Pianist, composer and NEA Jazz Master Cedar Walton passed away on August 19, 2013.
He was widely regarded as one of the most inventive and
dynamic pianists in Jazz. Born in Dallas, Texas, Walton was a member of
Art Blakey’s famed Jazz Messengers. He also worked with storied
saxophonists John Coltrane and Hank Mobley and led the acclaimed group
Eastern Rebellion. Walton had a broad base of musical influences that we
will examine in the examples below. These short exercises are just a
small snapshot of things I hear in Cedar’s playing. After you get these
ideas into your ears and under your fingers, you should transpose them
into all 12 keys so that they become part of your musical vocabulary.
Click sheet music images to enlarge, and scroll down for audio examples.
1. Cedar’s Comping
Here, we examine some of Cedar’s comping techniques. These
examples were influenced by Cedar’s work on his album with Hank Mobley,
Breakthrough. Cedar would often switch comping styles throughout the same song. Ex. 1a illustrates altered chord shapes. These voicings are based on the F half-step/whole-step diminished scale—think of chord roots moving in minor thirds starting on the tonic.
Ex. 1b shows how Cedar often employed McCoy Tyner’s classic fourths voicings. They are all constructed by stacking fourths and thirds in the C Dorian mode.
In Ex. 1c, Cedar employs a comping style that stacks triads above left-hand, Bill Evans-style chord voicings. Here we move the right-hand C triad up in half-steps over a ii-V-I progression in C to make interesting chord alterations.
2. Cedar’s Solos
Ex. 2 shows how Cedar’s solo work often switches
gears mid-solo. Here, the right hand plays a bebop line with “Bill
Evans” voicings underneath. Then it morphs into a fourth-based line with
McCoy Tyner voicings in the left hand. We’re using a G minor pentatonic scale over the Eb major tonality.
3. Arranging Vamps
One of the most famous Cedar Walton songs is “Bolivia” from the album Eastern Rebellion, Vo1ume 1. This track features a great vamp section that serves as the influence for Ex. 3.
Here, I’ve written large chords in the right hand that could be
assigned to a horn section using the fourth and third structures from
Ex. 1b. I’ve also added an interesting rhythmic idea in the last four
bars, as Cedar would often set up small, unusual patterns like this.
4. Comping over Bar Lines
Ex. 4 demonstrates the concept of comping “over the
bar line.” We have some interesting ideas for voicing these chords with
fourths and seconds, plus a bass line so you can see and hear where the
time is. This example is influenced by Cedar’s comping on his song
“Bolivia.” When constructing your own voicings, try not to reuse notes
and to incorporating interesting spacing between the notes.
5. Melodic Solos
Cedar often builds simple melodic lines that provide a wellspring of material from which to launch soloing ideas. Over the ii-V-I progression of Ex. 5,
we see a short melodic fragment that sounds deceptively simple, but
this kind of compact melodic idea offers great potential for solo
development and improvisation.