Randy Weston

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For the Ohio politician, see Randy Weston (politician).
Randy Weston
Randy Weston.jpg
(photographer: Bob Travis)
Background information
Born (1926-04-06) April 6, 1926 (age 89)
Origin Brooklyn, New York, US
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, bandleader
Instruments Piano
Years active 1950s–present
Labels Motéma Music
Website www.RandyWeston.info

Randy Weston (born April 6, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York) is an American jazz pianist and composer of Jamaican parentage.[1] He was described by Marian McPartland as "one of the world's great visionary pianists and composers".[2]

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.[3]


Early life[edit]

Weston was raised in Brooklyn, where his father Frank owned a restaurant.[4] Weston studied classical piano as a child and he took dance lessons as well.[5] 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 Professor Atwell, because unlike his former piano teachers, Professor Atwell allowed him to play songs outside of the classical music repertoire.[6]

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

Early career[edit]

In the late 1940s Weston began gigging with bands including Bullmoose Jackson, Frank Culley and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. Weston 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.[7]

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[8] from 1967 to 1972. In 1972 he produced Blue Moses for the CTI Records, a best-selling record on which he plays electric keyboard. And in the summer of 1975, he played at the Festival of Tabarka in Tunisia, North Africa (later known as the Tabarka Jazz Festival), accompanied by his son Azzedin Weston on percussion, with other notable acts including Dizzy Gillespie.

Later career[edit]

Randy Weston, 2/19/84 (Photo by: Brian McMillen)

For a long stretch Weston recorded infrequently on smaller record labels. He also made a 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.

Weston later 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, 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 Alexandria, Egypt. That same year he performed with Gnawa musicians at Canterbury Cathedral at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.[9][10] Weston also played at the Kamigamo Shrine in Japan in 2005.

On June 21, 2009, he featured in a memorial held at the Jazz Gallery in New York for Ghanaian master drummer Kofi Ghanaba,[11] whose composition "Love, the Mystery Of..." Weston has used as his theme for some 40 years.[12]

On November 17, 2014, as part of the London Jazz Festival, Weston played a duo concert with saxophonist Billy Harper at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Kevin Le Gendre in his review said the two musicians reached "the kind of advanced conversational intimacy only master players achieve".[13]


Weston 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.[14] 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.[15] 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 Alexander, Geri Allen, Cyrus Chestnut, Barry Harris, Mulgrew Miller and Billy Taylor.[16] Weston was a 2011 recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship award.[17][18] 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".[19] 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.[20][21]


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."[22] 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."[23]


As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Roy Brooks

With Charles Mingus


  1. ^ Allmusic biography
  2. ^ "Happy Birthday Randy Weston". WICN.org
  3. ^ Ian Patterson on Randy Weston African Rhythms Sextet: The Storyteller, All About Jazz, November 24, 2010.
  4. ^ Kelley, R. D. G. (2012). Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, p. 42.
  5. ^ Kelley (2012). Africa Speaks, America Answers, p. 44.
  6. ^ Randy Weston and Willard Jenkins, African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston, Durham, N.C., Duke University Press, 2010, pp. 25, 26.
  7. ^ Benson Idonije. "The African artist deserves recognition" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-11-03. 
  8. ^ Jeremy D. Goodwin, "Jazz pianist's musical heart has an African pulse", The Boston Globe, April 16, 2013.
  9. ^ "Major events and cultural activities", Randy Weston website.
  10. ^ Biography, Dar Gnawa.
  11. ^ "Kofi Ghanaba: Memorial to the Divine Drummer". Presented by The Jazz Gallery and Jazzmobile as part of "Make Music New York".
  12. ^ "Hallelujah! a film by Steven Feld about Ghanaba". Film Screening and Post-screening discussion with Randy Weston and Steven Feld, at 6th Annual New Mexico Jazz Festival, Albuquerque.
  13. ^ "Randy Weston and Billy Harper – Deeper Than Blue at QEH, EFG London Jazz Festival", Jazzwise, November 18, 2014.
  14. ^ Lifetime Honors, National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters.
  15. ^ "Randy Weston - National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and 2011 Guggenheim Fellow", Colby News & Events, May 20, 2012.
  16. ^ Lee Mergner, "Giants of Jazz Concert Honors Randy Weston", Jazz Times, October 10, 2009.
  17. ^ "Randy Weston", Fellows, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
  18. ^ "Randy Weston captures prestigious Guggenheim", Open Sky Jazz, May 1, 2011.
  19. ^ Antoine du Rocher, "Randy Weston honored by King Mohammed VI of Morocco", CultureKiosque - Jazznet, June 10, 2011.
  20. ^ Rep. John Conyers Jr., "Honoring Nea Jazz Master Randy Weston", Capitolwords, Congressional Record Vol. 157, no. 131, September 7, 2011.
  21. ^ "Randy Weston, Ben Williams Headline 2011 Congressional Black Caucus Jazz Concert in DC", ASCAP, September 28, 2011.
  22. ^ Ian Patterson, Review of The Autobiography Of Randy Weston: African Rhythms, All About Jazz, October 14, 2010.
  23. ^ Reni Thomas, Larry, "Book Review: African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston by Randy Weston and Willard Jenkins", eJazzNews, October 12, 2011.

External links[edit]