born on 6/4/1926 in Brooklyn, NY, United States
died on 1/9/2018 in Brooklyn, NY, United States
Randy Weston (born April 6, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York) is an American jazz pianist and composer of Jamaican parentage. He was described by Marian McPartland as "one of the world's great visionary pianists and composers".
Weston's piano style owes much to Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk (he has paid direct tribute to both on his "Portraits" albums), but it is highly distinctive in its qualities: percussive, highly rhythmic, capable of producing a wide variety of moods.
Also been characterized as a "griot of jazz and its African roots", Weston has said: "It's so important to teach the history of our music and the origins of our music, which comes directly from the African continent.... Musicians have to be historians, too." Described as "America's African Musical Ambassador", he has said: "What I do I do because it's about teaching and informing everyone about our most natural cultural phenomenon. It's really about Africa and her music."
Randolph Edward Weston was born in 1926 to Vivian (née Moore) and Frank Weston, and was raised in Brooklyn, New York, where his father owned a restaurant. His mother was from Virginia and his father was of Jamaican-Panamanian descent, a staunch Garveyite, who passed on the Pan-Africanist leader's Afrocentric, self-reliant values to his son. Randy studied classical piano as a child and also took dance lessons. He graduated from Boys High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant; his father chose for him to attend there because it had a reputation for high standards. He took piano lessons from Professor Atwell, because unlike his former piano teachers, Atwell allowed him to play songs outside of the classical music repertoire.
After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Weston ran a restaurant that was frequented by many of the leading bebop musicians. Among his piano heroes are Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Art Tatum and Duke Ellington (and Wynton Kelly was a cousin), but it was Thelonious Monk who had the greatest impact.
Early career: 1940s–'50s
In the late 1940s Weston began gigging with bands including Bullmoose Jackson, Frank Culley and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. Weston worked with Kenny Dorham in 1953 and in 1954 with Cecil Payne, before forming his own trio and quartet and releasing his debut recording as a leader in 1954, Cole Porter in a Modern Mood. He was voted New Star Pianist in Down Beat magazine's International Critics' Poll of 1955. Several fine albums followed, with the best being Little Niles near the end of that decade. Melba Liston provided excellent arrangements for a sextet playing several of Weston's best compositions: the title track, "Earth Birth", "Babe's Blues", and others.
In the 1960s, Weston's music prominently incorporated African elements, as shown on the large-scale suite Uhuru Afrika (1960, with the participation of poet Langston Hughes) and Highlife (full title: Music from the New African Nations featuring the Highlife), the latter recorded in 1963, two years after Weston traveled for the first time to Africa, as part of a U.S. cultural delegation to Lagos, Nigeria. On both these albums he teamed up with the arranger Melba Liston. In addition, during these years his band often featured the tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin. He covered the Nigerian Bobby Benson's piece "Niger Mambo", which included Caribbean and jazz elements within a Highlife style. Weston has recorded this number many times throughout his career.
In 1967 Weston traveled throughout Africa with a U.S. cultural delegation. The last stop of the tour was Morocco, where he decided to settle, running his African Rhythms Club in Tangier for five years, from 1967 to 1972. He has said, "We had everything in there from Chicago blues singers to singers from the Congo.... The whole idea was to trace African people wherever we are and what we do with music."
In 1972 he produced Blue Moses for the CTI Records, a best-selling record on which he plays electric keyboard. In the summer of 1975, he played at the Festival of Tabarka in Tunisia, North Africa (later known as the Tabarka Jazz Festival), accompanied by his son Azzedin Weston on percussion, with other notable acts including Dizzy Gillespie.
For a long stretch Weston recorded infrequently on smaller record labels. He also made a two-CD recording The Spirits of Our Ancestors (recorded 1991; released 1992), which featured arrangements by his long-time collaborator Melba Liston. The album contained new, expanded versions of many of his well-known pieces and featured an ensemble including some African musicians, with guests such as Dizzy Gillespie and Pharoah Sanders also contributing. The music director was saxophonist Talib Kibwe (also known as T. K. Blue), who continues in that role to the present day.
Weston later produced a series of albums in a variety of formats: solo, trio, mid-sized groups, and collaborations with the Gnawa musicians of Morocco. Weston's best-known compositions include "Hi-Fly" (which he has said was inspired by his experience of being 6' 8" and looking down at the ground), "Little Niles" (named for his son, later known as Azzedine), "African Sunrise", "Blue Moses", "The Healers" and "Berkshire Blues". Regarded as jazz standards, they have frequently been recorded by other prominent musicians.
After more than five decades devoted to music, Weston continues to perform throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe. In 2002 he performed with bassist James Lewis for the inauguration of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt. That same year he performed with Gnawa musicians at Canterbury Cathedral at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Weston also played at the Kamigamo Shrine in Japan in 2005.
On June 21, 2009, he featured in a memorial held at the Jazz Gallery in New York for Ghanaian master drummer Kofi Ghanaba, whose composition "Love, the Mystery Of..." Weston has used as his theme for some 40 years.
In 2013, Sunnyside Records released Weston's album The Roots of the Blues, a duo session with tenor saxophonist Billy Harper. On November 17, 2014, as part of the London Jazz Festival, Weston played a duo concert with Harper at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Kevin Le Gendre in his review said the two musicians reached "the kind of advanced conversational intimacy only master players achieve".
In 2015 Weston was artist-in-residence at The New School in New York, participating in a lecture series and mentoring students in the School of Jazz, as well as performing.
Weston celebrated his 90th birthday in 2016 with a concert at Carnegie Hall, among other activities, and continues to tour and speak internationally. He performed at the Gnawa Festival in Morocco in April 2016, took part in the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC, on June 2, and was among the opening acts at the 50th Montreux Jazz Festival. In July 2016 he was a keynote speaker at the 32nd World Conference of the International Society for Music Education in Glasgow.
Weston's most recent release is An African Nubian Suite (2017), a two-CD recording of a sold-out concert at the Institute of African American Affairs of New York University on April 8, 2012, Easter Sunday, featuring an international cast of performers including Cecil Bridgewater, Robert Trowers, Howard Johnson, T. K. Blue, Billy Harper, Alex Blake, Lewis Nash, Candido, Ayodele Maakheru, Lhoussine Bouhamidy, Saliou Souso, Martin Kwaku Obeng, Min Xiao-Fen, Tanpani Demda Cissoko, Neil Clarke and Ayanda Clarke, and the late poet Jayne Cortez. Describing it as an "epic work", the Black Grooves reviewer wrote that The African Nubian Suite "traces the history of the human race through music, with a narration by inspirational speaker Wayne B. Chandler, and introductions and stories by Weston in his role as griot.... Stressing the unity of humankind, Weston incorporates music that 'stretches across millennia'—from the Nubian region along the Nile Delta, to the holy city of Touba in Senegal, to China’s Shang Dynasty, as well as African folk music and African American blues.... In these troubling times when our nation is divided by politics, race and religion, Weston uses The African Nubian Suite as a vehicle to remind us of our common heritage: 'We all come from the same place – we all come from Africa.' As eloquently stated by Robin D.G. Kelley in the liner notes: 'There are no superior or inferior races, no hierarchies of culture, no barbarians at the gate. Instead, Africa—its music, land, people, spirituality—tie us all together as a planet.'"
Awards and accolades
Weston has been the recipient of many international awards, including:
- 1997: the French Order of Arts and Letters.
- 1999: Japan's Swing Journal Award.
- 2000: the Black Star Award from the Arts Critics and Reviewers Association of Ghana .
- 2001 he received the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) lifetime honor as an NEA Jazz Master, the highest US award in jazz.
- June 2006, he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Music by Brooklyn College, City University of New York.
- October 17, 2009: Weston's life and music were celebrated in a "Giants of Jazz" concert featuring an all-star line-up of musicians, including pianists Monty Alexander, Geri Allen, Cyrus Chestnut, Barry Harris, Mulgrew Miller and Billy Taylor.
- 2011: Guggenheim Fellowship award.
- June 2011: Weston was honored by King Mohammed VI of Morocco for his "lifelong engagement with Morocco and deep commitment to bringing Morocco's Gnaoua music tradition to the attention of the Western world".
- September 2011: Weston was honored by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation at the Jazz Issue Forum and Concert during the 40th Annual Legislative Conference.
- May 20, 2012, honorary degree of Doctor of Music from Colby College.
- May 2013: New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, honorary degree, Doctor of Music.
- 2014: Doris Duke Artist Award.
- 2014: JJA Jazz Award - Trio or Duo of the Year: Randy Weston - Billy Harper.
- 2015: JJA Jazz Award - Lifetime Achievement in Jazz.
- 2016: National Association of Kawaida Organizations (NAKO) in conjunction with the International African Arts Festival (IAAF) 47th Malcolm X Black Unity award.
In October 2010, Duke University Press published African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston, "composed by Randy Weston, arranged by Willard Jenkins". It was hailed as "an important addition to the jazz historiography and a long anticipated read for fans of this giant of African American music, aka jazz." Reviewer Larry Reni Thomas wrote: "Randy Weston’s long-anticipated, much-talked-about, consciousness-raising, African-centered autobiography, African Rhythms, is a serious breath of fresh air and is a much-needed antidote in this world of mediocre musicians, and men. He takes the reader on a wonderful, exciting journey from America to Africa and back with the ease of a person who loved every minute of it. The book is hard to put down and is an engaging, pleasing literary work that is worthy of being required reading in any history or literature school course."
In 2015–16, Weston's archives were acquired by the Jazz Research Initiative in collaboration with the Hutchins Center, Loeb Music Library, the Harvard College Library, and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The Randy Weston Collection comprises hundreds of manuscripts, scores, videos, films, photographs, and more than 1,000 tape recordings, and among its highlights are correspondence with Langston Hughes and Alvin Ailey; photographs with Dizzy Gillespie, Pharoah Sanders, Muhammad Ali, and Cornel West; and records of his African Rhythms Club in Tangier, Morocco, from 1967 to 1972.
- 1954: Cole Porter in a Modern Mood (Riverside) - 10-inch LP
- 1955: The Randy Weston Trio (Riverside) - 10-inch LP
- 1955: Get Happy with the Randy Weston Trio (Riverside)
- 1956: With These Hands... (Riverside)
- 1955-56: Trio and Solo (Riverside) - includes all tracks on The Randy Weston Trio
- 1956: Jazz à la Bohemia (Riverside)
- 1956: The Modern Art of Jazz by Randy Weston (Dawn) - also released as How High the Moon (Biograph)
- 1957: Piano á la Mode (Jubilee)
- 1958: New Faces at Newport (MetroJazz)
- 1959: Little Niles (United Artists)
- 1959: Destry Rides Again (United Artists)
- 1959: Live at the Five Spot (United Artists)
- 1960: Uhuru Afrika (Roulette)
- 1963: Highlife (Colpix)
- 1964: Randy (Bakton) - later released as African Cookbook (Atlantic) in 1972
- 1965: Berkshire Blues (Freedom )
- 1964-65: Blues (Trip)
- 1966: Monterey '66 (Verve)
- 1969: African Cookbook (Polydor)
- 1969: Niles Littlebig (Polydor)
- 1972: Blue Moses (CTI)
- 1973: Tanjah (Polydor)
- 1974: Carnival (Freedom)
- 1974: Informal Solo Piano (Hi-Fly)
- 1975: Blues to Africa (Freedom)
- 1975: African Nite (Owl)
- 1975: African Rhythms (Chant du Monde)
- 1976: Randy Weston Meets Himself (Pausa)
- 1976: Perspective (Denon)
- 1978: Rhythms-Sounds Piano (Cora)
- 1984: Blue (Arch)
- 1987: The Healers (Black Saint) - with David Murray
- 1989: Portraits of Thelonious Monk: Well You Needn't (Verve)
- 1989: Portraits of Duke Ellington: Caravan (Verve)
- 1989: Self Portraits: The Last Day (Verve)
- 1991: The Spirits of Our Ancestors (Verve)
- 1992: Marrakech in the Cool of the Evening (Verve/Gitanes)
- 1992: The Splendid Master Gnawa Musicians of Morocco (Verve/Gitanes)
- 1993: Volcano Blues (Verve/Gitanes)
- 1995: Saga (Verve)
- 1997: Earth Birth [featuring Montreal String Orchestra] (Verve)
- 1998: Khepera (Verve)
- 1999: Spirit! The Power of Music (Arkadia Jazz)
- 2002: Ancient Future (Mutable)
- 2004: Nuit Africa (Enja)
- 2006: Zep Tepi (Random Chance)
- 2009: The Storyteller (Motéma)
- 2013: The Roots of the Blues (Sunnyside)
- 2017: The African Nubian Suite (African Rhythms)
With Roy Brooks
- Duet in Detroit (Enja, 1984 )
With Charles Mingus
- Charles Mingus and Friends in Concert (Columbia, 1972)
- Allmusic biography
- "Happy Birthday Randy Weston". WICN.org
- Ian Patterson on Randy Weston African Rhythms Sextet: The Storyteller, All About Jazz, November 24, 2010.
- "Randy Weston, ‘Jazz Griot,’ Among Illustrious Artists-in-Residence", The New School, July 14, 2015.
- Hakim Abdul-Ali, "Randy Weston: America's African Musical Ambassador", Charleston Chronicle, June 15, 2016.
- Kelley, R. D. G. (2012). Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, p. 42–3.
- "Randy Weston Strikes A Chord With His Roots", The Gleaner, December 4, 2015.
- Eric Jackson, "The very Afrocentric Randy Weston", The Panama News, January 14, 2016.
- Kelley (2012), Africa Speaks, America Answers, p. 44.
- Randy Weston and Willard Jenkins, African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston, Durham, N.C., Duke University Press, 2010, pp. 25, 26.
- Meg Sullivan, "UCLA historian sings praises of Afro-Jazz pioneers", UCLA Newsroom, March 8, 2012.
- Benson Idonije. "The African artist deserves recognition" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2009-11-03.
- Jeremy D. Goodwin, "Jazz pianist's musical heart has an African pulse", The Boston Globe, April 16, 2013.
- Matt Stieb, "Randy Weston On His Trailblazing Jazz Career", San Antonio Current, May 20, 2015.
- "T.K. Blue", Randy Weston African Rhythms.
- "Major events and cultural activities", Randy Weston website.
- Biography, Dar Gnawa.
- "Kofi Ghanaba: Memorial to the Divine Drummer". Presented by The Jazz Gallery and Jazzmobile as part of "Make Music New York".
- "Hallelujah! a film by Steven Feld about Ghanaba". Film Screening and Post-screening discussion with Randy Weston and Steven Feld, at 6th Annual New Mexico Jazz Festival, Albuquerque.
- "Randy Weston and Billy Harper – Deeper Than Blue at QEH, EFG London Jazz Festival", Jazzwise, November 18, 2014.
- Tom Reney, "Randy Weston — HAPPY 90TH BIRTHDAY!", New England Public Radio, April 7, 2016.
- "Carnegie Hall Presents Randy Weston's African Rhythms — Randy Weston's 90th Birthday Celebration", Carnegie Hall, March 19, 2016.
- Laura Sell, "Happy 90th Birthday to Randy Weston", News from Duke University Press, April 6, 2016.
- "Happy 90th Birthday Randy Weston!", The Perlich Post, April 6, 2016.
- "Randy Weston's 90th Birthday Tribute/Celebration", Patch (Bed-Stuy), March 25, 2016.
- "Randy @ 90: All Star Birthday Tribute to Randy Weston", SistasPlace.org, April 8, 2016.
- "Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival: Randy Weston African Rhythms Quartet", Brooklyn Public Library, April 26, 2016.
- "An Afternoon with Randy Weston", Dweck Center, April 30, 2016.
- Jane Cornwell, "Randy Weston and Christian Scott Get Morocco's Gnawa Festival Grooving", Jazzwise, May 31, 2016.
- "All About Randy Weston", Spoleto Festival USA, April 7, 2016.
- Vincent Harris, "Pianist Randy Weston seeks the heart of music in Africa", Charleston City Paper, June 1, 2016.
- Celeste McMaster, "Randy Weston African Rhythms Sextet takes audiences on an African journey of artistry", Charleston City Paper , June 3, 2016.
- Chris Haire, "Spoleto continues its ambitious exploration of the black experience and the spectre of racism", Charleston City Paper, June 8, 2016.
- "A Fusion of Legends and Prodigies at Montreux Jazz Festival", Euronews, July 4, 2016.
- "Keynote Speakers", 32nd World Conference, International Society for Music Education, Glasgow, UK, 24–29 July.
- "Randy Weston An African Nubian Suite", Africana Studies, New York University.
- "Randy Weston to Release New 2-CD Set 'The African Nubian Suite' 1/20", Broadway World, November 22, 2016.
- Brenda Nelson-Strauss, "Randy Weston African Rhythms – The African Nubian Suite", Black Grooves, February 1, 2017.
- "Randy Weston", NEA Jazz Masters, National Endowment for the Arts.
- Lee Mergner, "Giants of Jazz Concert Honors Randy Weston", Jazz Times, October 10, 2009.
- "Randy Weston" Archived 2013-06-03 at the Wayback Machine., Fellows, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
- "Randy Weston captures prestigious Guggenheim", Open Sky Jazz, May 1, 2011.
- Antoine du Rocher, "Randy Weston honored by King Mohammed VI of Morocco", CultureKiosque - Jazznet, June 10, 2011.
- Rep. John Conyers Jr., "Honoring Nea Jazz Master Randy Weston", Capitolwords, Congressional Record Vol. 157, no. 131, September 7, 2011.
- "Randy Weston, Ben Williams Headline 2011 Congressional Black Caucus Jazz Concert in DC", ASCAP, September 28, 2011.
- "Randy Weston - National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and 2011 Guggenheim Fellow", Colby News & Events, May 20, 2012.
- "NEC Announces 2013 Honorary Degree Recipients", New England Conservatory, March 25, 2013.
- "Randy Weston", Doris Duke Artist Award, 2014.
- "Trio or Duo of the Year: Randy Weston — Billy Harper", 2014 JJA Jazz Awards for Musical Achievement.
- "Lifetime Achievement in Jazz: Randy Weston", 2015 JJA Jazz Awards for Musical Achievement.
- "NAKO 47th Annual Malcolm X Black Unity Awards Program", Our Time Press, Vol. 21, No. 20, May 12 – 18, 2016, p. 6.
- Ian Patterson, Review of The Autobiography Of Randy Weston: African Rhythms, All About Jazz, October 14, 2010.
- Reni Thomas, Larry, "Book Review: African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston by Randy Weston and Willard Jenkins", eJazzNews, October 12, 2011.
- "The Randy Weston Collection", Jazz Research Initiative at the Hutchins Center.
- Randy Weston, with Willard Jenkins, African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston, Duke University Press Books, 2010. ISBN 978-0822347842 (hb), 978-0822347989 (pb).
- Kelley, R. D. G., "The Sojourns of Randy Weston", in Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2012, pp. 41–90. ISBN 978-0674046245.
- Randy Weston official site
- "Randy Weston: Hi-Fly, Little Niles and Africa (From The Archives)", JazzProfiles, October 7, 2013.
- "Pianist Randy Weston performs 'The Healers'" for the WGBH series Say Brother.
- "Profile: Randy Weston" by Arnold Jay Smith, (Jazz.com)
- Randy Weston with Gnawa musicians video
- Randy Weston video interview at underyourskin
- Black History Special: Jazz Legend Randy Weston on His Life and Celebration of "African Rhythms", Democracy Now!, February 20, 2012.
- Transcript of conversation with Randy Weston, National Endowment for the Arts.
- "Randy Weston, D.M.", The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol. 5, no. 8, December 2012.
- Randy Weston performing "Hi-Fly" on YouTube at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival with George Joyner on bass and G. T. Hogan on drums.
- Yaa-Lengi Ngemi, "Randy Weston: A Giant of Jazz, a Giant of a Man", Huffington Post, December 2, 2015.
- Bilal Qureshi, "Even As A Musical Ambassador For The U.S., Randy Weston Has Always Played For Africa", NPR, February 28, 2017.