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Two grand masters pianist Randy Weston and percussionist Max Roach were filmed in San Sebastian in 1999 playing a classic Monk tune.
Randy Weston was born April 6, 1926 in Brooklyn, New York, where his father owned a restaurant. Weston studied classical piano as a child. 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.
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 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.
In the late 1940s Weston began gigging with bands including Bullmoose Jackson, Frank 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 from 1967 to 1972. In 1972 he produced Blue Moses for the CTI Records, a best-selling record on which he plays electric keyboard.
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 Alexandria, Egypt. That same year he performed with Gnawa 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.
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