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This album, originally made for the Dawn label, was recorded on November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
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
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
1980 Michael Cuscuna
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
"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
"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?".
"Its 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.
"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?"
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,
"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
"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
"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
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
This was another Weston original so I asked if there were a story to this
"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
1956 Paulette Girard