Ben Markley - Pianist, Composer/Arranger, Educator

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Clockwise: The Music of Cedar Walton 

Clockwise: The Music of Cedar Walton - played by the Ben Markley Big Band featuring Terell Stafford will be available for purchase on February 17. 

Pianist Ben Markley, along with special guest trumpeter Terell Stafford, celebrates one of the more influential and beloved figures in jazz through this unique project, showcasing many of the late pianist and composer Cedar Walton's most revered tunes through new arrangements for big band. Performing iconic compositions such as 'Hindsight,' 'Bolivia,' and 'Holy Land,' Markley brings together fellow faculty members from the University of Wyoming and top-flight Denver-area musicians to produce an honest and swinging recording that honors Cedar Walton while presenting his music in a bright new light. 'Ben has found a way to embrace the music of Cedar Walton and transform it into stellar big band arrangements that express his voice, sound and musical genius. ' - TERELL STAFFORD'. . . to hear a big band's interpretation of Cedar's music has to be the most beautiful thing I have ever heard in my life!. . . I know Cedar is beaming at the results!!' - MARTHA WALTON . . .“Wonderful! Masterful writing and orchestration, all in the proper context of Cedar. Ben plays his ass off!” DAVID HAZELTINE.

Wil Swindler
Scott Turpen
Peter Sommer
Serafin Sanchez
Sam Williams

Scott Crump
Paul McKee
Adam Bartczak
Gary Mayne

Pete Olstad
Greg Gisbert
John Lake
Terell Stafford

Ben Markley - Piano
Steve Kovalcheck - Guitar
Ken Walker - Bass
Chris Smith - Drums

OA2 Records

Album design - John Bishop

Recording Engineer and Mixing - Colin Bricker. Mighty Fine Productions

Mastering Phil Bulla - Platinum Productions

Cedar Walton Big Band Project - Day 1 Bolivia 

Bolivia is one of my all-time favorite jazz tunes. It was first recorded on Eastern Rebellion. The record features tenor saxophone great George Coleman as well the Sam Jones and Billy Higgins. Cedar went on to record this tune several times on albums such as 3rd Set (Steeplechase - 1977), Roots (Astor Place - 1997, Midnight Waltz (Venus - 2005).  His Messenger's band mate Freddie Hubbard also played this tune frequently recording it with Walton on the record Homegrown (Master Music - 1991) with Ralph Moore, Vincent Herring, David Williams, and Billy Higgins.

Cedar Walton Big Band Project - Day 2 Hindsight 

Hindsight like (Fiesta Español) was first recorded on the Junior Cook's Something's Cookin".  The record features Buster Williams and Billy Higgins along with Cook and Walton. Walton only recorded the tune twice. Once in 1996 on the album Composer and again in 2008 on the record Seasoned Wood (on the High Note label). S.W. features Jeremy Pelt, Vincent Herring , Peter Washington, Al Foster. On this recording, Walton recorded the tune as a piano trio. 

While Hindsight hasn't been recorded that often, it's a tune that musicians familiar with Walton's work have in their repertoire. It begins with a chordal introduction that plains dominant seven #9 chords.  The melody begins with series chords descending by half-step (First chord major following by a dominant 7 flat-nine chord tri-tone sub etc). The sequence continues for 8 measure before entering into a modal section that contrasts the previous section having one chord for 4 bars before changing. In addition to the well balanced harmonic rhythm of the tune, there are two sections in which the bass line (played by piano and bass) becomes the melody.

Cedar Walton Big Band Project - Day 3 Martha's Prize  

Martha's Prize

Martha's Prize is one of Cedar's lesser known gems. Written (I assume) for his wife Martha. This tune was first recorded in 1996 on the record Composer on Astor Place records. The record features, Christian McBride, Victor Lewis, Roy Hargrove, Vincent Herring and Ralph Moore. Composer different from Roots features compositions that were recently composed by Walton  (Hindsight and Groundwork excepted). 

Martha's Prize has many pianistic features that are very fun to play. The intro/solo interlude bounces between two chords and features a bass lined played by piano and bass. Upon the first listen of the tune the listener can underestimate the subtle intricacies of the blowing changes. The A section harmonies begin with ii-V-I in the tonic followed by a tri-tone substitution to the IV chord before a walk up cadence starting on the ii chord. The bridge however is where the improviser is truly tested. It begins with a minor ii-V-I to the vi chord followed by a ii-V-I on to the bVI. While this harmonic movement is somewhat unusual, the true difficulty lies in the displacement of the harmonic rhythm. The rhythm is displace by two beats. The chords in the bridge are as follows. 

Dm7b5  G7b9/C-7 C#-7/F#7 Bmaj7/Bb-7  Eb7 /Abmaj7 G7b9/C-7  --/F#-7  B7/Emaj7   / 

The displacement of the harmonic rhythm seems fairly simple (at least from a conceptual standpoint) it proves to be quite difficult in how it interrupts the melodic flow of the improvisor's line. Cedar (of course) makes it sound easy!

Thus far I shared recordings of Walton playing his tunes. Since this tune hasn't been recorded as much as some of Walton's other tunes, I wanted to share an additional recording of this tune played by master pianist David Hazeltine. Cedar once asked David "What else do I know?"  It's only fitting one of Hazeltine's recordings of Cedar's work is included. David recorded I Remember Cedar in 2014 on Sharp Nine records with David Williams and Joe Farnsworth. This entire is record is perfect! Hazeltine's playing (as well as Williams and Farnsworth) is immaculate as well as swinging. One of the other aspects of Hazeltine's playing I like on his rendition of Martha's Prize is the orchestrated send off he gives himself at the 3:24 mark in the tune (which occurs over the entire A section for that chorus). The sendoff provides some continuity in the tune and is a springboard for Hazeltine to craft is perfect lines over the Walton composition. 

Cedar Walton Big Band Project - Day 4 Fiesta Español 

Fiesta Español


Fiesta Español was first recorded in 1981 by Junior Cook on the record Somethin's Cookin' (It can also be found on iTunes under the title Senior Cookin). In addition to Walton the record featured Buster Williams and Billy Higgins. Cedar doesn't have that many compositions that strictly stay in a latin groove for the entire tune (Ojos De Rojo and Theme for Jobim being others that comes to mind). Many of Walton's tunes that have a latin groove alternate between latin and swing tunes like Mosaic and Voices Deep Within. Like many of Walton's tunes it complete or already arranged in that it has an introduction and solo sendoff/extension on the form. Fiesta Español is one of Walton's tunes that was not recorded as many as some. Walton recorded it as a leader in 1985 on Cedar's Blues again in 1995 Ironclad - Live at Yoshi's (in the trio format) and again in 1997 on the album Roots.  Roots was put out on the Astor Place label. It features Ron Carter and Lewis Nash in the rhythm section as well as guest soloists Joshua Redman, Terence Blanchard, and Mark Whitfield, as well as a five horn band (and one auxiliary percussionist) that plays the arrangements written by Walton. Tenor Saxophonist Junior Cook recorded the tune twice (once in 1981 shown above and again in 1991 on the Steeplechase label titled Junior Cook - You Leave Me Breathless).

My favorite recording of this tune Cedar's trio rendition of it from Ironclad - Live at Yoshi's. 

In this recording Walton plays the tune at a brighter clip than previously recordings. As a soloist when playing a tune like this, there is a temptation to "go for it" and to come out of the gates too fast leaving yourself nowhere to go. While I don't advocate for improvisors to plan out a solo or build a solo, there is a very natural build that occurs in Cedar's solo on this particular recording. In the midst of Walton's solo on this tune, he quotes the tune I Love You which demonstrates his musical sense of humor. Walton would occasionally quote other tunes when improvising much in the same Charlie Parker did. There's never any shtick involved, just the essence of a true improvisor.  *** (the clip below is from a compilation, but comes from Live at Yoshi's pictured above.)


Cedar Walton Big Band Project - Day 5 Holy Land 

Holy Land

Holy Land was first recorded by Cedar Walton in 1973 on the record  The Cedar Walton Trio - A Night At Boomers, Vol. 1 (today both volumes are on one CD or digital download). This record features Clifford Jordan, Sam Jones, and Louis Hayes.  Holy Land is a minor blues that is much more than a standard 12 bar blues. Harmonically, the tune moves to the IV and I chords in the expected places, but Walton also includes a ii-V to Eb major key center (bIII) in mm 6. Additionally, the chords in measure mm. 9 and 10 are different many of the turnarounds in standard minor blues' (VI7 bVI). One of the most notable features of the tune is the solo piano rubato introduction/interlude before and between the melody. I love to listen to the multiple recordings of Walton playing this tune. He never plays it the same way twice. The listener can hear him exploring different elements of pacing, style, and harmony. Furthermore, the rubato interludes are a unique sonic change from all of the rhythm section playing together at the same time. 

Walton recorded this tune several times in the trio and quartet settings. The first two recordings were quartet sessions that featured tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan. The second recording of this tune can be found on a Clifford Jordan record titled Clifford Jordan Quartet Half Note (Steeplechase) 

In addition to Walton and Jordan, the session features Sam Jones and Tootie Heath. While the recording quality of the record isn't great, the playing is burning! In addition to Holy Land the band also plays Cedar's Midnight Waltz. I've always enjoyed Cedar's work with Clifford Jordan. His playing always seems to be inspired. And his comping! Cedar's comping is grooving, supportive, as well as suggestive. As a pianist I continue to be drawn to how Cedar comps behind Clifford Jordan on Half Note. Sam Jones and Tootie Heath really hook up well too. They provide solid swingin beat for Walton and Jordan. 

I will close this installment by recommending some recordings on which Clifford Jordan is the leader. Cedar plays on all of them and in most cases the rhythm section is Sam Jones and Billy Higgins. It's also pretty common for at least one Walton original to show on these recordings too. 

Glass Bead Games
Night at the Mark VII
Clifford Jordan and Magic Triangle - Firm Roots


Cedar Walton Big Band Project - Day 6 Clockwise 


Clockwise is one of Cedar Walton's most challenging compositions. The chord changes to the A section of the tune provide insight into some of Cedar's compositional tools and also reiterate the influence of Art Tatum. The A section features major chords succeeded by dominant chords a tri-tone away. The tune goes through 8 key centers (a tough to blow over!). Tatum has influenced (and continues to influence) jazz musicians with his use of harmonic substitutions (tri-tone subs in particular). Like many pianists, Cedar loves dominant chords and tri-tone subs. We hear this in his interpretation of standards and also in his compositions. Walton originals like Hindsight and Clockwise contain a number of tri-tone substitutions. Additionally, each tune travels through many key centers. 

Cedar recorded this tune in 1979 with his Eastern Rebellion group with Bob Berg, Sam Jones, and Billy Higgins. Curtis Fuller joined the group for part of the recording (playing on Clockwise and Firm Roots which were recorded in 1979 the other tunes on the record were recorded in 1977). Bobby Hutcherson also recorded Clockwise in 1979. What is particularly noteworthy about this recording (in regards to my project of arranging Cedar's music in the big band setting) is that it's one of the largest groups to date to record one of Cedar's tunes.  

Clockwise - Bobby Hutcherson, Conception: The Gift of Love


Cedar Walton Big Band Project - Day 7 Ballads, I'll Let You Know 

Ballads - I'll Let You Know

In addition to talking about the ballads Walton played and composed, I wanted to talk a little about some of his influences. Solo piano performances as well as ballads (whether in the trio or solo context) provide a lot of insight into a pianist's influences. In an interview in 2010 with Ethan Iverson, Walton says of his influences,
" I was so hungry. There were many Nat King Cole records… Before I left Dallas, I remember the first recording of “Satin Doll” by Duke Ellington on Capitol. I couldn’t believe it. I played that 78 record over and over. I can remember that as an outstanding experience – the clarity."

EI:  What about your exposure to Bud Powell? 

CW:  By the time I heard Bud, I think he’d been sick. He wasn’t the Bud that I heard on record in Texas, like “Somebody Loves Me,” “Parisian Thoroughfare” – all his great records. I heard his “Over the Rainbow,” which I still sort of play like him. “Petty larceny” you might call it. 

Walter Davis Jr. told me about watching Bud. Bud could play endlessly. They’d have to say, “Okay, Bud, that’s enough.” Bird and Dizzy, they had to use their lungs. But Bud was endless in this magical thing he had come upon. As far as the records, the history of piano goes, he succeeded people like Teddy Wilson and Earl “Fatha” Hines in that style – even Ellington. And he played horn-like, as you know, figures up here[mimes treble clef] but unusually structured. And his chordal knowledge, as it turned out, was very influential – to say the least! He was absolutely innovative. 

EI:  Did you try to learn Bud’s lines in Texas? 

CW:  Mmm-hmm. I was trying to learn everybody’s lines. I was very impressionable. Also, I was fascinated with Bud’s accompaniment on the records with Miles and Bird. I heard those chords – they’re so rich. And as much as he could do with lines, he was doing that as well as he did this. 

I was a fanatic, trying to absorb all the material off the records, but you could only get to a certain degree. You had to see someone playing this. 

EI:  So who showed you stuff at the piano? 

CW:  A guy named Gil Coggins. 

EI:  Oh, right, he’s on some of the Miles records. 

CW:  On one at least. He wasn’t a great soloist; he was a great accompanist. He had played with Lester Young, too. I met him over here in Bed Stuy in a brownstone on Washington Avenue. His mother rented out rooms to those of us who had just got to town. Even before I moved in we became friends: I would go over and he would show me stuff he had learned while he was with Miles. He was very respectful of Miles. Miles knew a lot of harmony; Miles was a student of harmony. He came up with a new version of George Shearing’s “Conception” – you remember that piece? I forgot what Miles called it.

Ethan Iverson does a wonderful job with these interviews. The entire interview with Cedar as well as an interview with my former teacher David Hazeltine can be found at Ethan Iverson/Cedar Walton Interview

One influence that I others have found very apparent is that of Art Tatum. Walton demonstrates this with unaccompanied rubato introduction of I'll Let You Know

The pacing of Walton's solo piano introductions are also very influenced by Tatum. Cedar Walton at Maybeck is a shining example of Walton playing in the solo context. In this record, his influences are acknowledged while his playing is still inherently Cedar.

Two original ballads that Walton penned were I'll Let You Know (which shows up on the recordings Mosaic and Roots as well as the above listed trio clip) and When Love is NewWhen Love is New first showed up on the Jazz Messengers recording Indestructible and a few years later on the Lee Morgan record Charisma under the title Rainy Night

One of the aspects about Walton's ballad playing that drew me in was the freedom in which he played. Whether playing on a standard such as Somewhere Over the Rainbow (one of his specialties) or one of his own compositions, he possessed the ability to freely create melody as well as an esthetic that captivated the listener. 

Cedar Walton Big Band Project - Day 8 I'm Not So Sure 

I'm Not So Sure

Jazz music in the late 60s and into 70s began to use electric instruments. Many pianists started to play rhodes and other keyboards. In 1969 Cedar released a recording on Prestige titled Soul Cycle.

in the liner notes Walton writes "During the course of a career in music, sooner or later the artist will come face to face with the task of reaching and appealing to a larger listening audience than before. In view of the obvious benefits of such an accomplishment (more record sales, better paying gigs) it would seem that the artist would happily immerse himself in the pleasant activity of seeking out new material, experimenting with various methods of presenting new and old works, taking care that the essence of nature of his original style is not sacrificed. However, it should be point out that this effort to preserve a high lever of quality is not with out certain pit falls - "built-in contradictions", so to speak. For instance, the listening public "tuned in" or accustomed to previous performances may become disenchanted, or, as in some cases, completely alienated by, in their judgement, this "sudden switch to out-and-out commercialism". Therefore, the attempt to attract the larger commercial audience results in the loss of a more compact but loyal following

With this recording and others with Milt Jackson (Bag's Bag) Walton showed lot of jazz musicians entrenched in the tradition that it was ok to evolve while still keeping the integrity of the music. On the recording Soul Cycle, the title track Sundown Express shows up on a Messengers record featuring Woody Shaw (this time titled I'm Not So Sure) titled Anthenagin (in 1973) and later with Cedar's acoustic quartet titled First Set (which is part of 3 recordings on Steeplechase recorded on the same night in 1977).  First Set features Sam Jones, Billy Higgins, and a young Bog Berg. There is a lot of variance between each of the 3 recordings of I'm Not So Sure . The First Set recording is very funky and embodies many of the great playing characteristics of rhythm section. The playing styles of Billy Higgins and Sam Jones are very unique. Studying Higgins' cymbal beat and Jones' placement of the beat, reveals a depth and nuance of playing style that is truly only grasped through countless hour of listening and practice. That's why so my arrangers or composers write "Billy Higgins" groove! 

I'm Not So Sure from First Set was one of those tunes that I had on repeat for a long time. Enjoy!

Cedar Walton Big Band Project - Day 9 Black 


Cedar Walton has played with some of the greatest tenor players in the history of jazz music. Players including Clifford Jordan, George Coleman, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, and Junior Cook. 

Cedar contributed many compositions to bands and recording sessions that he was a part of. We begin to see many of his compositions and arrangements showing up with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Tunes like - Mosaic, Plexus, and The Promise Land. 

One of my favorite records on which Walton played and contributed tunes as sideman was Mode for Joe lead by Joe Henderson. Henderson and Walton are joined by Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Bobby Hutcherson, Ron Carter, and Joe Chambers. Everyone plays so well on this record, but check out Joe Chambers! There are so many great moments.  For this record date, Walton contributed two originals Mode of Joe (oddly enough not written for Joe Henderson) and Black.

Black is very reminiscent of a tune that the Messengers would play. 4 horn writing (counting vibes) A sustained introduction before launching into a groove before the head starts. The blowing form is 40 bars that are comprised of a balance of sustained and faster moving harmonic rhythm in the A sections and bridge respectively - a tune that is a perfect vehicle for Joe Henderson. Black is a Cedar tune that hasn't been recording much (to my knowledg), once on this Joe Henderson record and once on a Cedar Walton tribute recording titled Cedar Chest: The Cedar Walton Songbook which features many different guest artists. 

Since we're talking about tenor players, I thought I'd share a link that offers a little more about Cedar and his involvement John Coltrane and the classic record Giant Steps. When the "alternate takes" of the record were released many years after recording, we learned Walton played on these. He in fact was asked to do the record date with Coltrane, but was scheduled to go out on the road with another band. The "alternate takes" included on later released recordings of Giant Steps were really rehearsal recordings according to Walton.  Here's a link to that story: Cedar Walton Giant Steps Story 

And now for the music!


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