Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 16 August 1926, NYC; d 2 December 2002, Brussels) Pianist, composer. Began on alto sax; BA in music from Queens College; worked with Ike Quebec late '40s, Della Reese, R&B sessions, then with Charles Mingus '54-7 (Debut LPs now on Fantasy), Gigi Gryce '56, accompanied Billie Holiday '57-9, etc. Became virtually the house pianist on Prestige/Status labels; work of great value resulted, inimitable compositions influenced by those of Thelonious Monk: LPs included Mal 1 '56 with Gryce, Mal 2 '57 with Jackie McLean, Sahib Shihab, John Coltrane; also Impressions, trio Mal 4 (CD only '87). The Quest '61 with Eric Dolphy, Booker Little was reissued as a Dolphy LP, later restored to its original format; with Ron Carter on cello, Joe Benjamin on bass, Charles Persip on drums, seven fine Waldron tunes, it was one of the most beautiful masterpieces of what was then called 'the new music'. He played with co-led Dolphy/ Little combo at the Five Spot '61 (Richard Davis on bass, Ed Blackwell on drums), the three live albums another landmark of the era, compiled as The Great Concert Of Eric Dolphy. He was Billie Holiday's accompanist from '57 until her death '59. He also played on Carter's Where? '61 with Dolphy and others; Coltrane's Dakar and The Dealers -- Mal Waldron With John Coltrane '57 and more, always with fine Waldron tunes. He had written ballet music earlier, did film scores The Cool World '63, Three Bedrooms In Manhattan and Sweet Love Bitter '65 and incidental music for plays by LeRoi Jones. He went to Europe on film work and relocated there, with frequent visits to Japan.

Trio Free At Last was one of the first LPs on the new ECM label; The Call '79 was on Japo/ECM. Series on Enja (based in Munich) including trio sets Black Glory, Up Popped The Devil, A Touch Of The Blues; One-upmanship and Hard Talk (quartets with Steve Lacy), Moods (sextet with Lacy, Cameron Brown; solo tracks), solo Mingus Lives; What It Is '81 had quartet with Clifford Jordan, Cecil McBee, Dannie Richmond. His copious work with Lacy included duets live in Paris Herbe de L'Oubli and Snake-Out '81, continued on superb two-CD Live At Dreher Paris 1981: 'Round Midnight Vol. 1. More albums were Blues For Lady Day on Black Lion; trio Set Me Free with Philly Joe Jones on Affinity (released '85); Signals on Freedom; One Entrance, Many Exits on Palo Alto; Encounters on Muse; You And The Night And The Music '86 on ProJazz with frequent associates Reggie Workman and Blackwell; The Seagulls Of Kristiansund '86 on Soul Note (live at the Village Vanguard with Woody Shaw, Charlie Rouse, Workman and Blackwell; The Super Quartet '87 on Evidence with Lacy; Crowd Scene '89 with Ricky Ford on Soul Note; No More Tears on Timeless, many more. My Dear Family '93 on Evidence was a trio with Workman and Pheeroan akLaff with guests Grover Washington and Eddie Henderson on various tracks; Two New '95 on Slam was fascinating, a duo recorded in England, with George Haslam playing baritone sax and tarogato, a wooden single-reed instrument that sounds like a cross between soprano sax and clarinet; to be compared to the duos with Lacy. He accompanied vocalist Danila Satragno on Magic Night In Borgio Verezzi '94 on Philology, Jeanne Lee on After Hours '94 on Owl and Travellin' In Soul-Time '95 on BVHaast. Communiqué '94 on Soul Note was another superb duo with Lacy (Monk and Mingus tunes as well as their own), while Black Spirits Are Here Again '96 on DIW was also made in Milan with Roberto Ottaviano on soprano, again holding its own with the Lacy duos.

A 1978 solo piano recital called Searching in Grenoble, recorded by Radio France, was issued on a 2-CD set in 2022, and the previously unissued music 'casts a mesmerizing spell', said Larry Blumenfeld in the Wall Street Journal.