"From him [Stearns] and the early training from my dad, I realized this was African culture. What we call jazz is African culture in America. What we call calypso is African culture in Trinidad. It's the way we approach life. The way we do things is in the music. It's our culture. In the process of discovering it, you realize Africa is a mysterious, magical continent that we all come from... The continent is so rich in culture and music and diversity. Wherever the people have been taken, whenever they come in contact, they continue that tradition of producing art. They take it to Cuba. They take it to Haiti. They take it to Brooklyn and Mississippi.
"When I look at Monk or Duke or Louis Armstrong
, these are spiritual people who the creator sent down to lift our spirits at a particular time. Being around these kind of people, I realize how little I know."
Over the years, Weston has played with many of the greats and received accolades from all the major jazz magazines. He's an NEA Jazz Master and has honorary doctorate degrees. For his work.
"It's an exciting time for me," he says after nine decades, "because I'm realizing how much I don't know about the music. It's amazing... I've had some incredible spiritual experiences with music in Africa that I never had any place else. I've had spiritual experiences in the African-American church I've never had anyplace else. Music can take you too a high spiritual level. So when I saw Coleman Hawkins and Monk played 'Ruby My Dear,' it wasn't just a solo. It was something else. Magic. You say, 'wow.'"
Says Weston, "I'm so grateful I met some of the giants of our music. That period, for me, that's our royalty. We will never reach that level. There are no more Art Tatum
s or Earl Hines
or Erroll Garner
s, people like that. That's our royalty. I can listen to them. Thank god for the technology."
Of the young players that are there today, he says "They're good. I think I'm good. But I'm not royalty. I'm not the Pyramids. Monk is the Pyramids. Duke is the Pyramids. How can I be better than Duke Ellington?"
Photo credit: Dave Kaufman