Pianist and composer Cedar Walton died this week, at the age of 79. He was perhaps best known for his years with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (1961-1964), where he presented some of his compositions that became jazz standards, like Ugetsu (Fantasy in D), Firm Roots, Bolivia and Mosaic. He also recorded with John Coltrane on the famous Giant Steps album, but his alternate take of the title track was not released until a CD reissue many years later.
Walton’s 1999 CD Latin Tinge was seen as a departure from his hard-bop roots, but Latin rhythms had always been a part of Cedar’s palette. His composition Latin America was written in the 1960s, and of course, Bolivia has a samba-esque swing section to it. His Ojos de Rojos also has a subtle Latin beat.
Latin Tinge teamed Cedar Walton with Venezuelan-born, Berklee-educated bassist Cucho Martinez and renowned New York percussionist Ray Mantilla. While the standard tunes are well-played (Triste, Tres Palabras, Besame Mucho, Perfidia), it’s the Walton originals that really stand out on this recording, because they’re played with a different energy. It’s like the trio perked up and said “Hey, here’s some new material to stretch out on!” Latin America, The Vision and Latino Blue are the highlights of this CD.
Cedar Walton left a large legacy of marvelous compositions and recordings. He’ll be sorely missed.
Listen for Cedar Walton’s Latino Blue on this week’s Jazz Caliente, Thursdays at 2pm on KPLU’s Mid Day Jazz.