|NEA JAZZ MASTER:|
Pianist Cedar Walton
After a long wait, finally I managed to catch one of his performances at Yoshi's Jazz Club in Oakland, Saturday April 29, 2012 at 10:00 P. M. where he appeared with bassist David "Happy" Williams and drummer Willie Jones III.
Cedar Walton is a very gracious person, he is regarded as a versatile pianist with 'a funky touch and cogent melodic sense.' His life is a constant quest for excellence, no doubt fueled by discreet positive traits which have brought him recognition as a National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master, the nation's highest honor in jazz.
Today Cedar Walton enjoys an iconic stature in Jazz, from his peers and his many music fans. His elevation to this plateau has not come without many decades of "paying dues." In the process, he has met professional challenges, made prudent career adjustments, as music preferences, and public tastes and appetites have dictated, but he has always remained uncompromising on the core values and deep belief in himself that have shaped him from the moment he decided to go to New York in 1955, not only to get out of Texas, where he was born, but to expand his artistic consciousness, and give full vent to his prodigious creative energy.
From 1961 - 1964, Walton was a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers with tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, trumpeters Freddy Hubbard and Lee Morgan. He also led groups that included, tenor saxophonists Clifford Jordan, George Coleman, trumpeter Ralph Moore, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Billy Higgins.
During the 1970s Cedar Walton led the funk group Sound Scapes that toured the USA, Europe and Japan. The following decade, he became a member of the Timeless All Stars, which included tenor saxophonist Harold Land, vibraharpist Bobby Hutcherson, trombonist Curtis Fuller, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Higgins.
Currently Walton is regarded as one of the most influential jazz pianist in the genre, to that must be added: "And one of its most gracious and respected survivors." He tours, plays his special brand of sophisticated jazz music and spreads affecting joy where ever he lends his spirit.
|Drummer Willie Jones III|
|Bassist David "Happy" Williams|
Cedar Walton and the trio opened the show with a swinging blues (Louis' Blues) with Walton setting a quick pace, that was picked up by bassist David Williams who gave a glimpse of this Caribbean roots by way of an early quote of Sonny Rollins' (St. Thomas) among his other "happy" moments when it looked like he might break out in a Calypso dance as he played. But it was just an inspirational lead in to "cool" world class drummer Willie Jones Jr. III who peppered the swing with sustained rhythmic elegance and drive until Walton took over and moved the groove to an end.
After the applause, Walton promised more magic, "...this time we'd like to turn to the compositional skills of the late, great Billy Strayhorn...starting with "Lush Life," continuing with "Daydream" and finally "Raincheck." "Lush Life" was painted by Walton's piano in easy swinging, straight ahead colors against engaging, bopish repeating bass patterns by Williams, that gave the tune a hip, modern feel. They then swung "Daydream" with Walton's piano mixing some Calypso-sounding riffs into the thought stream, and Williams' bass answering with quick lyrical emulations. On "Raincheck," Willie Jones III definitely made his presence felt with hints of the influence of drummer Billy Higgins. He is not outwardly ebullient or animated as Higgins, but is pacing, timing and sensitivity were not at issue. Williams has very quick hands that at times turn his drumsticks into a flitting blur. He produces an array of rhythmic patterns using his entire drum kit with a cool, appointed, surgical precision.
When Walton meandered carefully into Guy Wood and Robert Mellin's (My One And Only Love), a song that demands a slow tempo, he played with the poignant sparkle and cool appeal of Nat Cole; each note expressing lingering desire and care so convincingly that a sea arms began to drape themselves around shoulders in the room, and a beguiling far-away look descended like twilight over many an eye, as Jones' immaculate brushes added an extra layer of delicate charm to the mood, allowing Williams perfect space to lift the tune's melody out of his bass and entertain the crowd with his impeccable technique.
Walton loves to play the blues, and he always has that special, satisfying, swinging tempo, that fits perfectly, right at his fingertips, as he did on (Braymon's Blues), setting a steady hard bop pace that showed the musical thoroughbred quality of this exceptional rhythm section; and it was the perfect cue for the musical highlights of the evening's performance: (Dear Ruth), a song Walton dedicated to his mother, which Walton played with easy-swinging, melodic lyricism. Ruth must have been a caring mother; the tune embodied that feeling in the quiet pride and reserved joy heard in Walton's playing; Williams and Jones joining him with touching sensitivity and personal interest. To savor the warmth lingering from "Dear Ruth," Walton turned to Arthur Johnson and Sam Coslow's (My Old Flame), casting the tune in a cooling glow that hard wired the trio of players and their performance in my collective consciousness as unforgettable.
The final selection of the show was a tune written by Walton and recorded at Yoshi's during one of his past visits (Iron Clad). "Iron Clad" featured some wonderful, good old-fashioned Walton piano, and turned into an iron clad case for bassist David Williams to return to his strong Caribbean roots and harvest one of his strongest bass showing of the night. He engaged Walton's piano in a note-for-note, beat-for-beat rhythmic dance driven by infectious Calypso energy and colors that Williams relished, taking his bass into a deep melodic, sweltering body-shaker.
Two of the lasting impressions of the music of Cedar Walton, are its sophistication, and the level of poise he achieves in its execution. You are never disappointed or dissatisfied with his playing. He is forever show ready!