RIP Randy Weston (6 April 1926 – 1 September 2018)

Randy Weston
Photo credit: Bob Travis / Creative Commons

Peter Bacon writes:

The pianist Randy Weston died peacefully on Saturday morning at his home in Brooklyn. He was 92 and, according to his official website, suffered no lingering illness, injury or accident. His death reflected his music, then, which was suffused by a very particular kind of dignity and serenity, one found in his sense of history and an expansive connection to the continent of his ancestors: Africa.

Born in Brooklyn, he cited Thelonious Monk as the pianist he looked up to the most (if a man who stood 6 foot 8 inches tall could be said to look up to anyone). His other influences, he said, were Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Art Tatum and Duke Ellington.

His first recording as a leader was Randy Weston Plays Cole Porter in 1954 and in the 1950s he wrote many of his best-known tunes, including Little Niles and Hi-Fly. In the 1960s he left the U.S. to find inspiration in Africa, settling in Morocco, where he lived off and on up to the 1990s.

He said a particularly memorable experience came at a festival in Nigeria in 1977 which drew artists from 60 cultures.  "At the end we all realized that our music was different but the same, because if you take out the African elements of bossa nova, samba, jazz, blues, you have nothing… To me, it's Mother Africa's way of surviving in the new world.”

Jazz critic Stanley Crouch observed: ”Weston has the biggest sound of any jazz pianist since Ellington and Monk, as well as the richest most inventive beat, but his art is more than projection and time; it's the result of a studious and inspired intelligence… an intelligence that is creating a fresh synthesis of African elements with jazz technique”.

In an interview with Ivan Hewett in The Telegraph in 2014, Weston reflected: “The great thing about African music is it’s not music for the young, or the old, it’s music for everybody. We have this situation in the modern world where music is something you choose just to please yourself, but with us, music is always for the people.”

As news of his death passed around the web, tributes started to be shared: trumpeter Byron Wallen tweeted: “We just lost a prophet… Long live your vision and insight.”

Here is a more comprehensive obituary from the New York Times.

Bowing out: Randy Weston (left) and his band at Nice Jazz in July this year. This picture was kindly sent in by Colin May who recalls the concert in the second comment below. Picture: © Colin May

2 comments:

  1. I saw Randy Weston performing with Billy Harper in November 2014 during the London Jazz Festival:

    http://www.londonjazznews.com/2014/11/review-randy-westonbilly-harper-and-jd.html

    He was in tremendous form for an 88-year-old, and it's good to know that he still had plenty of performances ahead of him at that advanced age. RIP.

    Footnote: to give some sense of jazz perspective, other musicians born in 1926 included John Coltrane (died 1967) and Miles Davis (died 1991).

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  2. I saw what perhaps was Randy Weston's final gig with his African Rhythms Quintet on 21st July on the Theatre de Verdure stage at the Nice Jazz Festival. Randy had a couple of meaty solo's and the line -up included Billy Harper. The individual star turns came though from AK Blue on alto and Alex Blake who held his double bass across his body while making it sound like a Moroccan gimbri and chanting ecstatically- the link to gnawa music was obvious.It was the whole group's joyful spirit, led by Weston, that was the star turn reached out to the crowd. There was a downpour at the end of the gig and rather than rushing from their seats to seek shelter, many instead danced in front of the stage much to the delight of the band, making it a heart warming celebration of Randy's music and his towering contribution. The band went off stage right while Weston walked off very slowly on his own into the shadows stage left where his wife handed him his walking stick

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