You are here: / Jazz Players & Historic Jazz Clubs / Media / Randy Weston

Randy Weston


Jazz: Rhythms Changing America Pt. 2 Randy Weston African Rhythms Trio and Candido

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) jazz master Randy Weston and African rhythms and NEA jazz master Candido Camero tell the story of slavery and freedom in America. Historian Wayne Chandler provides historical and current insight into how the African diaspora and the legacy of Africans in America lead to the creation of jazz and other musical and cultural norms that are part of the American experience. Dr. Johnnetta Cole, director of the National Museum of African Art, joins John Hasse, American History Museum curator of music, to moderate the discussion.

Following the discussion, Weston illuminates the story in music, historical images, and narration through excerpts of his latest jazz opus, Nubian Suite, which he developed as a Guggenheim Fellow and has performed only once, in 2012.

220px-Randy_Weston(photographer: Bob Travis)

Randy Weston (born April 6, 1926, in BrooklynNew York), is an Americanjazz pianist and composer, of Jamaican parentage.  He was described by Marian McPartland as “one of the world’s great visionary pianists and composers.”

Weston’s piano style owes much to Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk (he has paid direct tribute to both on the “portraits” albums), but it is highly distinctive in its qualities: percussive, highly rhythmic, capable of producing a wide variety of moods.

Biography – Early Life

Weston was raised in Brooklyn, where his father, Frank, owned a restaurant.  Weston studied classical piano as a child and he took dance lessons as well.  He graduated from Boys High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant. His father chose for him to attend there because it had a reputation of high standards. He took piano lessons from a teacher named Professor Atwell, because unlike his former piano teachers, Professor Atwell allowed him to play songs outside of the classical music paradigm.

After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he ran a restaurant that was frequented by many of the leading bebop musicians. Among his piano heroes are numbered Count BasieNat King ColeArt Tatum and Duke Ellington (and Wynton Kelly was a cousin), but it was Thelonious Monk who had the greatest impact.

Early Career

randy-weston-pressphoto-2-by-carol-friedmanIn the late 1940’s Weston began gigging with bands including Bullmoose JacksonFrank Culley and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. He worked with Kenny Dorham in 1953 and in 1954 with Cecil Payne, before forming his own trio and quartet and releasing his debut recording as a leader in 1954, Cole Porter in a Modern Mood. He was voted New Star Pianist in Down Beat magazine’s International Critics’ Poll of 1955. Several fine albums followed, with the best being Little Niles near the end of that decade. Melba Liston provided excellent arrangements for a sextet playing several of Weston’s best compositions: the title track, “Earth Birth,” “Babe’s Blues,” and others.

In the 1960s, Weston’s music prominently incorporated African elements, as shown on the large-scale suite Uhuru Afrika (with the participation of poet Langston Hughes) and Highlife; on both these albums he teamed up with the arranger Melba Liston. In addition, during these years his band often featured the tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin. He covered the Nigerian Bobby Benson‘s piece “Niger Mambo,” which included Caribbean and jazz elements within a Highlife style. Weston has recorded this number many times throughout his career.

In 1967 Weston traveled throughout Africa with a U.S. cultural delegation. The last stop of the tour was Morocco, where he decided to settle, running his African Rhythms Club in Tangier from 1967 to 1972. In 1972 he produced Blue Moses for the CTI Records, a best-selling record on which he plays electric keyboard.

Later Career

220px-Randy_Weston1Randy Weston, 2/19/84 (Photo by: Brian McMillen)

For a long stretch Weston recorded infrequently on smaller record labels. However, he made quite an impact with the two-CD recording The Spirits of Our Ancestors(recorded 1991; released 1992), which featured arrangements by his long-time collaborator Melba Liston. The album contained new, expanded versions of many of his well-known pieces and featured an ensemble including some African musicians. Guests such as Dizzy Gillespie and Pharoah Sanders also contributed.

Randy Weston has since produced a series of albums in a variety of formats: solo, trio, mid-sized groups, and collaborations with the Gnawa musicians of Morocco. Weston’s best-known compositions include “Hi-Fly” (which he has said was inspired by his experience of being 6′ 8″ and looking down at the ground), “Little Niles” (named for his son, later known as Azzedine), “African Sunrise,” “Blue Moses,” “The Healers” and “Berkshire Blues”. Regarded as jazz standards, they have frequently been recorded by other prominent musicians.

After more than five decades devoted to music, Randy Weston continues to perform throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe. In 2002 he performed with bassist James Lewis for the inauguration of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in AlexandriaEgypt. That same year he performed with Ghana musicians at Canterbury Cathedral at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Weston also had the honour of playing at the Kamigamo Shrine in Japan in 2005.

On 21 June 2009, he featured in a memorial held at the Jazz Gallery in New York for Ghanaian master drummer Kofi Ghanaba, whose composition “Love, the Mystery Of…” Weston has used as his theme for some 40 years.


randyweston2010_600x346Weston has been the recipient of many international awards, including: in 1997 the French Order of Arts and Letters; in 1999 the Japan’s Swing Journal Award; and in 2000 the Black Star Award from the Arts Critics and Reviewers Association of Ghana. In 2001 he received the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) lifetime honor as an NEA Jazz Master, the highest US award in jazz.[11] In June 2006, he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Music by Brooklyn College,City University of New York, and on May 20, 2012, Colby College honored him with the same degree.  On October 17, 2009, Weston’s life and music were celebrated in a “Giants of Jazz” concert featuring an all-star line-up of musicians, including the pianists Monty AlexanderGeri AllenCyrus ChestnutBarry HarrisMulgrew Miller and Billy Taylor.  Weston was a 2011 recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship award.  He was honored by King Mohammed VI of Morocco in June 2011 for his “lifelong engagement with Morocco and deep commitment to bringing Morocco’s Gnaoua music tradition to the attention of the Western world.”  In September 2011, Weston was honored by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation at the Jazz Issue Forum and Concert during the 40th Annual Legislative Conference.


In October 2010, Duke University Press published African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston, “composed by Randy Weston, arranged by Willard Jenkins.” It was hailed as “an important addition to the jazz historiography and a long anticipated read for fans of this giant of African American music, aka jazz.”  Reviewer Larry Reni Thomas wrote: “Randy Weston’s long-anticipated, much-talked-about, consciousness-raising, African-centered autobiography, African Rhythms, is a serious breath of fresh air and is a much-needed antidote in this world of mediocre musicians, and men. He takes the reader on a wonderful, exciting journey from America to Africa and back with the ease of a person who loved every minute of it. The book is hard to put down and is an engaging, pleasing literary work that is worthy of being required reading in any history or literature school course.”

Randy Weston - mosaic select 003Discography – As Leader

As Sideman

With Roy Brooks

With Charles Mingus

With The Splendid Master Gnawa Musicians of Morocco

PureHistory ℗ is your source to learn about the broad and beautiful spectrum of our shared History.