Ann Arbor Weather:
Tuesday October 22, 2019
Follow us: facebook twitter RSS feed
Randy Weston

Randy Weston

African jazz

by Piotr Michalowski

From the September, 2003 issue

The modern jazz piano tradition has a number of strands. Most common is the lineage of Bud Powell, who so spectacularly adopted the fleet language of bebop to the keyboard. Others, such as Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols, followed different paths, combining the rhythmic and harmonic developments of the late 1940s with older influences, taking their cues from blues, stride, and other styles. Those who found inspiration in Monk encountered a particular dilemma: how to work out a personal style in the idiom without simply mimicking his work. Among those who tackled this challenge, the premier seat must be awarded to Randy Weston.

Weston grew up in New York, where Monk befriended him, and by 1954, when he recorded his first album, it was clear that he was working on developing an original voice. Although he began by recording standards, he soon began to demonstrate his highly original writing skills, and some of his earliest compositions, such as "Pam's Waltz," "Little Niles," and "Hi-Fly," have become jazz classics. In 1955 he recorded African Sunrise, a most unusual album incorporating traditional African rhythmic and melodic elements. This release also teamed him up with the prodigious arranging talents of Melba Liston. The African connection has been part of his life to this day, and the collaboration with Liston lasted to her death in 1999.

In 1961 Weston visited Nigeria, and after other visits to the continent, he moved to Morocco. He stayed for six years and has returned there often over the years. His African experiences helped the pianist to develop further an idiosyncratic style that blended modern jazz with musical elements from different parts of the continent. He even recorded an album with the Splendid Master Gnawa Musicians of Morocco, but all of this never eroded his love of American jazz, and he has continued to explore his own works, as well as those of Monk, Ellington, and other great composers.

Weston has an international following, and

...continued below...

even if his kind of music is not as popular in this country as it should be, he has had the backing of a major recording label, Verve, something many jazz musicians lacked. In the 1990s he used it to good advantage, releasing a series of adventurous large-group recordings in arrangements by Liston. Not content to mine his brand of American-African fusion, he went farther and incorporated Chinese musical elements on his 1998 release Khepera.

It is impossible to tour with such large numbers of musicians, and for the last few years Weston has been performing in a trio with bassist Alex Blake and percussionist Neil Clarke. The trio setting is ideal for Weston's music, and over the years these musicians have developed a marvelous rapport. They are at the Bird of Paradise on Friday and Saturday, September 19 and 20, as part of the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival.     (end of article)

[Originally published in September, 2003.]


Bookmark and Share
Print Comment E-mail

You might also like:

Nightspots: Conor O'Neill's
Train Delays
Slow progress on high-speed rail
James Leonard
Charter Schools
Shake Shack Arrives
Arbor Hills trades suits for burgers.
Lindsey Lincoln
Fixing the Damn Roads
It's been a challenge for the county road commission since 1919. The problem has always been money.
Grace Shackman
Petition Paradox
It's easier to change the city's charter than its laws.
Ken Garber
New Black Pole at Stadium and S. Maple?
Question Corner: October 2019
Tim Athan
Fillmore Bar & Grill
A picnic without the ants
Lee Lawrence
The T-Shirt Touch
Former Vintage caters to a knowing clientele.
Sabine Bickford
Hands On The Harvest
One of the finest university art museums in the country, UMMA holds collections representing 150 yea
A visitor's guide to Ann Arbor