PIANO A LA MODE
Randy Weston, 31, is
evolving into a vigorously personal jazzman with spirited intelligence,
and large reservoir of what the young mainstreamers like Quincy Jones and
Cannonball Adderley call soul.
Within the past year, Weston's career is also quickening. He's worked the
Cafe Bohemia, several Sunday afternoon concerts at Birdland for Jazz
Unlimited, Cy Coleman's Playroom, The Five Spot, and concerts at Town Hall
and Loew's Sheridan presented by the Village Voice, the resiliently hip
Greenwich Village weekly. He has also signed with the Columbia Lecture
Bureau for the fall of 1957 and the spring of 1958 to present a series of
jazz lecture-demonstrations at colleges and in auditoriums. Weston, as
articulate verbally as he is on piano, usually opens his lecture program
with demonstrations of the roots of jazz -African rhythms, spirituals,
boogie-woogie and the blues. The second half reflects his own modern
approach, and invariably includes several of his originals.
Randy has become a jazz writer of growing distinction. He's written some
23 originals, and several of them, like the waltz, Little Niles, are being
recorded and performed by a number of his contemporaries, including Gigi
Gryce, Oscar Pettiford and George Shearing. Milt Jackson plans to record
Randy's Pam's Waltz, and I expect that in the decade and more ahead, Randy
will become as recognized for his compositions as for his playing.
Randy's attitude toward jazz is strongly involved with his love and
respect for the traditions of the language. One of his three major
influences is Duke Ellington. "The way he plays," Randy begins, "for one
thing. He's not recognized too much as a pianist, but he's a fine one.
He's very definite; he's not afraid to do what's in his mind; and his
playing has that sound and drive he gets from his orchestra. And there's
his feeling for change of pace; he can be wild and then become so subtle.
The blues feeling he had his band have moves me so. The whole band has
that blues sound and feeling, no matter what they're playing."
Art Tatum is a second influence, as he has to have been to almost every
jazz pianist by virtue of his total command of the instrument. A third is
Thelonious Monk. "When I first met Monk," says Randy, "I was more
interested in Nat Cole and Eddie Heywood, who lived around the corner from
me. I wasn't in a musical position to appreciate what Monk was doing. This
was in 1944, and I heard Monk at the Down Beat with Coleman Hawkins. I had
great respect for Hawkins, and I figured that if Hawkins had hired Monk,
Monk must have something to say. I became so fascinated by him in time
that I decided to meet and talk to him. There wasn't much at first in the
way of conversation, but I'd go by his house, starting around 1947 and
continuing intermittently for several years, and he'd play piano and I'd
listen for three or four years. I really do feel Monk is a genius."
"If it's not a paradox," Randy adds, "Monk has a command of freedom. I
never get the feeling of paper and notes in his work. There is a complete
freedom in his work. It doesn't sound as if he's affected by barriers or
conventions. Whatever he feels, he writes and plays; and yet he still
keeps alive that old definite piano sound like Fats Waller and James P.
Johnson. Monk inspired me in that he showed me you can stretch out and be
yourself. Some people say he hasn't much technique as a pianist. Technique
isn't important. It's the message you have that counts, especially in
jazz. I once heard a piano player who could only play three or four
chords, but when he was through, you knew emotionally he'd been there!
"As a writer, Monk can create a melody that sounds like no one else's and
yet just seems tom have flowed naturally from him. I can't verbalize how
he does it; I don't think he can verbalize it either. I've never taken a
formal lesson from him, but I've listened and talked to him a lot, and
he's changed my whole conception. I remember one lesson he taught me
especially well. There was some music going on at his house. I didn't care
for it, and said so. Monk said nonchalantly but firmly, "You've got to
listen to everybody and everything. Everybody has something to say." "I've
found that to be very true."
Concerning the tracks on this album, Randy begins by explaining that his
Earth Birth was written at Lenox, Massachusetts, where he has
played during the summer, most recently at the Festival House, since 1951.
"It's nature, my feeling about trees, grass, the open." The composition is
in waltz tempo throughout, and is now the third of Randy's waltzes (the
previous two, Pam's Waltz and Little Niles), were dedicated to his
children who are respectively seven and six.
Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen, which he dedicates to his
mother, reflects Randy's involvement in spirituals. "I've always wanted to
play them. I tried to make this a straight interpretation, but with
feeling. I'd attempted it once before at another record date, but it
hadn't worked out. Obviously, the spirituals are among the root sources of
jazz, and more musicians should go back and listen to them. I find myself
listening to spirituals more and more, to people like Mahalia Jackson and
to singers whose names I don't know who sing in storefront churches."
Saucer Eyes was written by Randy some three years ago at Lenox, but
has never been previously recorded by him, although it's been cut by Cecil
Payne. "Most of the musicians seem to like it and some asked me to record
it. It's a regular 32-bar tune and it's about someone I met who has real
Randy chose I Got Rhythm and Honeysuckle Rose on the second
side "because I like the old basic jazz tunes, and yet wanted to do them a
little differently, maintaining the feeling and melody so that anybody can
recognize it and yet indicate a modern approach."
Gingerbread is another Weston original, first written in 1952.
"It's a 32-bar song based entirely on flatted fifths."
Randy's affection for Cocktails for Two results from his strong
memory of the first time he heard it. It was a 1946 Coleman Hawkins
recording with Hank Jones on piano. "Hawkins' interpretation was so
beautiful, I never forgot it, and I've always wanted to record the song
Honeysuckle Rose is a demonstration of Randy's affection for Fats
Walter: "He was one of the greatest as pianist and composer." It's
interesting that in listing the Waller songs he was most grateful for,
Jitterbug Waltz, one of the first jazz waltzes, was among the first
titles. Randy is currently becoming the Strauss of the modern jazz world.
FEW Blues The
final blues is dedicated to Randy's father and the cryptic title arises
from the latter's initials. His name is Frank Edward Weston. "A lot of
young musicians are getting away from the blues," Randy emphasizes, "and
they shouldn't. The blues are still the most fascinating thing in jazz."
Randy's regular bassist, John A."Peck"Morrison, who has been with Gerry
Mulligan, is on the date and Randy's assessment of him succinctly is that
"he's steady, plays a basic bass, and swings practically all the time".
The drummer is Connie Kay on one of his very few recent jazz dates away
from the Modern Jazz Quartet, his regular home.
"Connie and I," says Randy, "played a lot of rhythm and blues together
around 1957 with Bullmoose Jackson and Frank "Floor Show" Cully. We even
made two southern tours together, and were on the first date the Clovers
made for Atlantic. We weren't very happy when we came back from those
tours. We were both playing pretty badly and loud, and we just couldn't
express ourselves in the music. It was a constant hassle. So we stayed in
"Connie," concludes Weston, "is one of the most musical of all jazz
drummers, and he's a wonderfully swinging drummer besides. I wonder if he
gets a chance to be fully heard and appreciated with the Modern Jazz
Quartet. He gets a beautiful sound from his set, beautiful colors. We took
fours on the waltz, and listen to the musical things he plays."
Randy, in summary, though characteristically self-critical, feels he has
expressed several parts of his message on this album, and as you can hear,
it is a message that proves the worth of a creative individual knowing and
feeling his past. If the essential individuality (or capacity for that
kind of growth) exists in a player and writer, it can only be strengthened
by a feeding on the roots of his language.
1957 Nat Hentoff