The keyboard artistry of Cy Walter

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Cy Walter (1915-1968) was well known for four decades as a pianist, composer, and arranger on the New York cocktail lounge scene as well as from his recordings and radio appearances. I never would have been much interested in him had not my son Richard by accident met his son Mark and agreed to set up a website to celebrate Cy's career and artistry.

Therefore the appearance of two CDs on the Harbinger Records label caught my attention: "Sublimities, Cy Walter Centennial Tribute, Volumes 1 and 2."

The first disc has Cy playing 14 of his arrangements of such classics as "All the things you are," "Dancing in the dark," "The way you look tonight," and "The song is you." There follow 24 selections played by Cy on several radio shows, included among which are "Tea for two," "It's only a paper moon," "Star dust," and "Laura."

Volume 2 is dedicated to selections in which Cy is heard as accompanist and in which he is joined by other pianists. Of great interest are several of his own compositions, some taken from private discs in the family's collection.

The program notes in both sets tell us much about Cy's life and accomplishments. We learn much about him as a person through the eyes of Ruth McGirl (his niece), Mark Walter, and fellow artists such as Michael Feinstein, as well as Richard Behrens, who put together and runs the Cy Walter website.

As Peter Mintun points out in the notes, Cy's "brilliant recordings have largely remained inaccessible save to devoted fans for more than sixty years." Since these new CDs hold "recordings from Cy's earliest, and utterly rarer 78rpm and radio transcription discs and privately held recordings," they are of great historic as well as artistic interest

Mintun also mentions some of the famous singers for whom Cy was accompanist: Jean Cavall, Greta Keller, Mabel Mercer, Lee Wiley—and even Frank Sinatra. Indeed, I must leave the reader to cull from the copious notes more information and impressions concerning this most interesting artist.

These discs shed all sorts of new light on very familiar American songs and might be used by teachers of the piano to demonstrate to their students what an "arrangement" means. For the rest of us, there is a good deal of fascinating listening in these two excellent compilations that salute a keyboard genius.

As actor, lyricist, author, and producer Chilton Ryan writes in the notes, "I am thrilled that, thanks to Mark, others now will have the chance to know and appreciate the legend that was Cy Walter."


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