The standout line on Cedar Walton’s resume covers his years with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers–1961 to ’64 and again in the early 70s–during which he added some marvelous pages to the Messengers book (“Mosaic,” “Ugetsu,” “The Promised Land”). But read on and you’ll find the pianist backing John Coltrane on the first takes of “Giant Steps” and leading Eastern Rebellion, his splendid quartet of the 70s and 80s. Beyond the dozens of albums under his own name, Walton’s playing–characterized by meaty timbre, rapidly unfurling melodies, and archetypal hard-bop phrasing–has elevated hundreds of sessions with leaders such as Hank Mobley, Joe Henderson, and Eddie Harris. For many, though, his pithy piano work is secondary to his achievements as a songwriter. With their clean lines and almost inexorable resolutions–it’s hard to imagine changing even one note of “Groundwork” or “Bolivia”–Walton’s tunes are instant anthems: hearing one for the first time, you’d swear you’ve known it all your life. His stature as a composer has led to an unusual manifestation of respect: several jazzmen (among them Milt Jackson and Larry Coryell) have written songs in Walton’s style and named them in his honor, a practice most often reserved for postmortem memorials. Illness forced Walton (now 70) to miss the Messengers reunion that opened last summer’s Jazz Fest; this week he’ll work with bassist David Williams, his longtime colleague from Eastern Rebellion, and the hard-core mainstream drummer Joe Farnsworth. $20. Friday and Saturday, July 9 and 10, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, July 11, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.