One of postbop’s steadiest and most consistent bassists for many years, Walter Booker passed away on Friday in New York City at the age of 72. The cause of death is not yet known.
Booker-or “Bookie,” as he was affectionately known-was born on Dec. 17, 1933 in Prairie View, TX. He moved to Washington, D.C. in the mid-’40s, and first picked up the bass in 1959 during a stint in the army (serving alongside Elvis Presley). Shortly after returning back to the States, Booker joined Andrew White’s JFK Quintet and toured with the Shirley Horn Trio. In 1964, he moved to New York City, where his career took off as trumpeter Donald Byrd hired him.
Though never a flashy or highly innovative player, Booker was in high demand due to his reliability and steadfastness and congruity to other players, especially in the hardbop realm. From 1964-1966, he was not only Donald Byrd’s regular bassist, but also a frequent sideman to Stan Getz and Sonny Rollins; from 1967-1969 he recorded and toured with Art Farmer, Archie Shepp, Milt Jackson, Ray Bryant, Betty Carter and Thelonious Monk’s last group. In 1969, Cannonball Adderley invited him to join his group, where he remained until Adderley’s death in 1975.
After spending six years as Sarah Vaughan’s bassist, Booker became entrenched in the Brazilian music scene and the recording world-he designed, built and operated the Boogie Woogie Studio-but continued to play with Pharoah Sanders, John Hicks, Phil Woods, Clifford Jordan, Billy Higgins and Nat Adderley, whom he stayed with until the trumpeter died in 2000.
That year, Booker released his first and only recording as a leader, Bookie’s Cookbook, a solid collection of straightahead jazz. For the last five years, he had been actively touring with his own quintet, in the Bertha Hope Trio with Jimmy Cobb, and in Elmollenium (a project dedicated to the music of Elmo Hope, formed with his wife-and Elmo’s widow-Bertha).
There will be a “Celebration of a Life” memorial service held for Walter Booker on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2007 at 7:30 p.m. at Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church, located at 619 Lexington Ave. at 54th St. in New York City.