Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Weston, Randy (Randolph Edward)

Pianist Randy Weston has followed his ears from Brooklyn and bebop to Africa, and he has increasingly drawn inspiration from the rhythms and sounds of that continent, where he lived for several years. He is also very rooted in the blues, which he considers to be the foundation of most jazz and world music.

Weston has sought to combine American jazz with African music, which has resulted in an original sound rarely heard in the American jazz lexicon. In his eighties, The six-foot-eight inch tall Weston continues to actively perform and lecture

Randolph Edward Weston was born on April 6th, 1926 in Brooklyn, New York. He was born to Jamaican immigrants and his father was a barber in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Growing up, Weston was exposed to different kinds of music from the Caribbean through his father, Frank Weston, who also took his young son to see Duke Ellington and calypso bands in Harlem. Music was one of Weston’s passions as a child but his real passion at first was basketball. He has said, “I wanted to play basketball.. It was my father, Frank Edward Weston, a barber, who insisted I take piano lessons.”

                         Randy Weston, artwork by Suzanne Cerny

Growing up as a teenager in Bed Stuy, Weston was very influenced by the work of Coleman Hawkins and Thelonious Monk. Weston has said in reference to Monk that, “When Thelonious Monk played the piano, we hear a magic -- there's something that's mysterious in those beautiful structures.” Weston also hung out with drummer Max Roach, growing up in the same section of Brooklyn.

With the outbreak of World War II, Weston served like so many other people from his generation. Following his return to the United States, Weston set up a soul food restaurant in Brooklyn, which was frequented by some of the leading bebop musicians during the mid-late 1940s.

Weston’s first professional experiences as a musician came with R&B bands. He played with Bullmoose Jackson in 1951 and with Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson during this time as well. In 1954, Weston made his recording debut as a leader for Riverside Records with the album Cole Porter in a Modern Mood. In 1955, he was voted Best New Pianist in Down Beat magazine's Reader’s Poll from that year. In addition, he wrote some of his best-known composition during the mid-1950s. Many of these songs appeared on his releases for Riverside and for Blue Note.

In 1955, Weston recorded Trio and Solo for Riverside, which featured one side of the pianist with bassist Sam Gill and drummer Art Blakey while the other side featured the pianist in a solo setting. Featured on this album are the songs, “Pam’s Waltz” and “Zulu.” Weston also recorded several live albums for Riverside around this time including Jazz a La Bohemia: Randy Weston Trio and Cecil Payne, which was recorded at Manhattan’s Café Bohemia. Feature on this album are baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne, bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, and drummer Al Dreares.

Also in the late 1950s, Weston recorded with Kenny Dorham, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Griffin, and Elvin Jones for his album Little Niles. The sessions were largely unavailable until Blue Note issued them as a complete set of four LPs. In 1960, Weston recorded the album Uhuru Africa with African composer Melba Liston and it featured narration by poet Langston Hughes. Weston continued to delve deeper into African music in the 1960s and recorded another album with Melba Liston, 1963’s Highlife.

Weston toured Nigeria in 1963, setting the stage for his eventual move to the continent of Africa. In 1967, Weston was on tour in Africa with a United States cultural state tour and he decided to stay in Morocco instead of returning to the United States. He settled in Tangiers where ran and operated a nightclub called African Rhythms until 1972. While in Morocco, Weston played frequently with local musicians and also was accompanied by his son, drummer Niles Weston.

Weston lived in Paris during the mid-1970s but continued to record and perform. In 1975, Weston recorded several solo albums including 1975’s Blues to Africa and his 1975 performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival was also released as an album. Freedom Records released both of these albums.

During the 1980s, Weston recorded several albums of the music of Ellington and Monk with bassist Jamil Nasser and drummer Idris Muhammad in addition to an album with these two of his own original compositions. In 1986, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the borough declared one week Randy Weston Week and three years later Weston was appointed as an artist in residence at the New England Conservatory. Up to today, Weston remains active as a pianist, lecturer, and speaker, maintaining just as active of a career as when he first started.

Weston has been the focus of several documentaries produced by Spanish and Moroccan television as well as the focus of several documentaries here in the United States. In 2008, Weston participated in the city of Brooklyn’s Remembrance of Max Roach Festival and served as a key person for this having grown up and spent considerable time with the late drummer.

Randy Weston’s influence and prestige in the jazz world have come in part because of his pursuit of music, not just jazz. Though by trade a jazz musician, Weston’s willingness to embrace other forms of music, specifically native African music, has resulted in a fusion that very few musicians have attempted or done as successfully as he. Although he is getting up there in age, the jazz community still needs contributions from someone like Weston who continually search and explore for deeper meaning behind this wonderful music called jazz.

Select Discography

Cole Porter in a Modern Mood (Riverside, 1954)

Randy Weston Trio (Riverside, 1955)

Jazz a La Bohemia (Riverside, 1956)

Little Niles (Blue Note, 1958)

Uhuru Africa (Roulette, 1960)

Blue Moses (CTI, 1972)

Bantu (Roulette, 1976)

Portraits of Ellington (Polydor, 1990)

Contributor: Jared Pauley

Related Links

OctoJAZZarian Profile: Randy Weston by arnold jay smith