Cedar Walton

A dependable and quietly brilliant straight-ahead pianist, Cedar Walton (b. 1934) is both reliable and consistently inventive.

After attending the University of Denver and having a stint in the military, Walton moved to New York in 1958. He played with trumpeter Kenny Dorham, trombonist J.J. Johnson, and the Jazztet before gaining recognition for his contributions to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (1961-1964), playing alongside Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, and Wayne Shorter. Walton also worked as Abbey Lincoln’s accompanist (1965-1966) before launching his solo career.

Cedar Walton’s first four albums as a leader (1967-1969) were made for the Prestige label. Cedar has Walton heading a trio with bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Billy Higgins, welcoming trumpeter Kenny Dorham and tenor saxophonist Junior Cook to the group on several selections. Walton also contributed four originals to the impressive debut.

Spectrum combines the album of the same name and the pianist’s The Electric Boogaloo Song. While the latter song was an attempt at a hit, Walton’s “Ugetsu” became better known. He is joined by trumpeter Blue Mitchell, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, and two different rhythm sections for a fine hard-bop set. Soul Cycle features Walton splitting his time between acoustic and electric piano, performing with a trio and a quintet, with James Moody heard on tenor and flute during some numbers.

Walton co-led a group with tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley in the early 1970s and had a second stint with Blakey in 1973. He also led the trumpetless quintet Eastern Rebellion but has mostly been featured with his own trios or as a valuable sideman ever since.