After six decades of musical direction and genius, Randy Weston remains one of the world's foremost jazz pianists and composers today, a true innovator and visionary. Encompassing the vast rhythmic heritage of Africa, his global musical creations continue to inform and inspire.
"Weston has the biggest sound of any jazz pianist since Ellington and Monk, as well as the richest, most inventive beat," states jazz critic Stanley Crouch, "but his art is more than projection and time: It's the result of a studious and inspired intelligence. . . an intelligence that is creating a fresh synthesis of African elements with jazz technique."
Weston, born in Brooklyn in 1926, didn't have to travel far to hear the early jazz giants who were to influence him. Though he 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 impact. "He was the most original I ever heard," Weston remembers. "He played like they must have played in Egypt 5,000 years ago."
His first recording as a leader came in 1954. It was during that decade that he played around New York with Cecil Payne and Kenny Dorham and wrote many of his best-loved tunes. His greatest hit, "Hi-Fly," says Weston (who is 6' 8"), is a "tale of being my height and looking down at the ground."
Weston has never failed to make the connections between African and American music. His dedication is due in large part to his father, Frank Edward Weston, who told his son that he was "an African born in America." Weston says, "He told me I had to learn about myself and about him and about my grandparents. . . and the only way to do it was I'd have to go back to the motherland one day."
In the late '60s, Weston left the country. Instead of moving to Europe like so many of his contemporaries, he went to Africa, traveling throughout the continent and settling in Morocco. One of his most memorable experiences was the 1977 Nigerian festival, which drew artists from 60 cultures. "At the end," Weston says, "we all realized that our music was different but the same, because if you take out the African elements of bossa nova, samba, jazz, blues, you have nothing. . . to me, it's Mother Africa's way of surviving in the new world."