A savvy veteran of jazz's hard-bop heyday, pianist Cedar Walton has always been in high demand. When he arrived in New York, musicians like Art Blakey and John Coltrane employed him on canonic recording sessions. These days, venues around the world clamor to book a jazz great of a bygone era who still fronts his own small groups. Lucky for U.S. audiences, Walton has made it an annual event to play two weeks at New York's Village Vanguard every December. Hear the Cedar Walton Trio in concert at the Vanguard, broadcast live on air by WBGO and live online at NPR Music.
Walton is well-known as a versatile accompanist, but it was his driving piano which took center stage at the Vanguard. His flowing touch proved graceful on standards ("Time After Time," a samba-tinged "Body And Soul") and sprightly on bluesy, hard-swinging originals ("Cedar's Blues," "The Holy Land"). He showed himself to be an unassumingly melodic soloist, though if he were ever charged with sounding generic, it should be observed that it was he who helped to codify the genre as it stands. Having contributed a fair amount to both the hard-bop vernacular and the songbook, Walton also called out some favorite originals on the fly. That posed no discernable challenges to bassist David Williams, a regular with Walton for nearly 30 years, and stalwart drummer Lewis Nash, featured on the groove-based "Fiesta Espanol."
Walton moved to New York over 50 years ago; upon arriving, he quickly met some of the top talent in the city. He played with greats such as J.J. Johnson, Art Farmer and Gigi Gryce as bebop was permanently evolving beyond its initial incarnations. But Walton is best remembered for his early-'60s role in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers — whose celebrated cast at the time included Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard — where he held the piano chair for three years. That experience opened up many avenues, and a few years after leaving the band, he began to issue recordings of his own.
Walton still records and performs prodigiously; his latest album, Seasoned Wood, was released earlier this year. The title may be a pun on Walton's name, but it's no joke: When the 74-year-old celebrates his new release at the Village Vanguard, the engagement will mark nearly 50 years of playing the West Village basement.
- "Cedar's Blues" (Walton)
- "Dear Ruth" (Walton)
- "Sixth Avenue" (Walton)
- "The Holy Land" (Walton)
- "Fiesta Espanol" (Walton)
- "Time After Time" (Cahn/Styne)
- "Body And Soul" (Heyman/Sour/Eyton/Green)
- "The Christmas Song" (Torme/Wells)
- "Closing Theme" (Walton)
- Cedar Walton, piano
- David Williams, bass
- Lewis Nash, drums
- Josh Jackson, producer and host
- David Tallacksen, mix engineer
- Josh Webb, recording assistant