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A Fireside Chat with Randy Weston

AAJ Staff By

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...music was created in Africa and then spread to Europe and spread to other parts of the world. Most people don't understand or realize that.
In my youth, a television news magazine aired a feature on how the map of the world we, as kids, were taught in school was in fact, biased. In reality, Europe and America are not nearly as vast as they seem in the Thomas Guide and Africa and Asia, not nearly as insignificant. South Africa, for instance, is nearly twice the size of Texas and has a stock exchange that is among the largest in the world. But South Africa, even with pop culture's politically correct fondness of Mandela, is a world away. To history, it must even be farther. And that is why Randy Weston has fought to educate musically, the history of Africa, unbiased by Euro-American stigmas. For that, Weston has been rewarded with mainstream obscurity, critical categorization, and corporate malice. I have a heavy heart most days because of such things. Perhaps in time, we will learn. Until then, may I present, Randy Weston, unedited and in his own words.

All About Jazz: Let's start from the beginning.

Randy Weston: My father wanted me to play music. I loved music, but I didn't think I had any talent. I was lucky to have parents who made sure I took music lessons.

FJ: I was of the understanding that Wynton Kelly was a cousin of yours.

RW: That is right. We were very close. He was playing like that at fifteen years old. Yeah, at fifteen, he was already playing like crazy. He was also a very fine organist. We used to go to his uncle's church and he would play the organ for us. Wynton had perfect pitch. He could hear anything and play it. He was a genius. What a great, great musician and a beautiful human being.

FJ: Your profound relationship with Thelonious Monk has been chronicled as well.

RW: My first real hero of music was Coleman Hawkins when he did 'Body and Soul.' I loved Coleman Hawkins so much that whenever he played in New York, I would go to hear him. I also would experience that he also had the best of the younger musicians. I heard Hank Jones with Coleman Hawkins. I heard Sir Charles Thompson with Coleman Hawkins. I heard a number of people. When I first heard Monk, I heard Monk with Coleman Hawkins. When I heard Monk play, his sound, his direction, I just fell in love with it. I spent about three years just hanging out with Monk. I would pick him up in the car and bring him to Brooklyn and he was a great master because, for me, he put the magic back into the music.

FJ: People fear and condemn what they don't understand.

RW: They sure do.

FJ: Monk fell victim to that due in large part to his reticent personality.

RW: They said that he couldn't play. His thought of a different way to play the piano than what everybody else was playing, so they said that he couldn't play and they recognize him as a great composer. But I heard his piano. When I heard the way he played the piano, that is why I love what he does. People put all kinds of labels on people, but the people who knew, they knew Monk was a master, an absolute master of piano and composition. When I heard him do that, it made me want to be closer to him to learn because when you are with masters like Monk, Duke, and Dizzy and people like that.

Growing up in New York, I would just go and hang out with these people. So from Monk to Eubie Blake to Bud Powell, every night, I was with the greats. But Monk was the one that really reached me because of his sound. He put the magic, for me, into the music. For me, his music is very natural, very logical, a combination of both. He didn't play a lot of notes. He didn't have to play a lot of notes. He made statements. All of the songs had meaning. He wrote songs about his family. He was a great composer and a great pianist, but he had a different approach. You see, Fred, my first love was Count Basie and what I loved about Basie was that he knew the importance of space. Basie was a master of that and so was Monk. I love them both for that. Ellington also had that sound, that incredible sound, that magical sound on the piano. They would get sounds that are not really in the piano. That's what I loved. To me, he was incredible.

FJ: Do you miss Melba Liston?

RW: Oh, my God, yes. She is with me every second of my life. What a great, great woman. Her commitment to her people, like Duke and Basie and all the older people, they not only just made music, but their music was also a commitment to African people and African-American people. That is why she was so rich. She has written for Motown and for Dizzy and she did concerts with symphony orchestras with me. She was a total arranger, but she had the commitment of her people and this is the key because you can play great, but if you lose you people, something is missing. She paid for that. She sacrificed for that.

FJ: There is a rather sinister tendency in the mainstream media to discredit the contributions of black musicians by breaking their legacies apart into bits and pieces.

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