed trio clip) and When Love is New. When Love is New first showed up on the Jazz Messengers recording Indestructible and a few years later on the Lee Morgan record Charisma under the title Rainy Night.
One of the aspects about Walton's ballad playing that drew me in was the freedom in which he played. Whether playing on a standard such as Somewhere Over the Rainbow (one of his specialties) or one of his own compositions, he possessed the ability to freely create melody as well as an esthetic that captivated the listener.