Randy Weston

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PORTRAITS OF DUKE ELLINGTON
CARAVAN

recorded  4 June 1989  
Studio Ferber  Paris  France
LP   1990   Verve    841 3122
CD   1990   Verve    841 3122

See also:
        Portraits of Thelonious Monk
        Self Portraits

| real | wm |  
 

        liner notes


Randy Weston piano
Jamil Nasser
bass
Idris Muhammad
drums, percussion
Eric Asante
percussion

Jean-Philippe Allard
producer
Rene Ameline engineer
Rhashidah E. McNeill
liner notes

 

  1   Caravan (Ellington / Tizol / Mills)
  2   Heaven
 (Ellington)
  3   Sepia Panorama
 (Ellington)
  4   Limbo Jazz
  (Ellington)
  5   C Jam Blues
  (Ellington)
  6   Chromatic Love Affair
 (Ellington)


PORTRAITS DUKE ELLINGTON
Caravan


Iíve been writing African music for 35 years, Duke Ellington said in 1966 on a visit to Senegal. Randy Weston has been playing and writing African music for nearly as long.

To Duke this was just a simple statement needing no elaboration or embellishment. But, for Randy, a strong advocate of African music, culture, and history -an interest provoked by his Panamanian dad, Frank Edward Weston- this is, even now, a profound revelation.

Duke's impact upon world music is simply outstanding. He named his band the, "Jungle Band" in the early 20s. Duke wrote many songs about Africa and about African people. But, he also wrote about calypso, about the Caribbean, about Asia, he even wrote music for Shakespeare -Such Sweet Thunder, based on characters from Shakespeare's plays -and he was a master blues player. That's the foundation of our music. Through music Duke Ellington wanted to show that the whole world was his.

Indeed, much of the music written and played by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra reflected, in addition to his own personal experiences or that of the Orchestra's musicians, the travel and audiences which were privileged to hear them which included the Middle East, Africa, and the Far East in 1963 at the request of the U.S. State Department, the branch of U.S. government that is responsible for America's relations with other countries. Duke's band's own tours of Europe and Japan followed. Duke Traveled all over the world in the 1960s and 1970s delighting audiences everywhere. Unwittingly, he became, like Louis Armstrong, one of America's most effective ambassadors. Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, their music, gained international love and respect.

I was listening to Ellington when I was nine or ten years old. I had no idea, then, that somehow I would later be involved in playing Duke's music. It was on the radio, you know, Take the A Train, Perdido, songs like that and Black, Brown, and Beige, the story of Black people. All of Duke's music had something relating to Black people in there somewhere. But, he was so sophisticated nobody quite realized what a revolutionary this man was.

For me personally, as a pianist, I discovered Ellington last, ironically. My first influence was Count Basie, master of the blues with a unique touch on the piano. Second, was Nat King Cole, a master of sheer beauty. The third piano player who influenced me was one we called "God" - that was Art Tatum. He was just simply a master piano virtuoso. His technique was flawless and he was 80% blind! Then came Monk. Monk, again, was the master of space, but mysticism and magic for me - different sounds. He created sounds that weren't even on the piano. A real mystic.

Then after Monk, I discovered Duke Ellington. I was trying to play funny things in between notes, trying to get sounds on the piano, but I hadn't heard anybody do that yet until I heard Monk. Ellington had been doing it all the while - before Monk, before me, before any of us. Duke in the 20s was already doing this but he had his full orchestra and he was so creative that it was hard to catch up to Ellington.

How I met Duke -I became very close to the Ellington family in the 70s -I played at a reception for him. His sister, Ruth, had heard me play and she wanted Duke to hear me.

Duke had done a concert at Avery Fisher Hall with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra with his trio and they had a reception for him at which I played the piano with a bass player named Peck Morrison.
We were playing. The room was crowded. I looked over and I saw Duke way in a corner, he gave me this kind of look that said, "You're okay"

I met him. He heard my compositions and my music. Then, he wanted to form a new publishing company with half of my compositions and half of his, which was a tremendous honor. The other great honor was that he asked me to do a recording for him. Eventually, this album was sold to Arista Freedom records called, "Berkshire Blues" I still have about 20 compositions with the Ellington Publishing, Co.

With Duke. I rediscovered Monk, rediscovered the piano, and rediscovered myself. From him, I learned commitment. I also learned the importance of the Blues. I learned that the world is one universe.

If we had more bandleaders today like Duke Ellington it would be a different scene entirely; Randy insists, because he took great pride in his people and he always projected that. He never left his people.

The worth of the Duke, his music, and his most valuable appendage, his Orchestra, to Black or African musicians like Randy Weston, cannot be underestimated.

Specifically while modern musicians struggle to find work, even sporadically. Ellington kept his musicians working regularly. He paid them even during times when they were not engaged in performance. Just as importantly, the Duke brought to Black musicians, and particularly to All-Black bands or orchestras, a respect, a prominence, and an elegance that has never been equaled! The Duke Ellington Orchestra, which began in the 1920s, is the only jazz orchestra that ever existed that has, to this day, never disbanded, and nearly always worked 52 weeks a year, when Duke was alive!

Duke also understood the value of apprenticeship and very often hired young geniuses, such as, Jimmy Blanton, a musical wizard who revolutionized the way a bass is played forever, and Harry Carney, 17 when he joined as a master of the deep-voiced baritone saxophone. Blanton was just 18 when he joined Duke's Orchestra and died at 20 of tuberculosis. Carney however, stayed with Ellington for 47 years until his friend and leader's death on May 24th, 1974. The prolific composer/arranger/bandleader also knew that by using such geniuses that his over 2,000 compositions took on a new brilliance that would make them - and him - immortal.

For me, Duke was so fantastic because not only was he great pianist, he was a great composer/ arranger/bandleader and he was a great master of being able to get this wonderful combination of talents together. Duke Ellington is one of the first that I know of to write music according to the musician, not according to the instrument.

In other words, like Harry Carney. he played baritone saxophone, but he had a sound that was so unique. Duke would write music based upon Harry Carney's sound. He'd write music based upon Johnny Hodges' alto sound -very high, very beautiful. That's why they say that the Ellington Orchestra is an extension of Ellingtonís fingers. When you hear the orchestra you're really hearing that piano.
 

ABOUT THE MUSIC
 

Randy Weston has taken Ellingtonís music a step further. Playing Ellington's songs with Randy Weston, musicians Idris Muhammad, drummer; Eric Asante, African percussionist, and virtuoso bassist, Jamil Nasser become an extension of Randy's percussive style imbued with the omnipresent drum rhythms characteristic of Randy's music. This tribute to Duke Ellington celebrates the indelible African roots of jazz - of all music, regardless of how or what it is labeled.

Caravan written by Duke Ellington and Juan Tzol reminds me of Africa. The caravans would travel from Africa below the Sahara to Africa north of the Sahara. Many things took place in caravans, the transport of gold, salt, silver, even human beings; even slavery took place in caravans. This piece features the talented and creative Ghanaian drummer, Eric Asante.

Heaven is the Ellington genius of writing music about God. Duke was very religious. He wrote many songs about God. I do this one as a piano solo.

Sepia Panorama - again, Black, sepia. That was an expression for Black people for a long time. It featured originally Jimmy Blanton, the young bassist. It's a blues. Jamil Nasser is featured on this one.

Limbo Jazz
is simply a calypso. Duke always had songs featuring things from the Caribbean. This piece showcases the extraordinary musicianship of Idris Muhammad. Idris is from New Orleans and he blends New Orleans style drumming with the island rhythms.

C Jam Blues is a classic Ellington blues. And this is a piece that we all used to play as kids because its so easy to play. Like my composition, Hi-Fly, it's based on a simple rhythm.

Chromatic Love Affair was a very beautiful ballad originally featuring saxophonist, Harry Carney. For me, Harry Carney and Cecil Payne are the two greatest baritone saxophonists I ever heard. What chromatic means is that each note is going up one half step each. There's a half step between each note.
 

1989  by Randy Weston as told to Rhashidah E. McNeill
 

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