Grammy Award–winning pianist, bandleader, and composer Cedar Walton (1934–2013) is a major figure in jazz, associated with a variety of styles from bebop to funk and famous for composing several standards. Born and raised in Dallas, Walton studied music in Denver, where he jammed with musicians such as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. In 1955, Walton moved to New York, immediately gaining recognition from notable musicians and nightclub proprietors. When Walton returned to the U.S. after serving abroad in the Army, he joined Benny Golson and Art Farmer’s Jazztet. Later, he became both pianist and arranger for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Next, he worked as part of Prestige Records’s house rhythm section, recording with numerous greats and releasing his own albums.
One hallmark of Walton’s impact is his numerous long-term collaborations with giants such as trombonist Curtis Fuller and drummer Billy Higgins. By the end of his career, Walton’s discography, as both band member and bandleader, included many dozens of vaunted recordings with some of the most notable jazz musicians of the 1960s through the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Ben Markley conducted more than seventy-five interviews with friends and family members, musicians who played with or were otherwise influenced by Walton, and industry figures such as club owners. Musicians interviewed include such stars as Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, and Ron Carter. Walton’s wife Martha shared her extensive archives of photos, ephemera such as fliers and tour itineraries, and letters.