Mal Waldron Smoking By Deborah Feingold Signed Photograph
Malcolm Earl Waldron (August 16, 1925 December 2, 2002) was an American jazz and world music pianist and composer, born in New York City.
His jazz work was chiefly in the hard bop, post-bop and free jazz genres.
He is known for his distinctive chord voicings and adaptable style, which was originally inspired by the playing of Thelonious Monk.
After obtaining a B.A. in music from Queen’s College, New York, he worked in New York City in the early 1950s with Ike Quebec, “Big Nick” Nicholas, and rhythm and blues groups. He worked frequently with Charles Mingus from 1954 to 1956 and was Billie Holiday’s regular accompanist from 1957 until her death in 1959. He also supervised recording sessions for Prestige Records, for which he provided arrangements and compositions (including the jazz standard “Soul Eyes”). After Holiday’s death he chiefly led his own groups.
Waldron had a unique playing style. He played chords in a lower bass part of the keyboard, and is comparable to Bud Powell in his dissonant voicings. With its emphasis on color, weight, and texture as opposed to melodic improvisation, his solo style is in noted contrast to players like Red Garland.
He was frequently recorded, both as a leader and sideman, with, among others, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, Booker Little, Steve Lacy, Jackie McLean, Donald Byrd, Embryo and Archie Shepp.
Besides performing, he composed for films (The Cool World, Three Bedrooms in Manhattan and Sweet Love Bitter), theatre, and ballet. In 1963 he had a major nervous breakdown, and had to re-learn his skills, apparently by listening to his own records. Waldron’s playing style re-emerged more brooding, starker and percussive, combining bebop and avant-garde melodies, and at times weaving repetitive melodic motifs using just a few notes over a drone like accompaniment figure.