Memories of Walton, McPartland and Murray

Ron Scott | 8/29/2013, 10:46 a.m. | Updated on 8/29/2013, 10:46 a.m.

The writing of any obituary is done with a heavy heart, but it becomes an even more heartbreaking task in a case like last week, when four big deal contributors to jazz passed away in a three-day period.

The first to come to my attention was pianist Cedar Walton, who passed on Aug. 19 in his Brooklyn home at the age of 79.

I recently saw Walton as part of the Jazz Piano Summit at the Blue Note Jazz Festival (June 22) with Barry Harris. Following the untimely death of Mulgrew Miller, this performance was in Miller’s honor and featured Harris sitting in.

Walton, the consummate accompanist, exhibited himself as one of the great pianists, composers and bandleaders in jazz. He was honored as an NEA Jazz Master in 2010.

His cascading flow of rhythmic notes is like opening a door on a warm breezy day; listeners can’t touch it, but it has such a warm, swinging feeling. Listen to his composition “Fantasy in D” (also called “Ugetsu”), which was recorded and arranged during his stint with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

He joined Blakey the same day as trumpeter Freddie Hubbard that included Wayne Shorter and Curtis Fuller in the early 1960s. [ED NOTE: Sentence missing words?

After one of Walton’s performances, I told him that his album “Soundtakes” was one of my favorites. He looked at me and responded in a stern voice, “Young man, the name of the album is ‘Soundscapes.’” Then, with a smile, Walton said, “So what is your favorite tune?”

There are a number of favorites to choose from when discussing Walton’s more than 400 recordings—including the 60 he made as a bandleader.

In April 1959, he recorded “Giant Steps” with John Coltrane. Unfortunately, when Coltrane was ready to record the album, Walton was out of town, and Tommy Flanagan sat in. Alternate takes with Walton have since been released.

Walton recorded with Ornette Coleman, Donald Byrd, Jimmy Heath, Abbey Lincoln, Dexter Gordon, Milt Jackson, Christian McBride, longtime collaborator Billy Higgins and Ron Carter.

One headline that caught my attention was the passing of author, jazz/literary critic and educator Albert Murray on Aug. 18 in his Harlem home at the age of 97.

Coincidentally, I had just purchased his book “Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie,” which Murray had helped pen and am now reading his book “RiffTide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones,” which is edited by Paul Devlin.

Murray’s “Stomping the Blues” has become a jazz bible for fans and musicians alike.

Murray was one of the last surviving connections to the post-Harlem Renaissance period during the 1950s and ’60s, when the Civil Rights Movement was gathering steam and Black power boiled over into a new concept of identity and political power.

Murray was an active member of this debate along with writers Richard Wright, James Baldwin and his good friend Ralph Ellison and artist Romare Bearden.

He wrote more than a dozen books, beginning in 1970 with “The Omni-Americans: Black Experience and American Culture,” which was a critique of both Black separatism and white establishment ideas of the “dysfunction” of the Black community.