Jon Walton (c. 1922-1972)
Outside of Pittsburgh, tenor saxophonist Jon Walton's most renowned playing time was with Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw's big bands. But to Pittsburghers, he is likely best known for being a founding member of the jazz group Deuces Wild.
Though he was born in England, Jon Walton grew up in Clairton, PA, a steel town south of Pittsburgh, and attended Clairton High School. (Downbeat, August 17, 1972) When he died at age 50, on May 14, 1972, Walton was residing with his mother Mrs. Lucy Annie Walton on 181 Carnegie Avenue in Clairton. He was buried approximately 6 miles northwest of Clairton in Jefferson Memorial Park. (Death Notice, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 17, 1972)
As a teenager, Walton won "the Pennsylvania State Championship on saxophone in 1939." (Downbeat, August 17, 1972) His obituary in International Musician described him as "a prominent musician of the big band era" and stated that he played with "many of the well known bands of that time including Paul Pendarvis, Ted Weems, Phil Harris, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw." (November 1972) Walton recorded with the latter two.
Benny Goodman's Orchestra
Pittsburgh bandleader and teacher Max Adkins "sent young tenor sax star Jon Walton to his successful audition with Benny Goodman," according to a 1960s article by Roy Kohler. (Pittsburgh Press, Sunday, June 14, 1964) Walton's first recording session with Benny Goodman's orchestra was on July 27, 1942 in New York and his last was likely in April 1943. (D. Russell Connor, Benny Goodman: Listen to His Legacy, 1988.)
In James Lincoln Collier's Benny Goodman and the Swing Era, the author devotes a paragraph to the 1942 recording of "Six Flats Unfurnished" and mentions Walton:
This is also one of the rare records by the band on which Goodman does not solo. The only solo is by tenor saxophonist Jon Walton, an early disciple of Lester Young who died young. 'Had he lived, he'd have been great,' Benny told Russ Connor. (p. 285)
It is confusing whether the phrase "who died young" and Goodman's quote refer to Walton or Young (1909-1959). Both did indeed die somewhat young (age 50 and 49, respectively) but both also had decades-long careers and many jazz musicians often make their most significant recordings and performances before middle age, Goodman included.
The Benny Goodman Orchestra was featured in three movies while Walton was with the band: Powers Girl (1942), Stage Door Canteen (1942), and The Gang's All Here (1943). In the Powers Girl, Walton is featured as a sax soloist in "One O'Clock Jump." Pittsburgher Cliff Hill is also featured in the movie as bassist with Goodman. (Pittsburgh Courier, September 7, 1946)
Artie Shaw's Orchestra
Walton was in Artie Shaw's orchestra from autumn 1944 to autumn of 1945. (Vladimir Simosko, Artie Shaw: A Musical Biography and Discography, 2000) Walton was "a roommate of Roy Eldridge [trumpeter, orig. from Pittsburgh] during his stay with the Shaw band." (Downbeat, August 17, 1972) Pittsburgh pianist Dodo Marmarosa was also in Shaw's band at this time.
In 1946, Walton returned to the Pittsburgh area and formed the jazz group Deuces Wild. Billboard magazine described them as having a "fanatical following" during their two year stay at the Carnival Lounge. (November 6, 1948) Walton's obituary in Downbeat said the Pittsburgh group "was the most popular in that city for a decade." (August 17, 1972) Recordings of Deuces Wild from the 1950s, however, feature Flo Cassinelli on tenor saxophone instead of Walton.
In 1963, Jon Walton recorded an album for Gateway, a local Pittsburgh label, titled Jon Walton Swings Again. It featured Jon Morris on trombone, Reid Jaynes on piano, Bobby Boswell on bass and Jerry Betters on drums. (Carlos Peña, Pittsburgh Jazz Records and Beyond, 1950-1985) Toki Schalk Johnson poetically praised the album in the Pittsburgh Courier:
"Jon Walton Swings Again" is a sweet, smooth, smouldering tone-poem that swings right into your heart. ... Jon Walton's sax tones are sheer beauty...his phrasing, excellent: the tone cascading in enchanted wonder, like quicksilver running over a sun-warmed surface, sleek and pure. ... It's a "must" for anyone who loves jazz. Great jazz! (November 16, 1963)
This page was created in December 2011 by Timothy R. Williams, Music Librarian, in collaboration with Mike Plaskett of the radio show Rhythm Sweet & Hot. Updated July 2013.
Go to Pittsburgh Jazz Musicians page.