Billy Higgins drums
Orchestra du festival de Jazz de Montreal (except 5)
Marcelle Mallette (solo),
Monique Poitras (2. solo), Hun
Bang, Denis Béliveau, Marc Béliveau, Arlane Bresse, Sophie Dugas, Nadia
Francavilla, Pascale Frenette, Daniel Godin, Jean-Marc Leblanc, Isabelle
Francine Lupien-Bang (solo),
Margot Aldrich, Jocelyne Bastien, Suzanne Careau, Lorraine Desmarais,
Christiane Lampron, Sylvie Laville, André Roy
Jean-Luc Morin (solo),
Christine Giguère, Christine Harvey, Sylvie Lambert
arranger, string arrangements
Jean-Philippe Allard producer
Jay Newland engineer, mastering, mixing
Guy Voisin assistant engineer
Carol Friedman cover photo
Patrice Beausejour art direction
Benoit Gauvin technical engineer
Rhashida E. McNeill liner notes
Earth Birth (Weston)
3 Little Niles
4 Babe’s Blues
7 Portrait of Billie Holiday
8 Berkshire Blues
9 Portrait of Vivian
Earth Birth was recorded in Montreal, Canada, 1995, July 5th. There were
24 strings of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Christian McBride was on
bass and Billy Higgins was on the drums. Randy Weston was, of course, on
piano. Paul West was the conductor and
Melba Liston, the arranger.
What was certainly important was the ambiance of Paul West, the conductor.
He was so smooth and laid back that the Montreal Orchestra was so happy at
the end of the concert. Paul made them feel so relaxed. It was wonderful
to work with him. He's a wonderful conductor. Of course, as an arranger,
Melba Liston was there to make suggestions or changes. Christian
McBride is a young genius and fantastic bass player because he has the old
concept of the bass; modern, but he's wonderful.
We recorded live during rehearsals before the performance, and we also
recorded the night performance. That way, if there were any mistakes
during the live performance, we were covered.
The very first song is called Earth Birth and that comes out of a
composition that I wrote in the 50's in the beautiful Berkshires;" Randy
explains. "That's during the time when I was writing waltzes about
children and that was our first recording with
Melba Liston. The song Earth Birth is from this collection of waltzes
that Melba and I did together called Little Niles, and on this recording
we did 7 waltzes for children. The 7 waltzes were Earth Birth, Nice
Ice, Little Niles, Pam's Waltz, Babe's Blues, Little Susan and Let's Climb
a Hill. It was recorded on the United Artists' label. It was given 5 stars
and that was our first recording, Melba and I, together.
Here we are in 1995, July, Montreal and Melba has written some of the
songs with strings. Earth Birth, for me, is about when a child first
arrives in the world and its first experience of arriving in a beautiful
atmosphere, a beautiful planet.
original notes on the album record cover.
The 2nd composition, Pam's Waltz was my very first waltz written
about my daughter, Pamela, in 1950. I wrote it when I first came to the
Berkshires to get away from New York. I had an opportunity to work in the
Berkshires as a breakfast cook during the day at the Music Inn, and then
I'd be at the piano at night. The active season in the Berkshires was July
and August. That was the time when the Boston Symphony Orchestra would
perform for seven weeks of the year. They would invite students from all
over the world to come and study. Certain composers, like Leonard
Bernstein, were there and Lucas Foss was there, and all the big names of
European classical music were there. The students were gifted. They'd come
there to study opera, symphony, voice training, everything you could
imagine. So, it was a beautiful atmosphere for me. And the area itself in
the Berkshires is just so beautiful. The whole area was just music and
"So, this is my first song, Earth Birth because my daughter Pamela
and my son Niles gave me a lot of inspiration when they were small.
Pam's Waltz was not only written for my daughter but also for a little
Little Niles was written for my son Niles in 1951 or around that
time. But, anyway it was the beginning of me writing waltzes for
children;" Randy continues to recall. "After this recording, Cannonball
Adderley gave me the title, The Jazz Waltz King," Randy smiles, fondly
I guess the waltz itself is a kind of a very swinging rhythm. How I got
influenced by the waltz rhythm is very interesting. First of all, it
certainly came from Fats Waller with his Jitterbug Waltz, which I liked
but it had to be in the back of my head. Ironically though, it came from a
calypso singer named MacBeth, who was up at the Music Inn and he played
for me a West Indian song and he used what's called a quadrille. It was
kind of like a swinging ¾ .
I had never heard a waltz swing like that before. That's the story of
Little Niles. What's so interesting about this song, I didn't play this
song for three years! I thought that it was a sad song. And Willie Jones,
the drummer, used to push me to play this song. I never dreamed that it
would become what's called a jazz standard or classic song.
Babe's Blues is simply children singing the blues. Jon Hendricks
wrote the lyrics, as he did for Where.
Where is a spiritual I wrote in the early 50's. I originally recorded
this with Brock Peters singing, also with Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Durham,
Roy Haynes, with Wilbur Little on bass. We did it on a Monday night, a
Live at the 'Five Spot'. It's the only trio piece on the Earth Birth
Myself on piano, of course, and Christian McBride on the bass, Billy
Higgins very light on the brushes. I can't emphasize enough the
musicianship of Billy Higgins and Christian McBride, really sensitive,
precise, and they blended in very beautifully with the 24 strings.
Of course, Hi-Fly is my most popular composition of all. There have
been many recordings of Hi-Fly and many variations by other artists but I
think this is the first one like this one. We play it, as a ballad. Of
Melba Liston brings out all that beauty and sweetness and it's the
kind of song you can do anything with. The melody is really a basic
rhythm. I can hear the bossa nova, I can hear the samba but I think this
arrangement brings out, for me, the beauty of
Portrait of Billie Holiday is about that great lady, Billie
Holiday. My first contact with her physically was when I was in the
service. When I would go home on furlough (break) I would go to 52nd St.
in New York. 52nd St. back then was so royal because all the greats were
there. So, I was at the bar in my uniform and Billie came in with her
gardenia and her fur, that's when she was really regal, and she also had
her little dog. She looked at me and she said, Would you please hold my
little dog?' I said,’ Yes, of course!' So, I held her dog and she went and
sang. And, I cried that night. Seeing her, listening to her sing actually
brought tears to my eyes. That had happened only once before when I had
heard Mahalia Jackson sing. I think I cried because the music was so deep
and so spiritual.
But, I didn't get to know Billie. I gave her back her dog and that was the
end of that, that night. I didn't get to know Billie until she was quite
ill. She had sung at a concert down in the Village. It was with Charlie
Mingus, with Mal Waldron and I was also in the same performance. Even
though the voice wasn't there her spirit was still powerful. That was my
last time to see Billie. The original title of this song was, Cry Me Not,
but it was written for Billie. And, I learned from Mr. Ellington that
sometimes you take the same tune and just change the title. It may have a
different meaning but it was written for Billie. One of the greatest
arrangements of this song is the arrangement Melba did with Freddie
Hubbard. It's incredible. But I tried to capture the spirit, the love, the
pain of Billie Holiday in this song, Portrait of Billie Holiday.
Berkshire Blues is about the happiness and beauty of nature in the
Berkshires, a beautiful area in Boston written in the early 1950's. It's a
pretty, romantic blues, but light. I've never been in an area so
Portrait of Vivian is about my beautiful Mother, Vivian Moore. God,
she was such a wonderful lady; very cool, very laid back, very religious
but with a tremendous sense of humor at the same time.
The overall concept of this CD is love, romance, and the beauty of life.
It's something to slow you down, make you appreciate the finer qualities
of life. The inspiration for this CD came from the 1981 concert we did in
Boston for which
Elma Lewis gave me a commission to do music with the Boston Pops Symphony
Orchestra. John Williams was the conductor. He had done music for the
film, "Star Wars." It was an incredible night and 3 of my compositions
were featured plus Hi-Fly. The 3 compositions were 'Three African Queens,
Portrait of Billie Holiday, and 'Blues for Elma Lewis'.
So after that, I've always wanted to record with strings. Of course,
recording with 24 strings is not the same as recording or playing with 130
strings! But this CD just emphasizes and is another example of the beauty,
the depth, and the sensitivity of
Melba Liston as an arranger. She can adapt to any situation whether
it's a chorus, or strings, or horns, or Africa;' Randy says with great
admiration and respect.
1996 by Randy Weston as told to Rhashidah E. McNeill