NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston discusses his long-time arranger, composer, trombonist, and an NEA master herself, Melba Liston. [1:58]

Randy Weston on Melba Liston


Randy Weston: She was a, just absolute genius. I heard her with Dizzy Gillespie's band. I never saw a woman play a trombone before. And she did an arrangement of "My Reverie," which was so beautiful, and featured herself on the trombone. She had this big sound. And I was attracted to the sound, attracted to her personality. I met her and talked to her. As it turned out I had an opportunity to do a recording for United Artists. And I had written seven waltzes for children. And I was always inspired by children, the way they move, the way that they're free. So she moved to New York. She was in California. She moved to New York, lived in Harlem, not far from Mary Lou Williams. And somehow we got together and I asked her would she do the arrangements. And I would go to the piano in her place. She put on the tape recorder. And I'd play a song like "Earth Birth." "Earth Birth" is a story when a child first arrives on the planet, when that child first leaves his or her mother's womb, you see. And so we talked about that, and I said, "I think I'd like to have trombone describe "Earth Birth." We did a blues, Bays Blues, I think I'd like to have John Mianasa [ph?] play the bass on that. So I'd talk like that and I would play the melodies, then Melba would take it, expand it, and do incredible things with my music, to the point she was so sensitive that she would add passages on my compositions. It sound just like me, but it's not me, it's her. But she had this genius. She did that with Dinah Washington, Count Basie, Gloria Lynne, she worked at Motown, she worked with Bob Marley in the Caribbean, so that's a great arrangement. A great arranger brings out the best of you, expands what you do, but the same time it sounds like it's you.