Randy Weston

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HOW HIGH THE MOON  (except  9)    liner notes

recorded  21> 22 November 1956 
New York   USA
CD  1997   Biograph    147
LP  1989   Meteor      
LP  1980   Biograph    12065
LP  1956   Dawn          1116
 

THE MODERN ART OF JAZZ                         liner notes

CD  1998   Blue Moon / Dawn   107
CD             Fresh Sound            597
LP  1957   Dawn                      1116  (except  5)
LP             Harmony                7196


  
| real | wm |  


Randy Weston piano
Ray Copeland
trumpet
Cecil Payne
alt sax, baritone sax
Ahmed-Abdul Malik
bass
Wilbert Hogan drums (2,4,6,7)
Willie Jones
drums

Michael Cuscuna  liner notes

  1   Loose Wig  (Weston)
  2   Run Joe
 (Jordan / Merrick / Willoughby)
  3   A Theme for Teddy
  (Weston)
  4   In a little Spanish Town
  (Lewis / Wayne / Young)
  5   Don’t Blame Me
(Fields / McHugh)
  6   J.K. Blues
  (Weston)
  7   Well You need't
(Monk / McRae)

  8   How High the Moon
(Hampton / Lewis)
  
9   Stormy Weather  (Arlen / Koehler)


HOW HIGH THE MOON      LP  1980   Biograph


The most significant life factors for a jazz artist are the creative process and survival. Randy Weston, an astonishingly original and overgrowing pianist and composer, is a survivor. Actually, he would balk at the word 'jazz'. One can shy away from it or be proud of it, it's just a matter of point of view.

Born in Brooklyn on April 6, 1926, Randy is one of several very special and very idiosyncratic composer-pianists to emerge at the end of the bop era. Elmo Hope and Herbie Nichols are the other two prime examples.

Randy studied piano halfheartedly as a teenager, but wasn't struck with the glory and energy of music until he experienced the Duke Ellington Orchestra. A new world opened up for him, and he soon began listening to Art Tatum and to the great Harlem stride pianists. In 1944, he first encountered Thelonious Monk, whose impact upon the young Weston was as strong, if not stronger, than that of Ellington. And to this day, they remain the predominant influences in his music.

Like so many musicians, Randy first paid his dues in the rhythm and blues circuit. During 1950, he, along with drummer Connie Kay, was a member of grandstanding tenor saxophonist Frank "Floorshow" Culley's band, which recorded for Atlantic at the time under Culley's name and backing a variety of vocalists including The Clovers. Randy later worked with Bull Moose Jackson and Eddie Cleanhead Vinson.

With his funk roots intact, Weston finally began finding consistent work in jazz by 1953, first with Kenny Dorham and then with his own trio. Oddly enough, the serene beauty of the Berkshires was the setting for much of his employment in those early years.

This album, originally made for the Dawn label, was recorded on November 21 and 22, 1956.
With Ray Copeland on trumpet, Cecil Payne on baritone sax, Abdul-Malik on bass and Wilbert Hogan on drums, the pianist recorded Run Joe, J.K. Blues, and In A Little Spanish Town on the first day.

With Abdul-Malik and drummer Willie Jones, he recorded Loose Wig, A Theme For Teddy, Don't Blame Me, How High The Moon and a tune not included here: Stormy Weather. Cecil Payne was added to the trio for Monk's - Well You Needn't.

Of the quintet tracks, J.K. Blues is the only original. As Randy explained at the time of this recording, "I was playing at the Sugar Hill in Newark. This young lady came down and asked me to play blues. What I played was too sophisticated for her. She asked, would I play the low down kind, so I wrote these blues for her. Her initials are J.K."  Ray Copeland has the first solo and clearly grasps the feeling with which Weston wrote the piece. Payne and Randy follow. Randy's approach is spare and powerful like that of his mentors Duke and Monk.

Calypso rhythms and material are recurrent, if not common, elements in jazz, thanks in large part to Sonny Rollins. The quintet captures the feeling beautifully here with the well known Run Joe. Copeland, Randy and Cecil solo in that order. Ray's phrasing and his playful toying with the theme in his solo remind one of Fats Navarro. He also demonstrates a surprisingly authentic feel for Island and Latin trumpet phrasing.

The unlikely In A Little Spanish Town is arranged in bright, up tempo bop style. Randy's solo here is most interesting, especially in its evident Bud Powell influence. Although Randy has always claimed Tatum, Duke, Monk and Bud to be his earliest influences, Powell's style is not usually as prevalent as it is here.

It is interesting to note, in a civilization in which any involvement lasting more than ten minutes is a meaningful relationship, that 24 years after ,his session Cecil Payne, Ray Copeland and Ahmed Abdul-Malik are still sporadically involved in musical projects with Weston.

Wilbert Hogan, heard on the aforementioned quintet tracks, had worked with Randy prior to this date. At the time of recording, he was working with Lionel Hampton. Since Hamp was in New York at the time, Randy took the opportunity to have a reunion of sorts. The remainder of the album features the pianist's regular drummer of the period Willie Jones, who earlier in the year had participated in Charles Mingus' grounding-breaking Pithecanthropus Erectus session.

Loose Wig is a unique composition that uses a chromatic progression to create the weird effect of someone with a loose wig (in other words, someone who is somewhat insane). It is just this sort of composition and playing that links Randy to the community of creators popularized by Elmo Hope and Herbie Nichols and fathered by Monk.

Another aspect of Randy's composing is revealed in A Theme For Teddy, written for a disc jockey that the pianist had met when he was working in the Berkshires. Like later compositions such as Berkshire Blues, the piece is meaty and rich, but with an airy, graceful, easy feel. Much like the Berkshires themselves.

Both of these tunes are portraits of states of mind in the same sense as so much of Ellington's work. Randy's compositional talents eventually blossomed to such a point that they overshadowed his playing. In the fifties and early sixties, he wrote Hi Fly, Saucer Eyes, Little Niles, Cry Me Not, Babe's Blues, African Cookbook, in Memory Of, African Lady, Kucheza Blues and a score of other notable jazz compositions.

Cecil Payne joins this trio on alto for Randy's interpretation of Monk's Well You Needn't. Cecil's tone calls to mind that of Sahib Shihab, a participant in some of Monk's earliest sessions.

To complete the album, Randy chose two often done standards and breaths new life into both of them. Don't Blame Me is given an intensely lyrical reading. The musicians pull out all the stops for a rousing How High The Moon. Randy's intro capsulizes a great facet of his style with punctuated, unexpected phrases and wide voicings and a subtle, underlying air of urbane humor.

In the intervening years, Randy has continued to create amazing music on manuscript paper, at the piano and in front of bands of varying sizes. He has traveled the world, frequently playing and studying and living in parts of Africa, giving a new and more accurate meaning to the phrase Afro-American music. He has also instigated festivals, cultural programs and humanitarian benefits in the States, Europe and all over the Third World. He is a complete artist and a complete man, who will continue to surprise and inspire us.

Like any serious, creative artist, Randy's music at every juncture is timeless. The restoration of this, one of his rarest albums, is welcome indeed.
 

1980  Michael Cuscuna

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THE MODERN ART OF JAZZ 

Randy Weston is a guy with a sense of humor. There is a touch of whimsy in everything he plays.
"A lot of people tell me that", said Randy.
We were about to listen to a playback of his new LP.

The first track was a thing called "Loose Wig", a Randy Weston original. I commented on the weird quality, effected in large part by the use of chromatic progressions.
"Well," he said. "a loose wig — that's a nice way of saying someone's insane."

"Funny," I told him, "the thought that popped into my head the first time I heard the rune was 'What can you expect when the wig is loose?' How and when did you happen on the idea, and what made you decide to use it on the date?" .
"I don't know," said Randy, "I don't really know when I wrote the tune. Sometimes, after I've written a thing, I don't think about it too much until people start commenting on it. Then I include it in my permanent repertoire, and record it if I can."
Who's on that side with you?".
"It’s a trio side, Abdul-Malik on bass, and Willie Jones on drums."

"How about the next number, "Run Joe", who's on that? Ray Copeland on trumpet, Cecil Payne on baritone, and Wilbur Hogan's on drums here. Abdul-Malik's on bass again. He's on bass throughout the entire LP.
We listened for a while.
"Well?" I asked.
"S'all right."
"I can't help smiling when I heat it," I said, "and believe me, it is difficult to sit still!"
Randy laughed as the side ended.
"Who is being vocal?" I asked. "Which of the guys?"
"Vocal?'?"
We started "Run Joe" again with the volume up a little. Randy listened. "I have a habit of singing when I play. It's not really singing. It's a sort of groan. Yeah — that's me.'
We listened some more. Against the calypso beat, the trumpet, piano and baritone each blew a chorus, everything fading out at the end.
I looked at Randy, who like myself was smiling again, and said, "And Joe slowly disappears into the setting sun?"
The record ended.
Said Randy, 'He's gone."

The third cut. "A Theme For Teddy" is another Weston original.
"What's the Story on this one?" I asked.
"I wrote this for Ted Muller, the disc-jockey now in Stanford, Connecticut."
"How'd that come about?"
"Oh, he caught me at a good moment, while I was in the Berkshires — up in the mountains where it's quiet and there's lots of time to write. We worked only three hours a night. I guess I've done a lot of my writing there.
"Well. Ted had this disc-jockey program in Pittsfield, Mass., and used to come by and listen to me almost every night, and he asked me to write a theme for him. That's how that happened."

It's a very pretty theme. A trio side again with Jones and Malik, it's set at a relaxed pace. The piano improvisation is imaginative and well-integrated. In the bridge of the last chorus there is a nice exchange between piano and bass. It is effective, and Randy employs the pattern frequently on the LP.

We listened to track 4, "In A Little Spanish Town", with Hogan on drums, Copeland on trumpet, and Payne on baritone. First you hear the ensemble. Then Cecil Payne takes you out to the suburbs. In the third chorus, Copeland goes out a bit further, and in the fourth chorus Randy moseys along the country-side for a while. Finally we have the ensemble again, and they take you back to town.

"When did you start studying the piano?" I asked Randy.
"When I was about fourteen I started studying with a private teacher. My father made me take lessons. I couldn't stand it, but it went on for three years. Then we all quit the music teacher, my father, and me! Later on I got interested in playing jazz, but not right away."
"Did you ever do any more studying?"
"When I got out of the service, I studied theory and harmony for about a year and a half."
I asked Randy what his immediate and future plans were.
"I'd like to keep the trio intact, do recording dates; that's about it for the moment. I try to get in a few rehearsal hours with the trio each week."
"Do you like being a musician?"
"Yeah. I like being a musician. I like to write tunes — I like composing — anything that has to do with music. What I want to do is apply folk music to jazz. You can retain the folk rhythm and improvise against it. You can do calypso, waltzes, anything!
"Outside of all that I have no "plans". If I can accomplish these things, I'll be satisfied."

Randy had flipped the disc, and started the second side:
the first number, a trio rendition of "Don't Blame Me," (Malik and Jones). Its the only tune on the LP that gets ballad treatment. In the first chorus. Randy stays close by the melody. His embroidery evokes an atmosphere of nostalgia. There is a lift in the second chorus, as Randy departs further from the melody line. All through there are touches of that whimsical humor which identifies Weston's style.
When the number ended. Randy's comment was: "I tried to emphasize simplicity."

The "J.K. Blues" began. This is the entire ensemble again, Hogan on drums. After the intro., the ensemble plays the theme through, followed by a trumpet chorus, a baritone chorus, the piano, and bass, and finally the ensemble again.
This was another Weston original so I asked if there were a story to this one.
"I was playing at the Sugar Hill in Newark," said Randy. "This young lad/ came down and asked me to play blues. What I played was too sophisticated for her. She asked would I play the low down kind, so I wrote these blues for her. Her initials are J.K."
"By the way," I asked, "How is it that you used two different drummers?"
"Hogan is now with Lionel Hampton, but we once worked together. Well, Hampton was in town at the time we did (his date, so I just thought I'd like to use him."

The next number, "You Needn't", was already playing, Jones on drums and Payne on alto. Randy said he'd wanted to use this tune by Thelonious Monk for a long time
The character of the Monk original is 'out of left field'. The alto boldly announces the theme and then goes on to improvise. Randy picks up the third chorus and later on we get some bass. The last time through, we hear the theme again, and the ending comes off a bit like a shaggy dog story — it sort of leaves you hanging?

The final number on the LP is "How High The Moon", a trio performance. After the intro. a swift tempo is established by the drums. Randy plays the melody high in treble, and gets a music-box effect. As if this were not in sharp enough contrast to the jazz pace, piano and bass play the next chorus as a charming waltz while the drums move madly on. Next come three excellent piano choruses, followed by an outstanding bass solo, and some solid drum work. This number really goes. It's an exciting way to end the LP, except that, as with all good things, you want to hear more!

1956  Paulette Girard

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