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The following article, Randy Weston In Memoriam by Robert Ham which appeared in the November 2018 issue of DownBeat prompted the editorial staff at JazzProfiles to dig through the Jazz literature on Randy Weston at its disposal and to use the material that it found to create a compilation of writings about Randy that will appear on these pages in a series of subsequent postings. It’s our small way of attempting to do justice to Randy’s career in music, one that spanned almost 70 years. Not many artists are fortunate enough to be productive for almost three quarters of a century!
The following will be among the featured writings on Randy and his music:
- “Randy Weston (Afrobeats)” and essay from Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz
- “Randy Weston Interview,” in Len Lyons, The Great Jazz Pianists
- Liner Notes to the New Faces at Newport  Metro Jazz LP [E1005]
- Liner Notes to The Modern Art of Jazz Dawn LP [DLP-1116 reissued as Dawn CD-107 by Fresh Sound Records]
- The insert notes from the booklet to the Mosaic Select Randy Weston 3 CD set [MS 004]
- The relevant excerpts on Randy and his music from The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.; Oxford Companion to Jazz, Bill Kirchner, ed.; The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Barry Kernfeld, ed.
- “Randy Weston interview” in Art Taylor, Notes and Tones
- Ira Gitler, “Randy Weston, Downbeat, xxxi/6, (1964), p. 16
- Mark Gardner, “Randy Weston,” Jazz Monthly, xii/11 (1967)
- Larry Birnbaum, “Randy Weston: African Rooted Rhythm,” Downbeat, xlvi/15, (1979)
- Ted Panken, Randy Weston DownBeat Interview, August 2016.
As is our custom, once these postings have appeared on the blog, singularly or in combination, we will collect them and repost them in one comprehensive feature on Randy and his music.
Of course, now with the added advantage of so much music being available of YouTube, we will include as many musical examples of Randy’s oeuvre as possible in each of these features.
“IN 2016, WHEN PIANIST RANDY WESTON was inducted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame, he said that he viewed his life's work as a kind of musical recipe.
"You take the black church, the calypso, the blues. Duke, Basie, Art Tatum, put them in a pot and stir them up, and add Africa: that's Randy Weston," he said in an article that initially ran in the August edition of the magazine that year.
It's a fairly apt summation of the elements that impacted the way Weston — who passed away on Sept. 1 at the age of 92 — approached his chosen instrument and the music to which he devoted his life. As with most mottos, though, it doesn't fully capture the depth of feeling and acuity in his playing, formed from years of study of the jazz and classical canon, as well as his longtime advocation of the African roots in all modern music.
Bassist Christian McBride, who recorded with Weston on the 1997 album Earth Birth, put it this way: "While many naively spoke of the connection between African and African-American heritage, he was someone who actually spent extensive time playing, studying and maintaining a business in Africa — experiencing many cultures there first-hand and bringing those experiences back to America to share with all of the musicians who learned from him. He was one of the only musicians many of us knew who could seamlessly thread the sounds of the Yorubas to bebop."
Weston's interest in both the music and history of Africa was ingrained in him at an early age. Born in Brooklyn in 1926, his parents — mom, a domestic worker; dad, a restaurateur originally from Panama — encouraged him to study his ancestral homeland at the same time he was taking piano lessons. And they supported him as he started his music career following high school and a stint in the Army.
Along the way, he found notable mentors, including his neighbor Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and jazz scholar Marshall Stearns. Through their friendship and teachings, Weston began to develop his singular playing style: a fluid, yet reserved, approach that built a percussive, angular flow off of a stride-blues foundation. He could swing with the best of them, but seemed most comfortable blending with the steady polyrhythms of the Gnawa music of Morocco or the spirited throb of highlife from Ghana.
His interest in blending the sounds of modern jazz with African rhythms began in earnest during the late '50s and flourished on early albums, like 1961's Uhuru Afrika, which included poetry from Langston Hughes, and 1963's Music From The New African Nations. Around that time, he also was conscripted to tour the western and northern parts of the African continent by the U.S. State Department. He often would return there during his life, including spending a few years living in Morocco, where he taught and helped run the African Rhythms Cultural Center.
"His association with African musicians and the time he spent traveling the continent gave him a wealth of information," remembered trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, who performed with Weston on and off during the past four decades. "A lot of other guys did similar kinds of things, but didn't seem to absorb it the same way. Randy would hear the balafon [a percussion instrument that originated in Mali] and understand that it was as much a piano as the piano was."
Weston kept up a steady output of recordings and performances throughout his long life, including his most recent work, The African Nubian Suite, a live large-ensemble album captured in 2012 at New York's Skirball Cultural Center that aimed to trace human evolution back to its African roots in the Nile River delta. He also was playing concerts until very recently, with his last appearance occurring in July in France.
In addition to his induction into DownBeat's Hall of Fame, Weston received other honors, including a Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Trust, and honorary doctorates from the New England Conservatory of Music and Brooklyn College.
Above all else, according to Bridgewater, Weston will be remembered for being one of the most gregarious and kind artists in jazz.
"He treated everybody well — even the Gnawa musicians he got to know became family to him. Yesterday at Randy's funeral, somebody said, 'I never heard Randy say a bad thing about any musician or anybody,"' Bridgewater recalled after attending a Sept. 10 service at Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York. "That was his nature. He welcomed everybody."
—Robert Ham, NOVEMBER 2018, DOWNBEAT, p. 17.