Jazz pianist Eddie Heywood, whose long career continued almost up to his death in 1989, is probably most remembered now for originating the much-loved song, “Canadian Sunset.” But Heywood’s story encompasses so much more, including not only his early experiences in the big band era but also having to overcome bouts of paralysis in his later years.
Heywood was actually a junior, the son of early jazz pioneer Eddie Heywood, Sr., who was a vital part of the music scene in the 1920s. Not surprisingly, young Heywood was primed to follow in his father’s footsteps, and he was playing the piano professionally while still a young teen.
By the late 1930s he’d established himself in some of the biggest bands of the era, and had even starred in New York with Benny Carter’s respected outfit. Heywood then took the next logical step — he began leading his own group, often working with legendary songbird Billie Holiday. He continued to do well during the war years, first by working with Coleman Hawkins and then eventually by forming the Eddie Heywood Sextet, a group that is still remembered by many for its best-selling record of a song made famous by Artie Shaw, “Begin The Beguine.”
Unfortunately, the post-war years would mark the beginning of Heywood’s ongoing physical problems, centered in the paralysis of his hands. During the 1950s he battled through and managed to regain enough ability to perform at a lighter level, while his talent as a composer led to his memorable “Canadian Sunset.” In the 1960s the paralysis again threatened his career, but he continued to fight it and managed to tickle the keys for most of the remaining two decades of his life.