Jazz: Re: Randy Weston

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at xxxxxxxxxxx.xxx
Sun Aug 13 22:48:09 MDT 2000

Hi Lou! Where is Randy Weston performing in the City?


(Emrah sana da yolluyorum bir bakiver abi! list'e gelmisti)

Louis Proyect wrote:

> Since I was on vacation last week and didn't have to get up early, I
> decided to treat myself to some live music at one of NYC's pricier
> nightclubs. Like Glen Gould, I generally prefer recordings to live
> performances since there are fewer distractions. Now if I could only play
> the piano like he did...
> I have been listening to Randy Weston's African influenced jazz for the
> better part of 40 years but I have never heard him perform in person. A
> Village Voice publicity blurb said:
> "His African Rhythms Quintet is a lean, undulating, aggressive, lyrical joy
> of a band. Although Weston's '50s songs are no longer covered as widely as
> they used to be--and will be again--they have proven durable in their
> humor, rhythm, and intricate melodic coils, and Weston finds ways to
> refurbish them that confirms the Moroccan-Brooklyn connection that defines
> his music."
> As Randy Weston strode into the Iridium five minutes before the set, he
> made a vivid impression at 6'6" and dressed in a flowing orange African
> dashiki. At the age of 73, he seems to be in great shape physically and
> might even be taken for a former professional athlete. He told a Boston
> Globe reporter last year, "I liked to shoot baskets but I didn't like to
> run. And musicians were so important in the black community when I was
> young. We copied how they dressed. If you were a musician in the black
> community, you didn't go out to buy cigarettes unless you were immaculate."
> His physical power also seems to affect the way he plays the piano, his
> huge hands making an almost percussive use of the keyboards as was the case
> of his major influence, Thelonious Monk. What I heard, however, was not
> only the inflections of Monk but of the pianist who influenced both of them
> and who doesn't get near as much credit as an innovator as he deserves,
> namely Duke Ellington. When you listen to Ellington in small group
> settings, where his piano solos are given freer rein than in big band
> arrangements, you will hear the same elements that you find in Monk, Weston
> and other great "two hand" pianists. These include a rolling bass line,
> liberal use of dissonances and tone clusters punctuated by dramatic pauses.
> You can hear Ellington at his best in the recording "Money Jungle", where
> he is joined by bassist Charlie Mingus and drummer Max Roach.
> With his latest band, Weston blends his Monk-like piano style with a very
> unusual rhythm section. Instead of using a conventional drum set, he relies
> on a percussionist named Neil Clarke who performs on conga and hand
> cymbals. So instead of the typical 4/4 beat that typifies modern jazz
> performance, you get a polyrhythmic foundation that complements the
> African-influenced harmonies of Weston's compositions. The bassist Alex
> Blake is also extremely unconventional, using a combination of strumming,
> slapping and plucking often accompanied with a kind of scat singing
> reminiscent of Slam Stewart from an earlier generation. The horn player
> (flute, alto and soprano sax) is Talib Kibwe, who reminds me a lot of
> Arthur Blythe and of Yusef Lateef, also from an earlier generation.
> It is African influences that makes Weston's music special. Unlike American
> jazz standards, Weston's tunes dispense with the typical architecture of
> theme-variation-resolution. When you hear most classic jazz compositions,
> you are geared to expect a certain tripartite form that is almost as much
> of a convention as a 4-movement symphony. For example, in something like
> the Miles Davis performances of "My Funny Valentine", you are never that
> far away from the underlying song structure. If you didn't hear a
> restatement of the tune at the end of the performance, you'd feel cheated.
> In a Weston composition, you are much less aware of a beginning, middle or
> end. The performance is much more like African popular or folk music which
> does not follow a linear path. Instead, after a short statement of the
> theme, you are treated to much more interplay than is normal in a standard
> jazz performance. It is also much more difficult to sense when the "climax"
> of a piece is nearing. One can imagine Weston being influenced by the
> performances of dervishes in Morocco where he lived for many years or by
> other forms of African music that are ritualistic, nonlinear and ecstatic
> in nature.
> Weston moved to Morocco in 1967, where he opened a nightclub and studied
> with the master musicians of the Gnawa, a sub-Saharan group of people first
> brought to Morocco as slaves. By combining the music of tropical Africa and
> desert Africa, they created a unique sound that Weston finally documented
> on his 1994 album, "The Splendid Master Gnawa Musicians of Morocco"
> (Verve/Antilles). His set at the Iridium included a piece influenced by the
> Gnawa that was absolutely riveting. It reminded me a bit of John Coltrane's
> classic "Africa Brass", but much tighter and much more authentic.
> Like many African-Americans in New York City and other cosmopolitan
> centers, Weston became a Pan-Africanist prior to the black nationalist
> awakening of the 1960s. He told the Boston Globe, "My father, Frank Edward
> Weston, is from very proud people, and he wanted to instill that pride in
> me. He loved Africa, and told me as a little boy that I had to know my
> ancestral home. He insisted on two things - that I study African history
> from before the continent was invaded, and learn to play the piano. Mom
> gave me the church and the blues. It was a wonderful foundation."
> Weston collaborated for many years with Melba Liston, a composer and
> trombone player who died last year. Liston was one of the great female
> instrumentalists of the 20th century. Shortly before her death, Weston
> described their first encounter: "I was listening to Dizzy's band at
> Birdland and saw this beautiful woman playing the trombone. It was Melba
> Liston, featured on her own arrangement of 'My Reverie.' When I introduced
> myself and we shook hands, it was like electricity. We first worked
> together in 1958, when she arranged seven of my children's waltzes for the
> album 'Little Niles,' and we're still working together."
> Liston participated in "Uhuru Afrika," Weston's classic 1960 recording that
> celebrated the continent's political liberation. "People thought we were
> crazy radicals when we did that album but look at the popularity of African
> and Asian music now." He also collaborated with Langston Hughes who
> contributed a poem to 'Uhuru Afrika,' and was on Weston's first trip to
> Africa the following year. Langston's will specified that Weston play at
> his funeral, and that the last piece had to be Duke Ellington's "Do Nothin'
> Till You Hear From Me."
> Weston's 1961 trip to Nigeria reinforced the Pan-Africanism that his father
> instilled in him. "I knew I was back home in the land of my ancestors. I
> saw the same faces as in Harlem and Brooklyn, and the music had the same
> spiritual character. On that first trip we had traditional African dancers
> on the same stage with dancers from the Savoy Ballroom, and we could see
> that we hadn't changed that much. Our music was African music."
> If you get a chance to hear Randy Weston in person, don't miss it. Also
> highly recommended is his 1995 recording "Earth Birth" (Verve/Gitanes),
> with arrangements by Melba Liston. Weston is joined by bassist Christian
> McBride and the great drummer Billy Higgins on this recording, with a
> string orchestra conducted by Paul West. It includes classic Weston tunes,
> such as "Little Niles" and "Hi-Fly".
> Louis Proyect
> Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org/


Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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