April 6th, 1926 in Brooklyn, New York
R & B, Bebop, and Africa
Pianist Randy Weston was raised in Brooklyn, New York, the son of parents from Jamaica. As a boy he listened to Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Art Tatum, and began studying the piano himself. The bebop and R & B music that swelled within New York City proved to be a major influence, but it is a melding of those styles with African rhythms that have made Weston’s sound so distinguishable.
Mentored by Thelonious Monk, Weston left his R & B gigs with musicians such as saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson in the early 1950s to play bebop with trumpeter Kenny Dorham.
In 1960, inspired by Nigeria’s newly won independence from the United Kingdom, Weston fell in love with African music. He began to experiment with elements of tribal music as well as those of High Life, Nigerian pop music. On his 1960 album Uhuru Afrika (for which Langston Hughes wrote the liner notes), Weston composed for large ensemble, and employed traditional African percussion and rhythms as a framework for a jazz suite.
Weston’s affinity for African music became the force behind dozens of albums released over the next four decades. He even moved to Morocco between 1968 and 1973, and absorbed the rhythms of traditional Gnawa music.
Because he often recorded on obscure record labels, and because he was often outside of the United States, Weston spent many years under the radar. However, his talent was rediscovered in the early 1990s when he recorded Caravan, Well You and Needn’t, and The Spirits of Our Ancestors. The former two are tributes to Ellington and Monk, respectively, and the latter is a two-disc study of African music.
At 84 years old, Weston still performs, records, and teaches worldwide. A handful of his compositions, including “Hi-Fly,” “Litte Niles,” and “Berkshire Blues,” are considered jazz standards.