By Norman (Otis) Richmond
The king of Afrikan rhythms, pianist Randy Weston, has been coming to
Toronto for thirty years. The Art of Jazz (Distillery District) on June
6th 2008 event in Toronto featured Weston and saxophonist Billy Harper.
CKLN’s Tien Providence and I introduced the dynamic duo at this show
that brought together Weston’s first concert promoters and assorted
friends in somewhat of a reunion. The joyous sounds of Weston and Harper
bought the house down.
The Ottawa-based, South African-born Harold Head and the Jamaican – born
Ayana Black were the first prompters to bring Weston to the Greater
Toronto Area. Black and Head’s company was called Great Black Music.
This team was supported by Jaribu W. Cason and Clifton Joseph. Chloe
Onari, of CKLN and Coda magazine, founded by John Norris and Bill Smith,
was also part of the mix.
Weston has strong connections in the Pan–African world. The legacy of
his father, Frank Wilson Weston, continues to open up doors for him.
Frank Wilson Weston was born in Panama and his father (Randy Weston's
grandfather) was born in Jamaica.
The celebrated pianist has used his rich cultural background to help his
friends and comrades. He says that when vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater
performed in Italy, he was also in the country, but could not make it to
see her performance because he was too tired from traveling. They did
meet later and Bridgewater thanked him for opening up her eyes to
Africa. She went on to record the CD, Red Earth: A Malian Journey, which
is her Pan-African statement.
Another who benefited from Weston’s international links was Melba
Liston. Trombonist/arranger Liston had a special relationship with
Weston, which began in 1960 when Liston arranged Weston’s groundbreaking
album, Uhuru Afrika.
“After we did Uhuru Afrika, which at that time was controversial, it
became difficult for her to get work. We had a concert coming up at
Central Park. I wanted to bring up a traditional reggae band, Count
Ozzie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, as well as the guitarist
“My father’s side of the family is Jamaican. (So) Melba and I went to
the then (Jamaica) Minister of Tourism P.J. Patterson (who later became
the Prime Minister) and Rex Nettleford (the Caribbean Renaissance man)
and that was it. Melba liked it so much we got her attached to the
University of the West Indies at Mona and she stayed there five years,”
One of the things that Weston is ecstatic about is his recent visit to
Weston and his group performed in the former apartheid state during
Black History Month. Weston’s was given an award by the Toronto-based
Biko-Rodney-Malcolm Coalition (BRMC) for refusing to perform in that
state during the apartheid era. His album Uhuru Africa along with Max
Roach and Abbey Lincoln’s Freedom Now Suite, and a Lena Horne album was
banned by the South African government in 1964.
Weston, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1926, didn't have to travel far to
hear the early jazz giants that were to influence him. Though Weston
cites Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Art Tatum, and of course, Duke
Ellington as his other piano heroes, it was Monk who had the greatest
"He was the most original I ever heard," Weston remembers. "He played
like they must have played in Egypt 5000 years ago."
In the 50s, he played around New York with Cecil Payne and Kenny Dorham
that he wrote many of his best loved tunes, "Saucer Eyes," "Pam's
Waltz," "Little Niles," and,
"Hi-Fly." His greatest hit, "Hi-Fly," Weston (who is 6' 8") says, is a
"tale of being my height and looking down at the ground.
When I mentioned that one of my favourite pianist the Philadelphia–born
Bobby Timmons had recorded “Hi-Fly”, Weston’s eyes lit up and a smile
came over his face.
Weston’s continues to this day to reflect the views of the great
American–born Afrikan poet Langston Hughes.
Hughes said, “When Randy Weston plays a combination of strength and
gentleness virily and velvet emerges from the keys in an ebb and flow of
sound seemingly as natural as the waves of the seas.”
For more information about Weston, or to purchase his latest CD, Zep
Tepi, visit Weston in cyberspace at the following URL:
Randy Weston - official website