the late Fifties to early Sixties, it was all in the air:
the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King ...
we had that kind of energy,
and it inspired me to compose what was in the air.
The following are excerpts of an interview of Randy Weston conducted in April 1995
by Mari Jo Johnson.
I listened to Tanjah recently and it still sounds current, timeless. What
do you think accounts for this? Do you attribute this to your music being
classic or traditional in the true sense?
I just listened to it with Melba Liston and we suddenly realized: It's as
if no time went by at all. This is the kind of music that is both
traditional and modern. There has not been a big change [for me] musically
[But times are changing;] I've never felt African spirituality as strong
as I have recently, in many things I see. I see children playing the
African drum in America. I see exhibitions of sculpture; I see more
bookshops and more people aware of African writers and African-Caribbean
writers. Mother Africa, for me. Is asserting herself and I'm part of that
current. Anybody involved with the spirit and culture of the real Africa
today, in spite of all the negative things, has got to be inspired: We're
coming together globally after having been separated for centuries.
What about playing solo piano as opposed to playing with sidemen?
With solo piano you're no longer a pianist, you're a storyteller. You have
to tell stories, you have to paint pictures, you have to create sculpture,
you have to recite poetry with the instrument. You take people on
different voyages, to different worlds. So the piano, already an
orchestra, becomes a moving orchestra; you can go to Brazil and Italy and
[This feeling was] strengthened by being in Africa, because traditional
musicians there are historians and storytellers. When they're playing a
song, they're keeping a certain story alive. The piano becomes a
traditional African instrument:
The musicians tell a story so we can never forget. If I'm telling a story
about Duke Ellington, a tribute to him. It's not just his song I'm
playing: I'm protecting the Spirit of Duke Ellington. I'm letting the
people know they can never forget this man.
I want to tell different stories now. I want to tell about certain heroes
of mine in Africa, but I have not had the time to compose a melody or a
rhythm. For example, Cheikh Anta Diop is one of my heroes, and I want to
write some music for him but It hasn't happened yet- I want to do more
Has there been a certain time in your career when there was an outpouring
of several new compositions?
Oh, definitely, the late Fifties to early Sixties was a very explosive
period for me, the most active period for writing compositions. I don't
compose as I used to, maybe because I'm playing more piano now. It sounds
funny, it sounds contrary in a way. bill since I've been playing more solo
piano, the ideas don't come for compositions as they used to. In the late
Fifties to early Sixties, it was all in the air: the Civil Rights
Movement, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King ... we had that kind of energy,
and it inspired me to compose what was in the air.
Your association with Melba Listen goes back to the Fifties, when you were
both with Riverside Records. What has been her role in the Randy Weston
Melba is incredible; she hears what I do and then expands it. She will
create a melody that sounds like I created it; she's just a great, great
Melba has had tremendous big-band experience, she has traveled a lot, and
she knows a lot more about musicians than I do. So whenever we do a date,
we always sit and talk about the musicians we want for our band. For each
recording I have a certain sound that I hear for a particular instrument,
and a certain musician has a particular sound that I would like for that
song - and Melba's, the same way. She picked Ernie Royal. and she
reintroduced me to Budd Johnson and Quentin Jackson, her buddies. Whenever
[Melba and 1] had a big band. when they were alive, we'd always start off
with them and build from there.
We never said it directly, but we both knew that to do a recording we
would want to have the older musicians to give us that foundation, and
then we would get the younger musicians on top. The older musicians have
the know-how; they know all the secrets, things that we don't know about
music. Melba always made sure that we would have that kind of base.
The musicians for this dais were hand-picked and the cream of the crop of
those residing in New York City at the time. Talk about them and why you
picked each one.
Ray Copeland and I go back together; we were in a band in Brooklyn when we
were seventeen years old. He was my original arranger when we had the
small group. Ray was a featured trumpeter at Radio City Music Hall at the
same time he was making gigs with me, in the Fifties and early Sixties. He
was really a wonderful trumpet player and we were very close.
I heard Jon Faddis play - well, I'd never heard a young man play trumpet
like that before — I heard him when he was nineteen years old, When Melba
and I were putting the band together, we said we needed somebody who
[could] hit those high notes. Jon's playing was way up there, in the
stratosphere. It was really Hi-Fly
I had not worked with Ernie Royal before. But the solo he took on The Last
Day is just an absolute masterpiece. All of these elder musicians had such
beautiful tones [on] their instruments.
I remember Julius Watkins when he and Charlie Rouse had their own group.
Julius was one of those foundations I mentioned before: When we were
putting a big band together, one of the first persons we spoke about was
Julius A master French horn player.
Al Grey was on Uhuru Afrika, which we did [for Roulette] in 1960, I'll
never forget meeting Al in Paris years ago; it was a big rally for some
political party and we did "Hi-Fly" as a ballad. His playing almost made
Norris Turney took over Johnny Hodges's place with Duke's band, and
although he doesn't sound like Hodges, he has that romantic, beautiful,
big, pretty sound. It reminded me how, growing up, listening to my heroes,
I could identify everybody by his sound. Morris's sound on Sweet Meat is
just so thrilling; three different versions that he plays entirely
differently. I don't like Fender Rhodes but I try to do something
different on each version.
The first time I heard Billy Harper was with Max Roach's group, and I just
fell in love with him right away. He has that kind of energy, the kind of
power Booker Ervin had, he doesn't play like Booker but he's got that
Texas fire, a dynamic, energetic sound, that challenges.
Danny Bank, the baritone player, took care of business on this date. It
was my first time working with him.
Budd Johnson, another foundation, a great saxophone player and arranger, a
wonderful person, too; I remember Budd when he was with Earl Hines. Earl
had a piece, "Second Balcony Jump", and Budd was featured on it. I also
met him through Melba, and she and I would always try to get him whenever
we put together a big band.
Ahmed Abdul-Malik and I also grew up together. Ahmed exposed me to North
African and Arab music. He was the first one to really bring Middle
Eastern music and jazz together. When we were young we used to get put out
of bands, because we were always trying to find funny notes to play, the
notes in between notes. He was on my first tour, when I went to Nigeria in
Ron Carter and I go back to the Fifties, when he played with my trio; we
used to work in the Berkshires. His bass work is just incredible on this
particular date; he plays so beautifully — just a great musician!
Candido was the real master, from Cuba, I worked with him for three years
or more - I had become exposed to African-Cuban drumming when I heard
Chano Pozo, whom Candido succeeded. Really a true master drummer. Having
him and Azzedin together was just fantastic.
My son, Azzedin Weston, has a unique style of drumming, having [listened]
to popular music in the late Fifties and early Sixties and having traveled
to Africa with me. He also studied with Sticks Evans, a wonderful teacher
of drums and percussion, and also his own talent nurtured in
Morocco. Azzedin, I can truly say. is an original on the conga drums.
Rudy Collins. a superb musician, was one of the very top big-band
drummers: he could handle everything.
Delores Ivory Davis had a beautiful, priceless voice and was a great
pleasure to work with.
Ray, Ernie, and Rudy . . . they're no longer with us; they are really
missed. They were deep brothers and great musicians.
This music sounds very fresh because of its rhythms. We were paying a lot
of attention to the rhythm a long time ago, playing music that was very
strong and very rhythmic. People weren't ready for the African direction.
Now people have caught up with this music.
This music is like the traditional music of Africa, it's timeless. When
you go into the village and you hear the music there, you realize the real
music is timeless.
1995 Mari Jo Johnson.
original LP. liner notes
ABOUT RANDY WESTON
Pianist-composer-lecturer Randy Weston was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY
and began playing piano professionally in the early 1950's, During his
career he has won international acclaim as an instrumentalist, and
performed in alt major jazz clubs in New York and other U.S. cities as
well as all major cities in North and West Africa. He has appeared on
major television shows and extensive radio program throughout Africa and
the U.S. He's performed in colleges and universities throughout the world,
and is generally not duly credited with being the first to conceive and
perform a "History of Jazz" concert/lecture programs in schools and
libraries in New York City; many other groups are now performing similar
programs in New York as well as other cities. He's been the subject of
feature articles in the U.S.. France. Africa, and England, and is
recognized as a serious, prolific composer.
He has traveled widely in Africa, beginning in 1961 when he made his first
trip to Nigeria to perform and lecture under the auspices of the American
Society of African Culture. In 1967 Randy and his sextet made a
three-month concert tour of fourteen countries in West and North Africa as
part of the U.S. State Department's Cultural Presentation program. In 1968
he settled in Morocco and performed throughout Morocco and Tunisia, Togo,
the Ivory Coast and Liberia. In 1970 he opened in Tangier at the African
Rhythm Cultural Center. In 1972 he was the major force behind the first
festival of American, African and Moorish music held in Tangier.
Randy is an articulate spokesman on the pivotal position of African music,
dance and other arts in the world cultural scene, on the diversity and
importance of Africa's vast musical resources; and on encouraging true
cultural exchange and mutual learning between creative artists.
Two of Randy's strongest influences have been his father, who insisted
that Randy take piano lessons at an early age, and his son (Niles)
Azzedin, who has traveled with him throughout Africa. Azzedin plays the
African conga drums, incorporating many of the traditional African
rhythms, Randy credits his playing as the major force behind the rhythms
of his music.
Randy has recorded more than a dozen albums throughout his 20-year career.
Tanjah Is his first album on the Polydor label.
Melba Liston is a warm, sensitive woman of enormous musical talents. She
is an arranger of the first order, and also a fine trombonist. She has
distinguished herself solidly in the music field with an impressive array
Starting as a trombonist in the pit orchestra of the Lincoln Theater In
her native Los Angeles in 1943, Miss Liston worked her way through bands
such as Gerald Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Quincy Jones during the
'950's. In 1958 she toured Europe with Quincy Jones's hand as arranger,
trombonist, and actress in the Arlen-Mercer musical Free and Easy. Upon
returning to the Stales she became a freelance arranger for Riverside
Records, arranging for Milt Jackson, Randy Weston, Gloria Lynne, and
Johnny Griffin, to name a few.
She also arranged albums for such famous Motown Records artists as Marvin
Gaye, Billy Eckstine, and The Supremes.
In 1967 Melba co-led the dark Terry Big Band. At the same time she was
associated with Etoile Productions as an arranger for Duke Ellington, Jon
Lucien, Solomon Burke, Tony Bennett, and the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra.
In 1968 she lent her talents as a trombone teacher at Pratt Institute
Youth-in-Action Orchestra in Brooklyn, as well as to the Harlem Back
Street Youth Orchestra, In recent years she has divided her time between
her work with youth orchestras in the Los Angeles Watts area, and
arranging for Count Basle, Abbey Lincoln, Duke Ellington, and Diana Ross.
Tanjah marks a happy reunion for Miss Liston and Randy Weston, for whom
she has arranged four other albums.
Randy Weston is a true original. He's a thoroughly creative artist - one
who possesses that rare quality of being a creator of art, as opposed to
an interpreter of art.
He is in tune with nature and he creates music out of the depths of the
rhythms of life. The primary qualities of his music are fire, spirit,
strength, unabashed earthiness, and total individuality. His compositions
are not intimidated by time. His percussive style of playing the piano
pushes the rhythms out front, and underneath the earthiness, he cooks. He
makes his band cook with intense drive. His band on this album was
hand-picked, and their infectious joy In playing together is obvious on
every cut of this album.
Randy feels that music is a universal language, and that African rhythms
have dominated many lands and influenced many languages. ' He contends
that African rhythms contain ingredients of melody and beat that are the
basis of all popular music of today. His own music bears testimony to this
Side one of the album opens with an updated Latin-flavored arrangement of
Candido, inspired by the essence of the tune. offers some spontaneous rap
In Cuban-Spanish which translates:
"...We're gonna fly high.
It's a pretty flight, and away we go.
Only up, up and higher -
watch and listen.
Randy Weston, he's going high and his is right there, baby"
Up there is right where Jon Faddis, a brilliant 19-year old trumpet
virtuoso, takes the tune with his soaring solo.
In Memory Of was inspired by the ritual of the African funeral procession,
which is very sad on the way to the burial grounds, but afterward, on the
way back, the band starts swinging. This version of the march has a heavy
African rock blues beat, with Ron Carter laying down a steady drone bass
line that creates the spirit of the event. Both Ray Copeland and Al Grey
offer fine solos using the growl technique, a sound seldom heard today but
commonly used by oldtime brass players.
Sweet Meat personifies what Randy describes as a saucy, spicy, African
chick with a very hip, unbelievably swinging walk. Sometimes she's
sophisticated, sometimes she's funny. She could be found in ihe Congo,
Harlem, or Mississippi. Melba Liston's flowing arrangement provides an
elegant tilting cushion for the reeds out front. The mood of the tune
conjures up shades of Basie and dancing cheek to cheek.
Jamaica East is the musical story of a beautiful five-day journey by Randy
and his family to Jamaica. He was immediately inspired by the lush beauty
of the island, the warmth and hospitality of the people, and their rich
cultural heritage. Profoundly inspiring was his acquaintance with
relatives who are natives of Kingston, and the discovery of family in
Stokes Hall, St. Thomas. Randy's melody captures the rhythms that are
Jamaica, and Miss Liston's exciting arrangement captures the spirit of
carnival, dance, and song.
Side two opens with the title tune Tanjah, which is Arabic for Tangier,
where Randy makes his home. The rhythm la based on the music of the
peoples of North Africa, specifically Morocco. Tanjah was inspired by the
festival held in Tangier in 1972, which represented a very significant
step in bringing about communication through music between artists of
different countries, albeit of the same African heritage. Moreover, the
festival was the realization of a dream for Randy - the product of months
of hard work and energy expended by many people both in Tangier and New
York. Three stars of that festival are featured on this tune. Billy
Harper, Azzedin, and Ahmed Abdul-Malik. Malik sets the mood as he relates
in Arabic the feeling of brotherhood experienced by the artists - Moroccan
and American - who appeared In the festival:
". . . Peace be upon you, brothers. Welcome my brothers. Greetings. All
praises due to God for everything around us."
The Last Day is a beautiful, moving ballad which expresses Randy's musical
impression of the last day on earth - when the heavens open, the power of
the Creator appears, and the world gets down on its knees and prays. The
warm, magnificently flawless voice of Delores Davis is heard here on
record for the first time; Ernie Royal takes the lead with a standout
Little Niles was written twenty years ago by Randy for his son, and stands
out as the most famous of his jazz waltzes- It was then, and still is,
dedicated to children everywhere.
Although many different rhythms and beats are displayed throughout this
the essence for Randy all stems from Africa.
This is why he calls his
music "African rhythms".
1973 Mari Jo