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‘Canadian Sunset’ Composer’s Career Shortened by Injury : Eddie Heywood Jr.; Popular Jazz Pianist

Times Staff Writer

Eddie Heywood Jr., a popular jazz pianist of the 1940s who composed “Canadian Sunset,” a jazz and pop standard, died Monday at his home in Miami Beach. He was 73.

Named as a new star by Esquire magazine in 1945, Heywood recorded albums with his own sextet and with vocalists Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald until a partial paralysis of his hands forced him to cut short his performing career in 1947.

Born in 1915, he was the son of a pianist and well-known combo leader. He began studying the piano in 1923 and made his professional debut in 1930 with an Atlanta vaudeville theater band.

Started in Harlem

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Heywood moved to New York City in 1938 and began playing in Harlem nightclubs. He first began to attract attention with Benny Carter’s band in 1939. When the band broke up in 1940, he began playing at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village and formed his own sextet in 1943 that included trumpeter Doc Cheatham and trombonist Vic Dickenson.

In the next four years, Heywood and his sextet achieved nation-wide popularity and were heard on radio and records with Bing Crosby and appeared in two films, “The Dark Corner” and “The Junior Prom.”

The sextet’s version of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” was arranged in a crisp, stylized manner that appealed equally to followers of jazz and pop music.

But at the peak of his career in the late ‘40s, Heywood’s hands became paralyzed and he was forced to stop performing.

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Heywood turned to composing, writing three hits in the 1950s, “Land of Dreams,” “Soft Summer Breeze,” and “Canadian Sunset,” his biggest success.

As a pianist, Heywood played with a straight-ahead swing-era style, but as a composer his tunes often were constructed around nature themes.

After 1956, he settled in Martha’s Vineyard, where he continued composing, writing more than 40 songs. He attempted to return to performing in the late ‘60s, but was once again hampered by his paralysis.

“He was an artist who had a chance to become world famous,” said Times jazz critic Leonard Feather. "(The paralysis) was a setback from which he never returned.”

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Heywood later retired to Florida, where he suffered from Parkinson’s disease, later complicated by Alzheimer’s disease.

But even in his later years, the diseases and paralysis did not stop him from playing the piano--at least in private.

“He had a big Steinway in his living room and played a few tunes in there,” said Fenton Walsh, 40, a Miami jazz musician who met Heywood about three years ago at a concert. “He was playing ‘My Funny Valentine’ and after a few bars, I recognized his style. The way he delivered the phrase on a song was just incredible.”

Effects of Injury

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Walsh said Heywood was frustrated, but not embittered, by the injury that cut short his career.

“He told me, ‘I just can’t make my hands do what they want to do,’ ” Walsh said. “But he dealt with it very well.”

Heywood is survived by his wife Evelyn, and two sons, Robert and Edward.

Memorial services are being planned for Atlanta and New York, Walsh said.

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