Tune in every Wednesday evening at 8 pm throughout September as Night Beat host Doug Crane turns his attention to great jazz pianists in celebration of National Piano Month.

On September 13th we’ll feature recordings by Cedar Walton who in 2010 was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master.

Cedar has a Denver connection as he attended the University of Denver in the early 1950s. Initially a music composition major, he was encouraged to change it and focus on receiving a music education degree.

Cedar regularly performed at jazz clubs in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood at this time. Buoyed by suggestions by jazz musicians passing through Denver, Cedar relocated to New York City in 1955.

Soon after the move to NYC, Cedar was drafted by the US Military. With his military service behind him, he quickly established himself as a jazz pianist of note. He was a member of a sextet led by trombonist J.J. Johnson, participated in some early recording sessions for John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, worked with the Art Farmer and Benny Golson Jazztette and held the piano chair in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers from 1961 through 1964. The Messengers were a hotbed of new jazz compositions from the pens of Cedar and bandmate Wayne Shorter with an occasional new tune from Freddie Hubbard or Curtis Fuller.

Some of Cedar’s best-known songs include Bolivia, Mode for Joe, Shaky Jake, Firm Roots, Mosaic and Ugetsu.

He remained active as a jazz pianist until shortly before his passing in 2013.

We’ll also note the passing of bassist and 2014 NEA Jazz Master Richard Davis last week at the age of 93.

A perennial winner of Downbeat magazine’s Best Jazz Bassist honors in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was equally at home performing with classical music ensembles and recording with popular musicians including Judy Collins, Van Morrison, Janis Ian and Bruce Springsteen.

In 1977, he became part of the music faculty at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), a position he held until recent years.

Some of my favorite recordings featuring Richard Davis are by the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra.  Richard’s penchant for choosing notes a bit outside of or stretching the harmonic boundaries of Thad’s compositions lent a distinctive touch to the band’s sound.

Lastly, as bassist Ron Carter and his trio will be in town at Dazzle through Thursday evening, we’ll feature him in the company of pianists McCoy Tyner and the Sweet Basil Trio nominally led by Cedar Walton and featuring drummer Billy Higgins.

Picture of Richard Davis credit: Photo by mtphrames on Flickr.

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