Randy Weston Comes to the Jazz Heritage Center

by E. "Doc" Smith on June 25, 2010

After contributing six decades of musical direction and genius, Randy Weston remains one of the world’s foremost pianists and composers today, a true innovator and visionary. Encompassing the vast rhythmic heritage of Africa, his global creations musically continue to inform and inspire. “Weston has the biggest sound of any jazz pianist since Ellington and Monk, as well as the richest most inventive beat,” states jazz critic Stanley Crouch, “but his art is more than projection and time; it’s the result of a studious and inspired intelligence… An intelligence that is creating a fresh synthesis of African elements with jazz technique”. In partnership with the Museum of the African Diaspora, the Jazz Heritage Center will present a weekend focused on the life and music of jazz legend Randy Weston.

The Jazz Heritage Center will be showing two films about Randy Weston’s life and will be featuring him in conversation with legendary jazz radio personality Dr. Herb Wong. On Sunday, June 27th, the Jazz Heritage Center will be featuring a special discussion with Randy Weston discussing his long career in jazz and the role of Africa in his music and life.  He will also be discussing his new book, African Rhythms, slated for an October release. Prior to the discussion with Weston, the JHC will be showing, “Randy Weston on the Road,” a 45-minute film which showcases Weston’s lifetime journey from Brooklyn to Africa.

Randy Weston, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1926, didn’t have to travel far to hear the early jazz giants that were to influence him. Though Weston cites Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Art Tatum, and of course, Duke Ellington as his other piano heroes, it was Monk who had the greatest impact.  “He was the most original I ever heard,” Weston remembers.  “He  played  like  they  must  have  played  in  Egypt  5000  years  ago.”

Weston’s first recording as a leader came in 1954 on Riverside Records Weston plays Cole Porter –  Cole Porter in a modern mood  It was in the 50’s when Randy Weston played around New York with Cecil Payne and Kenny Dorham that he wrote many of his best loved tunes, “Saucer Eyes,” “Pam’s Waltz,” “Little Niles,” and, “Hi-Fly.”   His greatest hit, “Hi-Fly,” Weston (who is 6′ 8″) says, is a “tale of being my height and looking down at the ground.

Weston has never failed to make the connections between African and American music. His dedication is due in large part to his father, Frank Edward Weston, who told his son that he was, “an African born in America.” “He told me I had to learn about myself and about him and about my grandparents,” Weston said in an interview, “and the only way to do it was I’d have to go back to the motherland one day.”

In the late 60’s, Weston left the country. But instead of moving to Europe like so many of his contemporaries, Weston went to Africa. Though he settled in Morocco, he traveled throughout the continent tasting the musical fruits of other nations.  One of his most memorable experiences was the 1977 Nigerian festival, which drew artists from 60 cultures. “At the end,” Weston says, “we all realized that our music was different but the same, because if you take out the African elements of bossa nova, samba, jazz, blues, you have nothing… To me, it’s Mother Africa’s way of surviving in the new world.”

Kudos to JHC Executive Director Peter Fitzsimmons for continuing to bring these stellar jazz legends to the Fillmore.

Randy Weston at the Jazz Heritage Center
 6PM – 7PM Movie: Randy Weston On The Road
7PM – 8PM Interview/Q&A with Randy Weston
JHC Members: Free

E. “Doc” Smith is a musician, producer and recording artist with Edgetone Records, who has worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Howard Levy, Warren Zevon and Mickey Hart among others. He is also the inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick. He can be reached via http://edgetonerecords.com/edoctorsmith.html

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