Cedar Walton (piano; b. 1934)
Cedar Walton has quietly become one of the most influential and revered musicians in jazz. In my opinion, Cedar Walton along with Wynton Kelly are one of a handful of hard bop pianists who don't get the recognition they so greatly deserve. He was a session player for many years during the '50s and early '60s. Cedar Walton has worked with a wide array of artists including a Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan among others. He is widely known as the first piano player for John Coltrane's Giant Steps sessions. But his true shinning moments are his own recordings of which there are many.
Walton's style is sophisticated, beautiful and intricate in the similar vein of Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. His choice of band members is always a sign of the intensity of recording session (especially live). Any album featuring legendary drummer, Billy Higgins is worth buying on the spot. The combination of Walton and Higgins is like Jagger and Richards, Lennon and McCartney or Monk and Rouse--you almost can't see one without the other. Walton's live performances of a thing of beauty. I have seen him countless times and I haven't experience one low-par show ever.
For those looking for some of Walton's newer material you should check The Promise Land (High Note) which features a host incredibly strong selections that anyone interested in jazz would love. The title track along with "Bermond's Blues" and "Thirty Degrees To The Wind" highlight an album of mostly Walton originals and is a real pleasure to listen to. A pianist with great skill and beauty--if you haven't experienced Cedar Walton you really should.
If you have a chance to see him live I highly recommend you buy ticket and see one of the few jazz legends still around and performing regularly. The perfomance below was recorded during one of Eastern Rebellion's European tours in '76.