Cedar Walton On Piano Jazz
Piano Jazz's 30th-anniversary celebration continues as pianist Cedar Walton, a guest on the show's first season in 1979, returns to the program with guest host Bill Charlap. Walton's resume includes sideman stints with some of the giants in jazz: John Coltrane, J.J. Johnson, Kenny Dorham and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, among many others. He's also led his own band, Eastern Rebellion.
Walton opens the session with his elegant solo take on the Hoagy Carmichael song "Skylark."
"I love the way you harmonize that tune and make it your own," Charlap says.
"I have been in love with that tune for quite some time," Walton replies.
The two pianists discuss Walton's beginnings in Texas, as well as his college days studying music education at the University of Denver in Colorado.
"We had to learn to play all of the instruments," Walton says, "and I still think that helped me later in arranging for The Jazz Messengers."
Walton follows up with two of his own songs: "Midnight Waltz" and "Braymon's Blues." The former is a swinging waltz in the standard three-quarter time, but with a decidedly bluesy feel. In "Braymon's Blues," he borrows a few changes from John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Walton was actually the first pianist to record that tune with Coltrane, although Tommy Flanagan appeared on the eventual album.
"The sequence was Cedar first, then Tommy," Walton says. "I left town and John had a deadline, and so he went on and did it without me, much to my chagrin. It was a very difficult piece and, of course, John had been working on it 24 hours a day."
Next, the two pianists get together for a "Cedar-style" duet on the well-shined standard "All the Things You Are." Charlap follows with his solo treatment of another Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein tune, "All in Fun."
Walton reflects on his days working with his trio.
"In those days, the '50s, a group could play one place for months," Walton says. "Billy Higgins was down at the Five Spot with Ornette Coleman, and we hooked up somehow, with Sam Jones joining us, and later Ron Carter."
"What an incredible chemistry you have had with those musicians," Charlap says. "All of you play with such clarity. It seems there are no wasted musical choices."
The session closes with a pair of duets: a bouncing tribute to Charlie Parker in "Star Eyes" and a warm, bluesy workout evocative of Walton's Texas roots in "Willow Weep for Me."
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