Jazz great and Brooklyn resident Randy Weston’s massive hands dwarf a piano keyboard as his fingers make timeless music from those keys. Jazz critic Stanley Crouch states, “Weston has the biggest sound of any jazz pianist since Ellington and Monk, as well as the richest most inventive beat.”
Last year he performed at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center where Elizabeth Butson, chair of Village Jazz Alive, had the good fortune to hear and meet him.
“We recognize talented individuals such as Randy Weston who have made outstanding contributions to the music culture of the Village,” Ms. Butson said. As vice chair of Greenwich Village Chamber of Commerce she was instrumental in creating the award that recognizes music greats. Odetta was the first to be so recognized.
And it was Randy Weston, recognized for his innumerable achievements and breaking new musical ground, as the remarkable pianist he is, who received the Music Legends Award from the Chamber at the third Annual Village Jazz Alive event held at the legendary Blue Note on Sept. 26.
Weston incorporates the rhythmic heritage of Africa in his repertoire. Even when he is not playing and listening to the others in his African Rhythms Quintet, Weston is more than fully engaged, his eyes sparkling through his sunglasses with a beaming smile on his face. One audience member said, “I like just watching him.” It’s transforming to witness his energy.
On Monday, he meshed his virtuosity with that of Talik Kibwe on alto sax and flute, Neil Clarke on percussion, Billy Harper on baritone sax, and Santy Debriano on bass.
Brooklyn-born in 1926, Weston was influenced by many jazz greats but it was Monk that had the greatest impact. He never failed to make the connection between Africa and America following his father, Frank Edward Weston’s words, who told his son that he was, “an African born in America.”
“He told me I had to learn about myself and about him and about my grandparents,” Weston said in an interview, “and the only way to do it was I’d have to go back to the motherland one day.”
In the late 60s, he settled in Morocco and traveled throughout the continent experiencing the music of other nations. In Nigeria in 1977, at a music festival in that brought together artists from 60 cultures, the musicians all came to realize their commonalities with African elements. Bossa nova, samba, jazz, blues, were all embedded in Africa. “To me, it’s Mother Africa’s way of surviving in the new world,” Weston says.
The internationally renowned pianist, composer and bandleader has been contributing his musical direction and genius for six decades. He has 45 albums and disks out. Among his many honors, he was designated a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts and has an honorary “Doctor of Music” degree from Brooklyn College. Continuously performing, along with international and national gigs and numerous conferences when he performs, locally, he has been on the program of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival and was an artist-in-residence at NYU.