Randy Weston

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Polydor
November 1973
By  Vernon Gibbs

 

Randy Weston finds himself in Africa

 

Randy Weston sits in the middle of the hustling, super city of New York, the spiritual capital of the country that 22 million Afro-Americans consider "home." He is surrounded by walls covered with fabric which evoke images of more exotic climates. Weston sits surrounded by images and his music which is more than just inspired by Africa and the rhythms that have emanated from it. Weston's music, like its creator, has allowed itself to be absorbed by Africa, and for Weston there can be no substitute for "home."

Ten years ago, long before it became fashionable to be aware of things Afri­can, Weston recorded an album of music from the newly liberated African nations, most of it variations of high life. Now, ten years later, in the wake of his most successful album, Blue Moses, Randy has again teamed up with the brilliant arranger Melba Liston for his new album Tanjah. Like Randy Weston, Sonny Rollins and others who refuse to compromise themselves, , who has arranged for people as diverse as Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Milt Jackson, Marvin Gaye and the Supremes, is in the habit of periodically "retiring" from the music business. This is her first job as an arranger in many years.
 
Like most of his music of the last decade, Tanjah shows dedication to music in general and to African music in particular.

Unlike many of us who simply pay homage to Africa, Weston has relocated and is now a citizen of Morocco.
He moved there in order to be closer to the source of the music and to set up a cultural center to facilitate an exchange of ideas between American and African musicians.
"Because I am an African who lives in the United States, it's only natural for me to want to go back to my homeland.
Certainly the problems of discrimination and racism in this country have heightened my reasons for wanting to go to Africa, but even if everything was perfect here; I would still want to go to Africa because I am an African, and I would like to know more about my own ancestry; more about my own background; more about why I play music the way I do and why I think as I do.
It was necessary for me to go back to Africa to really discover those things."
 
The move to Africa was not a sudden one. Weston credits his father, a Panamanian, with first reminding him of his African roots, but his professional interest was increased in the late fifties when he and his group began working in colleges with author-educator Marshall Steams, doing jazz demonstration/lectures which illustrated the different styles of jazz here, in the Caribbean and in Africa.
Weston became more and more interested in exploring the African folkloric styles, and when he was invited to Africa in '61, '63 and '67, he gained some valuable insights about himself that helped him decide to make the move permanent.

When Weston moved to Morocco, he opened a nightclub called African Rhythms which became a showcase for Black American jazz and popular music. Then he began the serious study of African music which helped him to become one of the foremost authorities on African and Afro-American music.
"By listening to all types of African music, I've discovered a lot of things that we think are new - from the most modern to the most basic blues - in African music. Many of our 'innovations' have really been going on in Africa for thousands of years, but with traditional instruments. But I've heard everything from Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman to Bessie Smith in African music.

"God has given African people a very special gift; we can make music out of anything. I've seen instruments made out of cigar boxes. African music is a way of life and Africans are the most advanced in the knowledge of rhythms. When Europeans say that African music is mostly rhythm, and attempt to dismiss it on that basis, it's simply because they can't play it. But three-fourths of the world plays this music - music that isn't written down.
Weston is, himself, an accomplished musician and does not like to make compromises in his music. That is one reason he has recorded so little, choosing to wait until his "time had come." He was named the "New Star Pianist" by Downbeat when he made his debut in '55, and in '72 was called the "Pianist Most Deserving Of Wider Recognition" by the same magazine.
 
Stylistically he is grounded in the music of Duke Ellington and Fats Wal­ler, with a bit of classical training thrown in for good measure. At 14, he shed his classical music teacher because he had to "play music a certain way" and considered the indoctrination "foreign." He found that certain way in his home town of Brooklyn and the jazz musicians who lived there, among them Max Roach, Cecil Payne and Duke Jordan. After studying theory and harmony, he played rhythm and blues in the bands of Bull-moose Jackson and Eddie "Clean-head" Vinson, before finally deciding on a full-time career as a jazz musician.
Zulu,  his first composition of African influence, was written in '55, also the year of his first recordings.

Now in '73, Randy Weston does not seem particularly concerned about any of the long overdue "recognition" that has finally come his way. After scoring a number one album, he immediately changed labels because he felt that the producers had not recognized the spiritual nature of what he was trying to do. That is why the release of  Tanjah  is a special event. It finds Weston in the full light of "recognition," free at last to do exactly what he wants.
Shortly before he went back to Morocco, Weston told me, "As an artist, my role is to project beauty, strength and dignity. I make records because it is important to project positive messages to our people. I don't have money, but I have so much else to give."


Weston is one of those few among us who lives according to his utterances.
 

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