© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Piano music is as old as the piano which as an instrument, in variations of its present form, dates back some 250 years. Millions of ringers have rippled the keys since then. But not until Randy Weston put the enormous hands of his 6'7" frame to the piano did exactly what happens in his playing emerge from that ancient instrument. When Randy plays, a combination of strength and gentleness, virility and velvet emerges from the keys in an ebb and flow of sound seemingly as natural as the waves of the sea.”
— LANGSTON HUGHES
(from the original liner notes for Uhuru Afrika)
In the context of the modern Jazz movements that flourished in mid-20th century, it wasn’t unusual for American Jazz musicians to seek both work and/or relocation opportunities abroad especially as the music fell from favor with the larger commercial audience in the late 1960s and beyond.
Europe was the most common direction for US Jazz musicians to head as the music continued to be well-received there.
Interestingly, pianist-composer Randy Weston headed in a completely different direction - to Africa - specifically to West Africa, initially to Nigeria and ultimately to Morocco.
I had no idea that this was going to be the geographical trajectory of Randy’s career when I first heard him on New Faces at Newport [Metro Jazz E1005] which was recorded in performance at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 5, 1958. Soon thereafter I picked some of the six LPs that were previously issued by Orrin Keepnews on Riverside Records c. 1954-56.
Orrin had this to say about his early association with Randy in African Rhythms - The Autobiography of Randy Weston:
Orrin Keepnews, Randy Weston's first record producer -
Orrin Keepnews: “I first met Randy Weston in the summer of 1953, back when he was also the assistant chef at the Music Inn. I didn't go to the Music Inn at the time, but my partner at Riverside, Bill Grauer, did in the summer of 1953. That was actually the first year of Riverside Records, and we weren't even thinking of ourselves for anything except reissues of classic jazz. Bill went up to the Berkshires and he heard Randy and got very excited about him. As the years progressed I didn't have reason to have that much faith in the musical tastes of my partner, and we ended up agreeing that he would take care of business and I would take care of the music side. But when I did finally get to hear Randy he was damned impressive, so the suggestion was made that we sign him.
At the time we wanted to put ourselves into the current, contemporary jazz scene and not just be a reissue or classic operation. Here was this guy Randy who sounded damned interesting, looked damned interesting, seemed to be an easy human being to work with, and we felt that as a first artist what we desperately needed was a new artist, not someone who had recorded for Blue Note or some other label. With Randy it seemed sort of pre-ordained; we were trying to develop an attitude of being in the living scene, and here was this man who seemed just right to put us there. Even though I was still a couple of years away from having a relationship with Monk, clearly Randy was a disciple of Monk, somebody influenced by Monk. I wasn't looking at that as any kind of selling point because I didn't know anything about selling points, but it was another reason I was attracted to Randy.
Because we hardly had any money we wanted Randy to record a solo piano album and he said no, he didn't want to do a solo album, so we compromised on Sam Gill recording with him. As far as the tunes, the idea was, let's make it easy: we don't know what our audience is anyway, so let's take it easy and let's record standards rather than way-out, original bebop compositions. With the Cole Porter idea the thing was if you do an entire album of the same composer it appears like a very deliberate thing, it's a theme, it's not just that we threw together a bunch of tunes because we couldn't think of anything to do. Cole Porter was Randy's best solution to the one-composer rule that we threw at him.
As for Randy's playing, what attracted me were the same characteristics that I found initially so attractive in Thelonious. Randy at that point, even more so than later, was clearly influenced by Monk; you heard a lot of Monk in Randy's playing. What had initially been so attractive to me about Monk was the fact that I was able to hear in Monk's playing where he was coming from. I was able to hear the tra-
ditionalists, I was able to hear the stride piano, and so I heard a reflection of that in Randy's playing. I don't think I would have been able to relate musically to Bud Powell at that point, I wasn't equipped to hear that. Given my background as a fan of traditional jazz, I was better equipped to hear Monk or Randy than any number of other modern players.
By the time we recorded Randy's second record I had gotten a little bit more realistic, a little bit more knowledgeable about the world that I was trying to live in, and frankly a little bit more aware of the artists on the scene. And among other things I was aware of was that Randy was a very impressive composer. Both his tunes "Zulu" and "Pam's Waltz" debuted on that record, which was more about Randy's repertoire, which was the most sensible and proper way to deal with an artist in that way. If there is a good generalization in the record business it is to leave the artist alone as much as possible. When Randy said he could get Art Blakey to play on the date we didn't try to talk him out of that.
That second record was my first date at Van Gelder's studio, which made me feel like "Here I am, really in the professional jazz world." The album was done in one day, so it was customary and necessary that you built your payments on that part of the union provision regarding how much recorded time you're able to get out of a session. A session in those days was three hours of time in the studio or up to fifteen minutes on an LP side. This was for an album somewhere between thirty-five and forty minutes. The way that worked was fifteen minutes is a session and each additional five minutes before you get to another session is another one-third of another session. I gave Mr. Blakey a check for two times scale plus two overtimes. He looked at the check and said, "You don't have to be that chintzy, I mean I don't mind working for scale but the least you could do is give me three sessions for an album." I don't remember whether I gave him another check or whatever, but I immediately made an extra payment and Art and I had a good relationship for the rest of his life.
Union scale for a sideman in those days was $41.25, and the leader's was double that. If you wanted to be a real round-number guy you're making an album and the leader was going to get $250 and the side-men are going to get $125. So with very little capital investment—and we had very little capital investment—you could make a trio record and your musician costs are going to be $500. Plus your studio costs
were a good deal less than they are now, and you didn't have any remixing to do in those days because this was in the days before stereo, this was all straight to one-track. The economic factors were a very important consideration in creating this context for Randy.
I think what you'll see in the differences between the beginning and the end of my working relationship with Randy is ... he undergoes changes obviously, he goes from being a guy that's asked to do this for the first time on the basis of some noodling around he did on his summer job in the Berkshires, he's gone from there to being a professional musician, so he has grown. But to that extent I have grown to be a more helpful and understanding producer, which wasn't hard to do because I was starting from zero.
Then we did the live date at the Cafe Bohemia with Cecil Payne. Live recording at that point was very much in its infancy. It was actually a very simple procedure: You took a portable tape machine and you set yourself up in a club. You would stake out a table or two in the back of the club and you miked your musicians as closely as you could in a studio. That Bohemia date was actually a strange choice, because a very arrogant and unpleasant man ran that club. When you walked into the club there was a long bar in a quite narrow space, because there was not that much passageway from the bar back into the seating area. Miles played there a lot and the MJQ played there, and it was very much of a musician's hangout. It would be maybe two or three deep at the bar on a Saturday night, and I can remember this feisty little guy coming through, knocking us out of the way to clear a path for the sit-down customers to come in. I don't think anybody thought of it particularly as a musician-friendly club. There are lots of examples of the fact that just because you hire musicians does not necessarily mean that you have their best interests at heart. This guy wasn't quite Morris Levy but he was not by any means a musician-friendly person. So we made those three records with Randy and after that it was a mutual parting of the ways. We really weren't moving him forward career-wise, and we agreed that he might be better off trying to find somebody else to advance his career.
I've been profoundly disappointed in the jazz public, and in jazz writers, at the reaction to Randy Weston. I consider this man now, as I always have, to be a major talent. You're going to have a hard time finding somebody who doesn't like him as a person. He has this great combination of being basically a shy man, but still with an outgoing personality. He's all of those kinds of factors that you think would make somebody be more inclined to want to work for him rather than against him. And he sure as hell can play and has always been a most interesting writer. I've always been concerned at what has been an inadequate response to this man. He's led a very interesting life and had a very interesting career which to a very large extent is of his own making; he has gone out there and done all these unusual and unprecedented things. Randy has never stopped being enthusiastic, inventive, and creative.
I guess this lack of recognition of true artistry happens in a business like ours where people who aren't particularly qualified in the first place make an awful lot of decisions. I do not have a high regard for the status of jazz criticism, especially to the extent that a considerable number of listeners who may think of themselves as intelligent and independent allow themselves to be shaped by a lot of these unqualified experts. Randy never was a critic's darling, he is not an easy musician to appreciate because he's playing difficult music, he's playing music with depth to it, with certain idiosyncrasies. It would have helped if Randy had gotten serious critical attention. But at least we're fishing in the right part of the lake.”
The book is filled with wonderful stories, anecdotes and commentaries about Randy’s long career which spanned seven decades as told [“composed”] by Randy and artfully written [“arranged”] by Willard Jenkins.
Willard is a wonderful narrative writer, a good storyteller who skills bring Randy’s wonderfully unique story to life. I mean, how many American Jazz musicians do you know who actually went back to Africa to live and work?
Throughout his life, in both his work and in his lifestyle, Randy never forgot the following admonition from his father:
Son, never forget what you are. You're an African. Though you were born here in the United States of America, you are an African. An African born in America, do you understand? Your motherland, the home of your ancestors, is Africa. Wherever you travel all over this planet, you must always come back to her. Africa is the past, the present and the future. Africa is the four cardinal points: the North, the South, where the sun rises and where it sets. —FRANK EDWARD WESTON, as conveyed to his son Randy Weston from childhood
These sentiments from his Dad are certainly reflected in one of Randy’s earliest and most important extended compositions - Uhuru Africa - which is also the name of a Roulette LP Uhuru Africa [SR 65001] which can also be found as part of the 3 CD Mosaic Select set Randy Weston [#4].
Randy describes what it took to bring off this recording in these excerpts from his autobiography:
“For the text I was very anxious to use an African language in Uhuru Afrika. I was still so upset by how African language was presented in the media. I could also vividly recall the ridiculous images of those awful Tarzan movies I had been so into as a boy, and how they depicted the Africans and their language. Tarzan had these blacks carrying stuff on their heads, saying,
"Bwana this, Bwana that, Bwana the other" ... So I made up my mind that Uhuru Afrika had to use an authentic African language, not some gibberish or nonsense from television or the movies. I wanted to present this work of music where people would hear the beauty and depth of an African language, and at the same time show the power of the drum.” …
I knew it would be difficult selecting one common language for the text; after all, it was my understanding at the time that Africa was a land of over nine hundred different languages and countless dialects. So I met with several African ambassadors and other Africans who worked at the UN. When I asked them which language would best represent the continent, they said Kiswahili.”
I saw Uhuru Afrika as the most important music I had ever written. The prelude was Langston's freedom poem. I wrote the suite in four movements: the first movement was "Uhuru Kwanza," the theme of which was that African people have a right to determine their own destiny. The second movement, the vocal piece that Brock Peters and Martha Flowers sang, was "African Lady," which was written as a tribute to all the great black women who had impacted my life, beginning with my mother; all those sisters toiling away to support their family, putting food on the table, doing menial jobs and putting up with all kinds of indignities. The third movement was called "Bantu," which signified all of us coming together in unity. The last movement was titled "Kucheza Blues," for the glorious moment when Africa would gain its full independence and black people all over the world would have a tremendous global party to celebrate.
Since I wanted this to be a really important suite, I knew it had to be played by a thoroughly unique orchestra. Melba certainly had a lot more big-band experience than I did, she knew all the great big-band players. After all those years she spent playing in the Gerald Wilson, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, and Quincy Jones bands—not to mention writing for Duke Ellington and numerous large ensemble recordings— I totally relied on her judgment when it came time to hire the musicians for Uhuru, and from that point forward whenever we had a big-band date. She always wanted several key players to be the backbone of the band, people she knew from her big-band days, people who were versatile and who would lend dexterity and distinctive voices to their particular section. So we started out with Budd Johnson on saxophones and Quentin "Butter" Jackson on trombone, they were very close friends of Melba. These were musicians who could read any music inside out, who could interpret anything; they were our foundation, the keys to develop this big-band sound I was hearing in my head.
We picked Charlie Persip to play the trap drums because Charlie was in Dizzy's band with Melba. Most of the other musicians I picked. She wanted to have a certain passage for double flutes, to capture the sound of the birds on "African Lady." So I got Les Spann to play the guitar and double on flute to go along with Jerome Richardson, another very versatile musician who could play all the reeds and flutes. I also wanted musicians that were in tune with our history; musicians who were aware, musicians who took pride in being black, pride in being African Americans. It was a combination of all those things and that's why we wound up with such a powerful lineup. We hired Gigi Gryce, Yusef Lateef, Cecil Payne, Sahib Shihab, Jerome Richardson, and Budd Johnson on reeds and flutes; Julius Watkins on French horn; Clark Terry, Benny Bailey, Richard "Notes" Williams, and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and flugelhorn; Quentin "Butter" Jackson, Slide Hampton, and Jimmy Cleveland on trombone; and Kenny Burrell on guitar. That was one of the greatest orchestras you could put together, and we haven't even gotten to the rhythm section.
Africa is civilization's heartbeat, so the rhythm section had to be very special. We wanted to have a rhythm section that showed how all drums came from the original drum, the African drum. So we got Babatunde Olatunji from Nigeria to coordinate the rhythm section and play African drum and percussion. I got Candido and Armando Peraza from Cuba to express the African drum via Cuba. Max Roach played marimba, Charlie Persip played jazz drums—G. T. Hogan subbed for Persip on "African Lady" when he couldn't make the second day of recording—and we had two basses, George Duvivier and Ron Carter. To sing Langston Hughes's lyrics for "African Lady" I wanted two singers who knew jazz but were not necessarily known as jazz singers. So I got Martha Flowers, a soprano who was largely from the European classical tradition, and for baritone Brock Peters, who was primarily known for playing Broadway shows and singing folk music. Putting all these forces together was an amazing experience.
Even though we had all these resources together, I still wasn't sure who would record Uhuru Afrika. At this particular time in my recording career I was signed to United Artists Records, where I had a three-year contract. This was the same company that had previously recorded my Little Niles record, in 1958. The reviews for that record were very favorable and I obviously wanted to record Uhuru Afrika for United Artists, due to the success of Little Niles. But they hesitated at recording such a big project. They said I wasn't that well-known at the time and perhaps I should do something more popular; the implication, I thought, was that after making this more "popular" record, then I could record Uhuru.
They suggested I make a record based on the music from a Broadway show. They said, "Look, Randy, if you do a recording based on a popular Broadway show, then we'll let you do Uhuru Afrika . . ." so I took the bait. I started checking around, reading the Broadway reviews and inquiring about the various Broadway shows playing at that time. For some reason, I'm still not sure why, I came up with a show called Destry Rides Again. Destry is all cowboy music by Harold Rome, but I chose it anyway. I asked Melba to write the arrangements and I chose to use just trombones and a rhythm section on the date. I got Benny Green, Slide Hampton, Melba, and Frank Rehak to play the trombones; Peck Morrison played bass and Willie Rodriguez played the conga drums. We did our best on that and I always laugh when I think about that date, because it was also the only time I recorded with Elvin Jones on drums.
I loved Elvin's playing; he used to come to the Five Spot and sit in with me. You know how powerful Elvin is, I could never hear myself when he played, but we loved each other and that Destry recording gave me the opportunity to have Elvin play the drums. Frankly we weren't that inspired recording Destry; I did it purely hoping for the opportunity to record Uhuru Afrika for United Artists. But finally we soon realized that United Artists just wasn't ready to record Freedom Africa.
The project finally found a record label, largely because of Sarah Vaughan's husband and manager at the time, a guy named C. B. Atkins. He was a heavy cat from Chicago and he later became one of Muhammad Ali's managers. I went to see him because I knew he liked my music, he had been to dubs to hear my trio. In those days we used to work a lot opposite Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie . , . the real heavyweights. So I met with Atkins and said, "Listen, I have this project I really want to record and it's gonna require a big band. It's in four movements and it's going to be called Uhuru Afrika, which is Kiswahili for 'Freedom Africa.'" I explained the various movements to Atkins and he was very interested. He said, "Okay, I'm going to talk to some people at Roulette Records and maybe you can record it for them." Atkins went to Roulette Records and he talked Morris Levy into it, which was no small feat.
Working with Melba is always an adventure, and this project was no exception. She was very particular, very orderly, but she was also so creative that sometimes she would decide to make last-minute changes in the arrangements to get things just right. Sometimes she would write something and it seemed like the arrangement was all set; only to have her say, "No, I think I want to change this."
Needless to say, it was quite hectic and frantic up until the moment we started to record. Even with all of Melba's creative powers, Jerome Richardson and several of the guys were still copying parts the day of the first recording session. I was living in that apartment that those two sisters from Langston's office had leased to me on 13th Street, and up until time to go to the recording session guys were writing out parts. Melba had people copying parts on the ceiling, on the walls, on the floor; it was a comical scene. The poor copyist was on his feet so long that his legs were completely swollen by morning; he had worked so hard with no rest. What a scene: we had to actually carry this guy down the stairs in a chair to take him to the studio!
We recorded Uhuru Afrika on two successive days at Bell Sound in midtown Manhattan. With all of those musicians, and all of those different personalities, what was ironic was that both recording dates were scheduled for 9:00 a.m. and everybody was on time. Nobody was late, two days in a row, which was incredible. When the session started it was actually the first time the musicians had heard the poem at the introduction. When the guys heard the Langston Hughes poem it was quite dramatic; you could see it on their faces and hear it in their expressions. They said, "Oh, man . . .," because that was during the period when Africa was either a place to be ashamed of or a place that people had tremendous fear of; you were not supposed to identify with Africa.
Africa, where the great Congo flows!
Africa, where the whole jungle knows
A new dawning breaks, Africa!
A young nation awakes, Africa!
The freedom wind blows!
Out of yesterday's night Uhuru—Freedom! Uhuru! Freedom.
-LANGSTON HUGHES, Uhuru Afrika invocation
When the musicians heard Langston's freedom poem, the purpose of which is to bring us together, to say the freedom of Africa is a freedom for us, they instantly knew what feeling we were after; that poem really set the mood. The independence of some African countries is inspiration for us to search for our freedom and our identity. That recording session was an incredible experience, and the spirits of our ancestors were with us in that studio, everybody got into the spirit of Africa. At one point we needed a certain kind of percussion sound and some guys got the inspiration to use Coca-Cola bottles to make sounds. Everybody contributed their ideas, because when I record I like to get the ideas of some of the musicians. Sometimes they can hear things that I can't hear. I never like to completely finish a piece until I get to the studio, because we may be doing something and someone might say, "Hey, why don't you do it this way; let's try it this way." I always like to keep it open. This session was wonderful because there was the artistic control, there were the charts, there was the music, but at the same time there was a tremendous sense of freedom.
The Players Remember
: Yusef Lateef, saxophone: I think as a composer Randy's music represents a progressive refinement and development of African American music. What was going on in that studio was discovery and invention in the aesthetics of music, because there were decades of knowledge in that studio; Charlie Persip and all those drummers! It was an amalgamation of abilities that were exchanging ideas and formulating the outcome of that music. A kind of romance of experience happened at that session.
: Ron Carter, bass: Uhuru Afrika was my first awareness that when you go to a record date you don't have any instructions; you should just be prepared for whatever is on the music stand. It was a stunning surprise to be in the midst of all those guys on the record ... To walk in the studio and see Clark Terry, Richard Williams, Charlie Persip . . . and to have George Duvivier as a bass partner was quite an amazing environment to be in. When I got to the studio the first thing I noted was the pitch
of all those drums: you've got congas and bongos, African drums ... My first concern was whether I could find some notes to play that were out of their range, even though I don't know when they're going to play them necessarily, when they're going to hit those specific drums. I prepared my technique to be out of the range of those drum notes because it takes a hell of a mixing job to get the bass notes out of that mud.
By the same token I was respecting and honoring George Duvivier's presence, kinda hanging around to see what his approach is going to be when those drummers start banging around. Is it going to be like mine? Is it going to be different from mine in terms of where to play our parts, and when the drums lay out how do we handle the ranges now that we have the space? ... So it was a real lesson in section bass playing, not having played with another bass player in a jazz ensemble before. George asked me what I thought and I said, "George, they ought to record the drums the day after tomorrow! ... In the meantime I guess our best bet is to try to slide some notes in here where the drums aren't playing so loud so that the bass notes, which are the roots of all those chords, make the top part sound like it belongs there." George said, "Well, we can do that." I said, "Well, let's give it a shot." I think he was kind of pleased at my comfort at talking with him and that I had some suggestions that clearly might work. I was basically a stranger to George, I was just a new guy in town at the time . . . and George Duvivier is George Duvivier! But when he asked for my advice, I thought that since Randy had hired me for this date, George knew Randy well enough to trust that whoever he hired would be capable of getting the job done; so I felt good about that.
Clark Terry, trumpet: Melba was always so laid back and relaxed, but she was just a completely thorough musician. We had worked together with Quincy Jones's band on Free and Easy.
Martha Flowers, voice: Opera was my field, but when Randy asked me to do this recording I was delighted. The key "African Lady" was written in, and how it lay as far as my voice was concerned ... it was not written in a high key where my voice would sound very operatic. It was written in a sort of medium key where I thought my voice had a kind of mellow quality that would lend itself to any kind of jazz music, or music that was not considered classical music. I just felt vocally right at home because it seemed like it was just written for me. Randy told me he had written this wonderful composition and he thought my voice would be very suitable to sing it.
Uhuru Afrika had great significance for me. When I heard about this music and saw the score, and then going up to record it, I felt a great sense of dedication to this work, that this composition would really have a great impact on the music world. Politically it made a great musical statement, and this really fired me up. I was quite anxious to sing "African Lady" and was truly excited when I saw all the other musicians who were involved in it; clearly this was a top-quality engagement. I had great respect for Langston Hughes's lyrics, they were just perfect for what Randy had written. The experience was just electrifying.
Charlie Persip, drums: I don't remember getting any kind of preparation for the date. I remember Randy talking about what he was going to do, but I basically had no idea until we got to the studio. I really made the majority of my money during that time doing just that; I was called to do record dates and I had no idea what was going to happen until I got to the date. I think that's why Randy asked me to do the date, because he knew that I was very proficient in that type of situation, plus he liked the way I played with large orchestra. I had the score, so I was reading the music accompanying the orchestra; but as far as blending with the other drummers, I listened to the other drummers and I played with them. I didn't take over, I just listened to the drummers and tried to blend with them and at the same time play my part, which was accompanying the ensemble.
This was like the who's who of African and Caribbean drummers on this date, so I was trying to blend with these people. I was glad to be a part of it. When I heard the whole thing and I heard the narration, I began to get kind of inwardly emotional about it, because we were just starting to become aware of our African heritage and starting to really get our pride together as black people. Once I did the album, when I heard the music it kind of got to me, it really helped to get me more involved emotionally with my African heritage. Doing that music really helped me to get deeper into my pride as a black man with African ancestry.”
At this junction, the book turns primarily to MAKING A HOME IN AFRICA [Chapter 10], BUILDING A HOME IN TANGIER [MOROCCO]: THE AFRICAN RHYTHMS CLUB [Chapter 12] and to more details about the evolution and recording of more of Randy’s extended compositions such as Blue Moses [Chapter 13], Spirits of Our Ancestors and Khepera [Chapter 15].
Reflective of his father’s constant reminders of his African heritage, Randy’s diaspora to Africa is reflected in the following opening paragraph to Chapter 10:
“During the mid-late 1960s, when I began to seriously contemplate making a life in Africa, considering my two earlier trips there, Nigeria was naturally my first choice. It was an English-speaking country, so I figured there wouldn't be a communication barrier; most of the educated people in Nigeria spoke English, and I had gotten to know many people, from the governor general to various Nigerians in television and radio, sculptors, painters, and assorted other artists. Nigeria just seemed the most obvious African country for me to migrate to.
There were other possibilities on the continent as well. At that time, largely because of the successful independence movement there in '59 and the charisma of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana was then the most celebrated African nation in New York. I had many Ghanaian friends at the time. …
One month after returning from Morocco after our 1964 tour stop there, I got a letter from the usis in Morocco saying the Moroccan people are completely crazy about your music and they want you to come back. …
One thing led to another, ;md by 1967 I was finally ready to make the move. At the time 1 was living in the apartment on 13th Street in Manhattan that I had gotten from Ramona Low and Adele Glasgow, Langston Hughes's friends. In preparation for leaving I was able to transfer the lease on that apartment to Booker Ervin and his family. So everything in that apartment, my piano and all the furniture, I left with Booker Ervin and his family. The only things I took with me to Morocco besides my clothes were my papers, books, and music. And because I wanted them to experience life in Africa firsthand 1 took my children, Pamela and Niles, to live with me there. And this was despite the fact that I didn't really know anything about Moroccan culture. The vibrations and the spirits were just right. Morocco was calling. When I arrived in Morocco in '67 I found there was such a great appreciation there for the music that I became involved with their culture almost immediately. They have such a diversity of music, from the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara Desert, so I was always looking for their traditions. There's a tendency on the part of some folks to feel that Western culture, or the Americanization of things, is supreme. That might mean that a McDonald's becomes more important than the traditional cuisine, like the traditional Moroccan tagine (or stew) for example. Because the West has dominated the world they've also created a kind of musical colonialism in a way; you'll find American pop music almost everywhere you go. The Moroccans were very protective of their musical traditions, and that really appealed to me, drew me deeper into their culture.”
In the concluding chapter which Randy subtitles: RANDY WESTON … PHILOSOPHICALLY YOURS, he offers the following thoughts which can serve as a summary statement of the major themes in his life and music:
“Africa, the cradle of civilization, is my ancestral home, the home of my spirit and soul. Africa has always been part of me, Africa has always been deep in my psyche from childhood, and I knew I'd have to go there sooner or later. In 19611 finally did, and again in 1963—both times to Nigeria. Then my sextet and I toured those fourteen countries in West and North Africa in 1967, and later that year I went back to stay. So many memories . . .
For me the most compelling aspect of African culture —North, South, East, and West—is its music, magnificent in its power and diversity, with the "true drums"—African Rhythms—always at the heart. The music of no other civilization can rival that of Africa in the complexity and subtlety of its rhythms. All modern music, no matter what it's called—jazz, gospel, Latin, rock, bossa nova, calypso, samba, soul, the blues, reggae, even the music of the avant-garde—is in debt to African Rhythms.
The rhythms came from all over Africa. I knew the rhythms were African, but I didn't realize how universally African they were until the 1967 tour. Africans in nearly every country we visited claimed the rhythms as their own, as typical of Ghana or Gabon or Upper Volta or Morocco; each African country has its very own traditions.
Most of my compositions are about African people or involve African themes. Every concert and even in my day-to-day conversation I'm speaking about African people. I am an Africanist in every sense of the word because of my immersion in African Rhythms, the realization of which came directly from my mother and father and goes all the way back to ancient African civilizations.
I have visited many countries, performed for thousands and thousands of people, and I am blessed to have the power of music—given to me by God—to spread our history, our creativity, and our music. And I've been very fortunate that my audiences have received that sincerity and spirit so warmly.”
If as Richard Sudhalter, the late cornettist, author and critic asserts - “Jazz musicians are their music. Absent that, they're just people making a living, eating meals, paying bills — no different from cops or politicos. But that's just the point: the music can't be subtracted: it's the defining essence, which sets musicians apart, makes them special and ultimately a little mysterious.” - then Randy Weston life was his music and his music became his life.
The book contains a well-annotated discography, a full index and a complete list of those interviewed as sources for the book.