News has already spread through our community that we lost Cedar Walton this morning. Fortunately for all of us, he was active almost up until the end. I had several opportunities to interact with Cedar during my years at WKCR, and more than several on late evenings at clubs like Bradley’s, the Vanguard, and Sweet Basil, and had the honor of writing liner notes for two of his recordings and having him to consent to sit with me for a DownBeat Blindfold Test a decade or so ago. I’m appending below the notes for Roots, a well-funded late ’90s reworking of some of his older “hits” with an all star band, and a wonderful 2009 solo date for Muse entitled Underground Memoirs. The note for Roots (Astor Place was the label) contains a fair amount of biographical information.
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Roots Liner Notes – Cedar Walton:
In the spirit of his muse, Duke Ellington, Cedar Walton doesn’t delete material. Author of some of the most memorable tunes in the jazz lexicon, he continually refines, reinvents, recontextualizes, finds unexpected angles that provide fresh perspectives on familiar vistas. While Composer, his successful Astor Place debut, focused primarily on new work, here the maestro revisits nine choice classics written over a 35-year span, orchestrated for a crackerjack horn section, underpinned by the first-call bassist and drummer in the world, and interpreted by three of the most prominent young improvisers of the day.
Above all else, Walton conjures melodies that stick in the brain. On Roots, Terence Blanchard’s burnished trumpet sings a pair of them with warmth and grace. Like Walton a composer of note, and a fellow alumnus of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Blanchard comments, “My teachers told me that you can learn arranging, orchestration, how to write for strings, but nobody can show you how to write a melody. A person with that talent is special. Cedar’s melodies are very striking, often taking unexpected directions. He makes difficult chord progressions sound magical. Art Blakey’s statements always ring true in my mind, and he’d say, ‘Let the punishment fit the crime.’ That means when you play a Cedar Walton tune, the melody establishes a certain kind of vibe or tone that you deal with — they have a character all their own. That’s what makes his tunes interesting and challenging to play.”
Walton’s voice began to flower during a three year stint with the edition of the Messengers that featured Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard and Curtis Fuller, the front line that recorded “Fantasy in D” (as “Ugetsu” on Live at Birdland, Riverside, 1963). “Art demanded that we compose and arrange, and that’s the material he’d use,” the pianist recalls. “He was a great coordinator, and when he added his final touch, it pushed the tune off the paper, added impetus and drive and presentation. I always liked to conceive of original melodies; the Messengers allowed me an outlet, a platform, a vehicle to get my pieces played immediately by a group of fantastic players, and my arranging skills developed tremendously.”
Lewis Nash, whose precise tempos and ferociously elegant patterns are a highlight of Roots, listened exhaustively to that Messenger band. “Cedar’s tunes with the Messengers have the defining characteristics of some of the swingingest and funkiest jazz music,” the drummer comments. “He found a way to put the soulfulness of a great bluesy solo in his compositions, so you get the feeling that the melody is also something someone could have heard while they were playing their solo. He’ll use a simple rhythm, repeat it and then slightly alter it so that it’s off by a half-beat or so, creating tension. You’re allowed a lot of freedom to put in your own two cents, but the melodies and rhythms are so strong that only certain things will really work — which still gives you an infinite variety of choices.”
Nash also marvels at Walton’s cool perspective, the seemingly effortless control he maintains over the full context of every situation. “He’s the type of musician where you know everything is in good hands,” he remarks. “No matter what’s going on up front, he knows the right thing to play. It doesn’t seem like he’s trying; he just does it. He knows how to set up an intro to a tune, to any standard, however many million times it’s been played, and come up with something interesting and a new twist on it.”
Cedar Walton operates intuitively at a level of craft that comes from a life devoted to music with single-minded passion. Let’s hear the 65-year-old native of Dallas, Texas tell the story of his formative years.
“I began doodling at 6 or 7, mainly because there was a piano in the house. My mother played from sheet music, and she taught students at our home on a regular basis. Though she always wanted to be a pianist, she decided to teach school instead of pursuing a serious career. She and my father were great Jazz fans, and they used to point out to me some of their favorites, who included Duke Ellington, Nat Cole, Cab Calloway, all the stars of the day. We’d hear location broadcasts from various key dance halls around the country by Duke Ellington and Earl Hines — I even heard Art Blakey from Birdland on radio. In the ’40s there was a weekly show called Piano Playhouse that featured a Classical guy and a studio guy, who would have a Classical and a Jazz guest artist. People like Tatum, Teddy Wilson and Erroll Garner would be guests, always playing solo, never using accompaniment, and that greatly inspired me.
“I played clarinet and glockenspiel in the marching band at Lincoln High School in Dallas that would play halftime of the football games. The band director, J.K. Miller, had been in some Jazz orchestras and had played trumpet, so he had experience in the real world of music. He was quite good, very sociable, and inspired all of us. I was able to play by ear, and very often Mr. Miller would say, ‘Walton, show them how that goes.’ When the football season wasn’t going on, we used to play stock arrangements of charts by Dizzy Gillespie, Ellington, Basie and a lot of other people. It was a very good period for learning and experimenting. On a lot of my early gigs while I was in high school, Fathead Newman was the leader, and we’d jam together after I graduated. We were Jazz musicians, but we had to play sort of a rhythm-and-blues style, the shuffle rhythm — DONT-CHA, DONT-CHA — so people would dance, but we would also play ballads, and throw in a special arrangement that was purely bebop.
“I listened to a lot of records — there wasn’t much opportunity to hear people live. We heard the very latest recordings by Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray, the Billy Eckstine Orchestra, Illinois Jacquet, Art Tatum and Nat King Cole, who was a favorite. I got most of my influence trying to emulate what I heard, and I consider Art Tatum and Bud Powell my major influences from those years. Bud’s recordings were among my favorites, especially his comping on records like ‘Little Willie Leaps’ with Charlie Parker playing tenor; I’d been dazzled by Hank Jones in that regard, and Bud gave me another point of view. Bird also fascinated me, and Ellington blew me away. Once he played at the State Fair, and he was as close as I am to you. Ellington left an indelible impression on me with his presence, his personality, his carriage, his style, his orchestrational and conducting ability, general stage manner, devotion to his audience, and last but not least his piano playing. I always intended to escape the environment of my home town, and in listening to the Ellington, Bud Powell and Charlie Parker records I felt confident that I had a world out there to escape to.
“Even before I went to school, I liked to ‘make up pieces,’ as my mother called it—’Are you making something up again?’ I didn’t need too much encouragement. I arranged by trial-and-error; I’d write notes down and ask people to play them, and they’d say, ‘Well, this isn’t written right!’ After a short time at Dillard College in New Orleans, where I was in the same class as Ellis Marsalis, I enrolled in the University of Denver, where I majored in Composition. There we were obliged to play instruments other than our own, which was very helpful later on in scoring for them. The music department was good, and I enjoyed my studies. My forte was harmony and theory. I had to study much harder than some of the pianists who could play very well, but couldn’t figure out the chords. I more or less shone in the theory class. I played with a very good bass player named Charles Burrell, who was a member of the Denver Symphony and also had a great jazz sound. I started playing with a local band at an after-hours place called Lil’s where people from the national bands would go to eat and sometimes sit in after they finished playing, and I met people like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Richie Powell, and John Coltrane.”
Walton took the New York plunge in 1955, and began slowly to establish himself on the scene, making rehearsals, sessions and little gigs in all the boroughs. A highlight was a brief gig in Philadelphia with trumpeter Kenny Dorham — a harmony master and sophisticated composer — who became a lasting friend. Walton was drafted the next year. He was posted initially to Fort Dix, where he met Wayne Shorter (then making weekend gigs with Horace Silver), then was stationed in Germany. He worked his way into the Special Services, where bandmates included artists like Eddie Harris (yes, Walton was on the original “Freedom Jazz Dance”), Don Ellis and Don Menza. He returned to New York in 1958, worked with Lou Donaldson and Dorham, jammed at sessions led by Babs Gonzalez at Minton’s and Monday nights at Birdland. Trombonist J.J. Johnson, looking for a pianist to replace the departing Tommy Flanagan, heard the young aspirant at a Birdland session, and hired him to fill the chair.
He spent two revelatory years with Johnson that focused him on the primacy of melody. “J.J.’s arranging techniques for small band were mind-boggling to me at the time when I was a sideman,” Walton recalls. “He would play the complete arrangement in a compressed, effective way, like a condensed big band. His compositions were outstanding and his discipline was unbelievable. J.J. epitomizes melodic playing, and he’s a great master of improvisation and spontaneous playing as well as a more tempered and structured approach. He was the last word in instrumentalism. Listening to him nightly and hearing that kind of excellence was enough to convince me that I should work hard to achieve the same thing myself.”
Roots is the latest document to demonstrate emphatically that Walton attained that goal as composer, arranger and — not least — pianist. He plays with typical virtuosity, controlling the full instrument, spinning out long, inventive lines, in perfect synch throughout with Nash and nonpareil bassist Ron Carter, a cohort in every imaginable context since the early ’60s. His complete, orchestrative trio concept is heavily inflected by “the vigorous richness of Nat Cole and Ahmad Jamal; you can’t get any better in terms of clarity, concept, technique, swing — everything is in there.”
Walton’s compositional process is immutably related to the piano, the voice that links him to the voices deep within. “Usually I find myself sitting at the piano, and I search for original passages, phrases, melodies, harmonies that I haven’t heard before,” he states. “A good composition will be interesting, have built-in pleasures for the player interpreting it, crossroads that we anticipate coming up as we proceed on our trip. As far as form, the tunes only adhere to what comes to me as I’m writing them. If they happen to be even, so be it, but it’s not deliberate.”
Cedar Walton is a survivor, an individualist with an instantly recognizable sound; he’s produced a remarkable corpus of recordings, all too often under less than optimal circumstances. Roots is the first time in years he’s had a horn section to articulate his melodies, and he’s pleased with the result. “It enhances your approach,” he says, “because it’s the utopia of a recording project if somebody asks you to bring all your own tunes, there’s enough budget to hire this kind of personnel, we use Rudy Van Gelder, and I choose who I’d like to produce it. The ensemble gives the tunes a new wardrobe, so to speak — a new setting.”
One definition of “root” in Webster’s is “To turn over, dig up, discover and bring to light.” A second is “to have an origin or base.” Both apply to this superb program of music.
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Underground Memoirs (High Note):
One of the most admired jazz composers of the past forty years, Cedar Walton is famous for a book of tunes marked by striking melodies, harmonic logic, bluesy soulfulness, and unpredictable forms. On Underground Memoirs, his fourth solo piano recording, he brings those qualities to 11 jazz standards and one original. For Walton, the tale’s the thing: with seemingly effortless control, he crafts a fluent narrative arc through the subtle deployment of various keys, voicings and colors. Each tune evokes a personal experience. In short, Walton, 71, is relating a sort of autobiography of his aesthetic journey.
Here Walton works primarily with pieces that he plays frequently at home on his Steinway B. “I’m a person who likes to noodle and find original passages and phrases that I haven’t heard before,” Walton clarifies. “Hopefully, I can come up with versions that I find original to some degree.”
You’ll most often hear Walton in the context of the piano trio, a form of which he is an acknowledged master. Countless pianists have studied his methods—his resourcefulness as an orchestrator, his knack for imparting Waltonian identity to everything he touches while allowing great freedom to his collaborators, who have included such bassists as Sam Jones, Ron Carter and David Williams and such drummers as Billy Higgins, Louis Hayes, Kenny Washington, Lewis Nash and Joe Farnsworth. Here, though, Walton himself becomes the orchestra.
“The solo form is different, but totally enjoyable,” says Walton. “Some people play with a very ornate, complicated style, like Art Tatum, who was the ultimate piano soloist. But when I first heard Ellis Larkins’ duo records with Ella Fitzgerald as a young guy in Dallas, Texas, I realized you don’t have to be a wizard like Tatum to play by yourself.”
The aforementioned sides, from the early ‘50s, were part of a Walton musical diet that included Tatum and Bud Powell, as well as Nat Cole, Erroll Garner, and Ahmad Jamal. But Walton’s references here are not purely pianistic.
For example, Miles Davis inspired Walton to perform three of the tunes contained herein. “I still find delight in the way that piece was constructed,” he says, referring to Milestones, which opens the program. John Lewis wrote it for Miles’ inaugural leader session in 1947, and Miles subsequently appropriated composer credit.
“Miles had such a distinctive a way of arranging things,” Walton explains. “Look what he did with George Shearing’s “Conception.” Amazing insight. And I was mesmerized by “Venus De Milo,” which Gerry Mulligan wrote. In that period, Miles was delightfully consumed by harmony and how to modernize the materials he dealt with.”
As for “Someday My Prince Will Come,” Walton notes, “I wanted to have a 3/4 outing. It’s a monumental recording by Miles, and I was curious to see what I’d do with it in a solo situation. It’s not one I frequently tinker with at home. I’ve found myself playing it when people call tunes and say, ‘What should we play the next set?’
“I rarely play “Green Dolphin Street” solo either, but again, Miles enters the picture. One night around 1958 he took me, Lee Morgan, Spanky DeBrest, and Tootie Heath to his flat on Tenth Avenue, told us he wanted us to hear something, and played us an acetate of it. He had a great large apartment with lots of paintings, and one of those polar bear rugs with the mouth open. I dared go over to the piano, which was a long Steinway, to try to emulate the recording, and he rushed over and put his arms around my head and kind of brushed my fingers back. I wasn’t anywhere close to what Bill Evans was doing, but that’s how stupid I was at that time of night.”
“Lost April” first appeared in 1948, on the flip-side of Nat Cole’s hit, “Nature Boy.” Cole reprised it in 1961 on Nat Cole Sings, George Shearing Plays. “It’s one of my all-time favorite songs,” says Walton, who recorded it as a sideman for Milt Jackson on Olinga in 1974.
“I used to play ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ quite often with Bags and Ray Brown as well,” he continues. “Here I went with their changes. I met Bags when I was in the Army, based in Germany, and the MJQ came through. I had a friend with a car, and we invited him to a club where people like Albert Mangelsdorff hung out. He heard me play, and we were friends from then on. We were very compatible, and had a mutual exchange of ideas. Ray Brown needed a little more grease from a piano player, but Milt always stood up for me.”
Walton got to play Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” in duo with the composer on a mid-‘80s tour. “I always liked the piece,” he says. “Once in Torino, we got this monumental piano, a 9-foot Steinway-D. That night there was considerable applause after my solo, and when he was supposed to come back in, before he put his horn up to his mouth, he said, so only I could hear it, ‘You didn’t have to play that much s___, m__f___!’ I’ll always be grateful for that compliment.”
The pianist recently decided to revisit Billy Eckstine’s “I Want To Talk About You” after hearing it on a compilation CD of the iconic baritone. “I was initially attracted to Coltrane’s version,” says Walton, who spent consequential rehearsal time with Coltrane in 1959, a year after the tenorist recorded it for Prestige. “The way the song comes out of the bridge is totally original. Some of it is simple, like a pop song, but some is very sophisticated and takes analyzing.
“I was always a big fan of Billy Eckstine. When I went to college, the gentleman in the dorm room next to me had endless 78s of his that he played all day and night on one of those little machines. Later, Art Blakey took me to Basin Street East one night and introduced me to Mr. B. His generation didn’t put on their trousers and suit coat until a second before they went out on stage, so there’d be no wrinkle. I noticed that when I was in his dressing room, and I also saw the rapport he and Art had. He seemed genuinely glad to see Art, and Art was kind of shy in his presence—if you can imagine Art being shy.”
Not long after Duke Ellington’s death, Walton responded with a memorial composition entitled “The Maestro.” Here he pays respects with a personal, highly ornamented version of “Sophisticated Lady.” “I play this a lot by myself, and I also like to do it in duo with a bass player,” he says. “Ellington was like a role model, or someone to pattern yourself after. I saw him in auditoriums in Dallas, and once at a state fair where he was right on the ground—you could almost reach out and touch the players.”
Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark,” Walton states, “is one of my favorite solo pieces. When I arrive at a hall and it’s time for soundcheck, I usually find myself playing it to test the piano. I usually play just the first part that appears on this record, but I found it very entertaining to elongate it for this occasion.”
On this tune, as throughout the proceedings, Walton takes great liberties, but never loses sight of essences. He sustains continuity, parsing, refining, reinventing, recontextualizing, playing no excess notes, imparting an aura of inevitability to the flow.
“When I first got to New York,” he recalls, hearkening back to the middle ‘50s, “I’d see all these great artists and how they performed and worked. I thought, ‘Well, they didn’t teach that in school.’ Not the school I went to. This was the total professional world, and I was glad to be a witness to it.”
Whether so intended or not, Walton’s words are self-descriptive. On this reflective album, itself an underground memoir, he sublimates abundant technique and theoretical acumen to storytelling imperatives. In doing so, he teaches an invaluable lesson—which they don’t teach in school—about what it means to live your music.
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Cedar Walton Blindfold Test:
1. Art Tatum, “Just A Sittin’ And a Rockin’“, The Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces, Pablo, 1953 (5 stars).
That’s either Art Tatum or one of the best imitators I’ve ever heard of him. Incredible. For some reason, during the first part of the piece… I haven’t listened to Tatum in a while, so I was wondering whether it couldn’t be possibly somebody playing in his style. But as the song continued, it almost has to be him. “Sittin’ and a Rockin’,” I think is the name of it. I’ve heard this. You know, I used to listen to Tatum practically every day. So I must admit I sort of had forgotten how delicious he is. It makes you want to play it. And according to my piano, he’s in E-natural, which is a further challenge. [TP: He reharmonized it?] No, he just put it in a key that’s somewhat advanced. [LAUGHS] If my piano is in tune. [TP: You have to give each one of these a star rating.] Oh, I do? Well, for it being Tatum, 5 stars. If it’s an imitator… [TP: You knew it’s Tatum.] Sure. But guys like Markowitz and the late Jaki Byard could fool you for a while. So if it’s Tatum I’d give it 5. [TP: If it wasn’t Tatum, what would you give them?] Oh, man I’d give them a 7! Jesus Christ! To come that close and not be him.
2. Stanley Cowell, “Evidence,” Sienna (Steeplechase, 1989) (Ron McClure, bass; Keith Copeland, drums) (4 stars).
I was so fascinated by the drums and bass. The piano sounded like someone who decided to give a lovingly mocking version of Monk’s “Evidence.” But I could be wrong. [LAUGHS] The drums were playing a Ben Riley style. It didn’t sound like Buster. I kept thinking of George Mraz. The pianist is someone I don’t hear to often. An educated guess would give me a combination of the gentleman who used to be with Strata East, Stanley Cowell. [TP: That’s him.] That’s an educated guess, because I’m so close to the producer, Todd Barkan, who told me he had done something with Stanley. So I am guilty of being educated on that one. I’d give it 4 stars. It was just delightful. The only reason it wasn’t 5 is because…well, I just gave Tatum 5! But 4 is pretty good, too. It was an excellent rendition, and it was so swinging, I didn’t want it to stop. I hope all of these aren’t that good!
3. Chucho Valdes, “El Rumbon (The Party)”, Religion of The Congo (Blue Note, 1999).
I don’t know exactly who this is, but again, an educated guess, Chucho Valdes has been very popular here lately. From what I’ve heard, he wanted to utilize the percussion in that manner, almost as if, in some instances, he was playing one tempo and they were playing another. Which didn’t disturb me; I found it intriguing! Of course, I can relate to somebody playing the piano with different rhythms going on at the same time. It made me feel immediately the challenge of how to straighten it out, more or less! Who knows, maybe that’s something that doesn’t need straightening out. So that just goes to hopefully highlight one culture as compared with another. If it is Chucho, it’s Cuban jazz… [TP: It is Chucho.] So from what I’ve heard of him, he’s a strong player, and that sounded like a strong player. Based on that, I would give it 4.
4. Mulgrew Miller, “Body and Soul,” (With Our Own Eyes, RCA, 1993).
A wonderful rendition of “Body and Soul” by a pianist who is obviously very well experienced in playing, and has just a totally what I call a full style — his or her chords are very full, utilizing some of the Coltrane approach to the song. I don’t know who it is. My first guess would be McCoy Tyner, but then some of the other aspects of the chordal approach suggested that it was not him, unless it was on a day when he felt like being subdued. Then for some reason, Geri Allen came to mind… [TP: It was Mulgrew Miller.] Ah, Mulgrew! Well, he does fit some of the first descriptions of the player, very full and experienced style. I would give it 4 stars.
5. Bud Powell, “My Heart Stood Still” (The Bud Powell Trio Plays, Roost, 1953/1990)
That was somewhat difficult. Of course, Bud Powell immediately comes to mind, somehow who I listened to over and over in my youth. Then Barry Harris came along, and sometimes he’s fooled me and I thought he was Bud Powell. Then, of course, the late Walter Davis, Jr., was even a more effective imitator of Bud when he was in the mood. So I would have to go with Bud Powell in one of my big favorite songs, “My Heart Stood Still.” However, if it wasn’t Bud, it might have been the other two. I have to give it 5. It was startlingly modern. But I felt some of the recording equipment or technique was a little older than today’s, and that kind of gave me a clue.
6. Hank Jones/Chieck Tidiane Seck, “Hank Miri” (Sarala, Verve, 1995).
An educated guess, Monty Alexander. But it’s not him, because it wasn’t quite Calypso-ish enough. I couldn’t tell whether the same guy played on acoustic piano as the organ. [TP: They’re different.] It’s two different people. So I’m afraid you got me on that one. [TP: It’s Hank Jones.] Who is the organ player? [TP: Chieck Tidiana Seck, a Malian musician who wrote the music, and it’s a Malian ensemble.] Ted, I just wonder if anybody in this modern world could have guessed that! I enjoyed it, but I need to hear more of it. Now that I know who it is, I can hone in and see what they’re doing. In Mali, I don’t know that music. [TP: What did you think of the way Hank Jones sounded?] Oh, he sounded great. I’d know him, I think. He sounds like the way I’ve studied and tried to learn how to play. But the other people I did not know, and perhaps that’s normal. [TP: Well, one reason I like this record is because he makes himself part of the ensemble. It’s not like he’s playing above it.] Oh, no. [TP: He did what a lot of American musicians won’t do, which is…] Just join in. [TP: You join in, and he’s still himself, which is why I like it.] Right. For that reason I like it to. Star-wise, I can’t give it but 3½, though, because I’m uneducated in that area.
7. Harold Mabern, “APAB and Others” (Straight Street, DIW, 1991).
A very fine solo performance by an artist I do not exactly know. Many artists came to mind. McCoy Tyner, Ahmad Jamal, even John Hicks. But I do not know who it was. I enjoyed the composition. For that reason, I would give it 3 stars for the composition. I don’t know who it is. [TP: Can you give it stars without knowing who it is for the performance?] Well, I’d give it 3½. [TP: It’s Harold Mabern.] Aha! Is it an original composition. [TP: It’s “APAB,” which I think is Ahmad, Phineas, Art and Bud.] Oh yeah, good. Well, in that case he had a good composition going. I love Harold. He’s a dear friend and a very old acquaintances — probably 35 years. [TP: He took your place in the Jazztet.] He might have. I haven’t heard him solo nearly as much as I would have liked to, and that’s why I may have missed it.
8. Ellington-Ray Brown, “Sophisticated Lady” (This One’s For Blanton, Pablo, 1972/1994).
There was a CD released recently called Some Of My Best Friends Are Piano Players. So I suspect it might be Ray Brown and one of the pianists that he selected, but I don’t know exactly who the pianist was. I would have to guess. “Sophisticated Lady,” of course, has always been a classic, a big favorite of mine. I like the song, I like Ray’s rendition. He’s an impeccable soloist, I’d say the leading bass soloist in popular music. Do I need to guess who the piano player is, too? [TP: Yes. You have to give it stars, too.] Stars I can give it. I would give it 4 for Ray, 4 for “Sophisticated Lady.” So 4 in all. All around, 4. But I do not know who the piano player was. [TP: Did you like the piano player?] Well, yes, but I’m annoyed because I don’t know who it is. [TP: It’s Duke.] Ah, Duke Ellington. Oh, okay. So it was not what I said it was, Some Of My Best Friends Are Piano Players. There was a run in there that was so distinctly Duke, I said, “Wow, that’s a guy who must have studied Duke pretty well.” So there you are. It was somebody who had studied Duke pretty well! So forgive me, Duke.
9. Kenny Barron, “Have You Met Miss Jones” (Lemuria-Seascape, Candid, 1991) (Ray Drummond, bass; Ben Riley, drums)
It was a very crisp performance. I can give it 4 stars for that alone. Great song, “Have You Met Miss Jones.” The pianist could be Kenny Barron, it could be Chick Corea; it could be Ben Riley, it could be Roy Haynes. It sounded mostly to me like Kenny Barron or Chick Corea. I feel like I’m probably wrong, but I’ll still give it 4 stars. [TP: No, you’re right. It’s Kenny Barron, with Bulldog and Ben Riley.] It’s just excellent. Par excellence.
10. Randy Weston, “Uncle Neemo” (Saga, Verve, 1995).
A delightful performance of probably an original piece, unless it’s a highly disguised version of a non-original piece. I seem to have recognized Billy Higgins’ drum work, but if it was not, it was certainly one of his students, so to speak. It reminded me of Randy Weston. I couldn’t identify the bass player, even though he was humming while he was soloing, which should give him away, but I don’t remember anybody but Jimmy Garrison used to do that that emphatically. But for the performance, I’d have to give it 4. [TP: It was Randy Weston, Alex Blake and Billy.] So I was close. [TP: You were on it.] Was it one of Randy’s pieces? It featured Billy a lot. It was great. 4 stars. Randy is still one of my favorite players. He has a completely original style. Loosely based on Monk at the beginning, but of course now he’s far away from those beginnings and he sounds like nobody but Randy.
11. David Hazeltine, “Waltz For Debby” (Waltz For Debby, Venus, 1999).
My guess is Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack deJohnette. I’m dead-wrong, but I still enjoyed the performance. It was a marvelous performance, even though it reminded me of those artists. I would give it 4 stars for the performance. I love “Waltz For Debby” by Bill Evans. [TP: It was David Hazeltine] I thought of him.
12. Ahmad Jamal & George Coleman, “The Essence” (The Essence, Verve, 1994).
[TP: First of all, Cedar said a minute into it: “Aha [LAUGHING], Ahmad Jamal and George Coleman.” You’d heard about the record, then you inquired whether Ahmad would be comping or supporting.] Ahmad has a way of involving himself in the performance that is totally unique, I think. It’s a very interesting record. Even though I’m not used to hearing Ahmad with the saxophone. I thought especially the first part was very dramatic musically, and later on, too, some of the ways he dealt with sort of simple motifs that sounded like a minor motif. [TP: How has Ahmad Jamal’s style changed from when you were listening to him in the ’50s?] Well, it hasn’t changed that much. It’s improved, if anything. His technique is phenomenal now, but it was phenomenal then. You know, “Poinciana” and “But Not For Me” displayed phenomenal technique, even though he had a lot more space which produced a lot of drama, I thought, and he relied heavily on his sidemen, Israel Crosby and Vernell Fournier, to create moods which captivated the country. I’d have to give it 4 stars.
13. Cecil Taylor/Elvin Jones, “It,” Momentum Space (Verve, 1998) 1947/1990)
[TP: Cedar said, “that didn’t have to be Cecil Taylor, but that would be who I thought it is.”] Yes. And as far as the drummer, I couldn’t seem to figure him out. I thought of Steve McCall and I thought of Andrew Cyrille. [TP: It was Elvin.] Elvin, I thought of him, too. It was almost an accompaniment; there was very little of …(?)… I think I was able to guess some of the previous drummers with their accompaniment, but not in this case. Anyway, Cecil has his own style, and I have a certain admiration for him for maintaining that style through the years. He and I used to practice at Dave Amram’s house. We both had keys, and Amram would go out of town, and sometimes I’d go there and discover him there, and vice-versa. So we got to know each other. I was working on my Bud Powell, he was working on his Cecil Taylor. When I say “working,” that’s what I would hear him playing. That’s how we became friends. I still consider us friends. We went in different musical directions. But otherwise Cecil has had great success, and I say, for one, more power to him. I’ll stick with 4 stars. Cecil sounds like that, he plays like that; I wouldn’t know how to give him less or more.
14. Xavier Davis, “Old Folks” (Dance of Life, Metropolitan, 1998).
A very tasty rendition of a very old favorite, “Old Folks.” The style contained many elements of a lot of people’s styles. I’m guessing Tommy Flanagan. I’m wrong. I thought that might be wrong, because he did some things that Tommy doesn’t usually do. So my next guess would be Barry Harris — and that’s wrong. So I’ll have to go with I don’t know who it is, but for the rendition I’ll give it 3½. [TP: This is a young pianist, Xavier Davis.] Aha, good. Well, bravo, Xavier. You did a good job, and if you’re young and took an old chestnut like that and did so much with it, I think you have a very bright future.
I think it was a very representative collection of great pianists, and I found it very enjoyable trying to guess. I got a few right, and I knew I would get a few wrong. The overall quality of that collection was of a very high level — first-rate. I just think that if this level is maintained in this particular concept, if you will, which I consider Tradition, if that’s maintained, we of the Tradition community have nothing to worry about.