"I am truly blessed to have heard and spent so much time with the masters of our music during my rich cultural life of music. I am grateful to be a part of a great spiritual legacy. Thanks to the ancestors and the great musicians who have inspired me. Thank you very much."
Randy Weston has spent most of his career combining the rich music of the African continent with the African-American tradition of jazz, mixing rhythms and melodies into a hybrid musical stew. Weston received his earliest training from private teachers in a household that nurtured his budding musicianship. Growing up in Brooklyn, Weston was influenced by such peers as saxophonist Cecil Payne and trumpeter Ray Copeland as well as the steady influx of great jazz musicians who frequented Brooklyn clubs and jam sessions on a regular basis. Such musicians as Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington would have a lasting influence on Weston's music, both in terms of his piano playing and composition.
After a 1945 stint in the Army, Weston began playing piano with such rhythm-and-blues bands as Bull Moose Jackson and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. At the Music Inn educational retreat in Lenox, Massachusetts, in 1954, he took work as a cook during the summer, while playing the piano at night. The head of Riverside Records, Orrin Keepnews, heard him and signed Weston to do a record of Cole Porter standards.
Weston's recording sessions frequently included contributions from his Brooklyn neighborhood buddies Copeland, Payne, and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik. It was at this early juncture that he also began his long and fruitful musical partnership with trombonistarranger Melba Liston (a listing of some of the albums on which they collaborated can be found in the Liston Selected Discography), a relationship that would continue until her death in 1999, forming some of Weston's best recordings.
Weston's interest in the African continent was sparked at an early age, and he lectured and performed in Africa in the early 1960s. He toured 14 African countries with his ensemble in 1967 on a State Department tour, eventually settling in Rabat, Morocco. He later moved to Tangier, opening the African Rhythms Club in 1969. It was in Morocco that Weston first forged unique collaborations with Berber and Gnawan musicians, infusing his jazz with African music and rhythms.
Since returning to the U.S. in 1972, he has lived in Brooklyn, traveling extensively overseas with bands that generally include trombonist Benny Powell and longtime musical director, saxophonist Talib Kibwe (aka T.K. Blue). In recent years, a number of Weston's U.S. concert appearances have been true events, including 1998 and 1999 Brooklyn and Kennedy Center collaborations with the Master Musicians of Gnawa, and a triumphant 1998 recreation of his masterwork suite "Uhuru Africa" in Brooklyn. Many of Weston's compositions, such as "Hi Fly" and "Berkshire Blues," have become jazz standards. In 2010, Weston's autobiography, African Rhythms, was published.
Uhuru Africa/Highlife, Roulette, 1960-63
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