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Randy Weston: African Stories, African Rhythms

Randy Weston: African Stories, African Rhythms
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In over 60 years as a leader, pianist Randy Weston has achieved an incredible amount. He has recorded nearly 50 albums and has been hailed in the process as the natural heir to Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
and Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
. Three times he has been voted Downbeat's composer of the year, and his compositions have been recorded by the likes of Ahmad Jamal
Ahmad Jamal
Ahmad Jamal
b.1930
piano
, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
Julian
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
1928 - 1975
saxophone
, Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon
1923 - 1990
sax, tenor
, Abbey Lincoln
Abbey Lincoln
Abbey Lincoln
1930 - 2010
vocalist
, Abdullah Ibrahim
Abdullah Ibrahim
Abdullah Ibrahim
b.1934
piano
and Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath
b.1926
sax, tenor
amongst others. In 2001, his significance in the jazz world was officially recognized when he joined an elite group of musicians designated as NEA Jazz Masters.

His love affair with Africa has long flavored his music, and his collaborations with the Gnawa musicians of Morocco are particularly celebrated. Over the years, Weston has been invited to play in some of the holiest of sites, from thousand-year-old Japanese shrines to England's most celebrated cathedral—recognition of the spirituality that emanates from his music. He has played with Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
and Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
, Art Blakey
Art Blakey
Art Blakey
1919 - 1990
drums
, Max Roach
Max Roach
Max Roach
1925 - 2007
drums
and Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
b.1926
drums
. His music was banned in South Africa during the apartheid years. He has rubbed shoulders with Fela Kuti and Muhammad Ali, and he ran a jazz club in Morocco where he spent six years in the late '60s and early '70s.

At the age of 84, Randy Weston could be forgiven for resting on his laurels, but that wouldn't be his style. In fact, 2010 is proving to be one of the most significant years in his long and distinguished career. In June, his trombonist Benny Powell
Benny Powell
Benny Powell
1930 - 2010
trombone
passed away, marking the end of an association that had lasted 27 years. In August, the Apollo Theater paid tribute to Weston's contribution to music. The same month, Weston led a special concert in Marciac in celebration of James Reese Europe
James Reese Europe
James Reese Europe
1881 - 1919
composer/conductor
, an African-American soldier who was the first person to bring jazz to France over 90 years ago. November, 2010 will see three noteworthy events: first, a big-band concert at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, New York to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Weston's acclaimed album Uhuru Afrika (Roulette, 1960); second, the release of his autobiography, African Rhythms (Duke University Press, 2010), and third, the release of a new CD, The Storyteller (Motema Music, 2010).

All About Jazz Randy, African Rhythms is a fascinating read so congratulations to you and Willard Jenkins, who helped put it all together.

Randy Weston: Thank you very much. It's been an incredible life in this world of music—the places music takes you and the people that you meet. I've been truly blessed.

AAJ: All About Jazz would like to pass on its condolences for trombonist Benny Powell
Benny Powell
Benny Powell
1930 - 2010
trombone
, who passed away in June. What are your abiding memories of Benny?

RW: Oh, I called Benny "Ultraman." Benny Powell was not only a great trombonist. He had an illness and he was on dialysis, and many times when we toured he had to go to hospital to have his blood cleaned and he'd come back to play with us. He'd be so tired and his legs would be so weak. I'd say, "Benny, go get some rest," but he'd just get up on the bandstand and play so beautiful. He never, ever complained.

AAJ: Benny was with you for a long time, wasn't he?

RW: About 27 years.

AAJ: In fact, your African Rhythms Quartet with, saxophonist T.K. Blue
T.K. Blue
T.K. Blue

saxophone
, bassist Alex Blake
Alex Blake
Alex Blake
b.1951
bass
and drummer Neil Clarke has been together for a very long time. To what do you attribute the longevity of your musical relationship?

RW: Well, because we love our ancestors and we're all interested in the origins of our music, in our elders and how this music happened. We give each other books on African culture and civilization. We have a great respect and a great love for the artists and our people before us and I think that's what's kept us together.

AAJ: In the book you talk about the black role models who inspired you growing up—people like Paul Robeson, Adam Clayton Powell, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Hazel Scott. Who for you are the black role models for young people today?

RW: Oh, it's the same, you have to go back [laughs]. I just did a wonderful concert on August first in Marciac, France. I did the music of James Reese Europe, a soldier in World War I and the first man to bring jazz to France.

AAJ: And the first black American to play Carnegie Hall, in 1912, with 125 musicians and ten pianos no less.

RW: Yeah, you know we've got to go all the way back to ancient Egypt, ancient Nile valley civilization; we can't compare with today.

How this music happens is something that amazes me—Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
trumpet
and Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
1904 - 1969
sax, tenor
—these people are our royalty. I'm still doing research and trying to figure out what they had to go through with the racism. With severe problems, they managed to produce this beautiful music. Fashion, too—people like Duke Ellington and Billy Eckstine
Billy Eckstine
Billy Eckstine
1914 - 1993
vocalist
used to dress so well and they set an incredible pattern of pride and dignity. We don't have that today.

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