Randy Weston African Rhythms
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recorded  18 September 1966 
Monterey Jazz  USA
CD   1994  Polygram   519698
LP   1966  Verve         519 698-2

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liner notes

Randy Weston piano
Ray Copeland
trumpet, flugelhorn
Booker Ervin
tenor sax
Cecil Payne
baritone sax
Bill Wood
Lennie McBrowne
Big Black

Randy Weston producer, liner notes
Rhashidah E. McNeill  liner notes

Kiyoshi "Boxman" Koyama
liner notes
Ray Copeland
Jean-Philippe Allard
production coordination
Brian Bacchus
associate producer
Jay Newland
digitally mix
Daniel Richard
release preparation

David Gahr
Patrice Beausejour
art direction

  1   Introduction (Jimmy Lyons)
  2   The Call
  3   Afro-Black
  4   Little Niles
  5   Portrait of Vivian
  6   Berkshire Blues
  7   Blues for Strayhorn
  8   African Cookbook


Recorded in Monterey, California. The Monterey Jazz Festival of 1966. "I think this is the best band I've ever had. We were together almost 3 years. It was Booker Ervin on tenor saxophone, Ray Copeland on trumpet; Bill Wood was on bass; Lenny McBrowne on drums, and Big Black on congas. It was very difficult for us to be recorded because it was a very strong African message. I'm talking about around maybe 1963, '64, '65 during that period. So it was hard for us to get gigs, you know. And so finally, our last appearance together was at the Monterey Jazz Festival, the same night as Duke Ellington, the same night as Carmen McRae. So you know we had to play strong. And it was an incredible band because number one, we had Booker Ervin. Booker Ervin, for me, was on the same level as John Coltrane. He was a completely original saxophonist. I don't know anybody who played like Booker. But Booker, he was very sensitive, very quiet-not the sort of guy to push himself or talk about himself. You know what happens with Black artists-they (the industry) can never let too many come out at the same time. There was a big emphasis on Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. And everybody was into Coltrane but meanwhile Booker Ervin was kind of left out. He was a master saxophonist, and the song I wrote for my mother, Portrait of Vivian, only he could play it; nobody else could play that song.

In fact, the African Cookbook, which I composed back in the early 60's, was partly named after Booker because we (musicians) used to call him "Book," and we would say, "Cook, Book." Sometimes when he was playing we'd shout, "Cook, Book, cook." And the melody of African Cookbook was based upon Booker Ervin's sound, a sound like the north of Africa. He would kind of take those notes and make them weave hypnotically. So, actually the African Cookbook was influenced by Booker Ervin. By the way. Ervin was from Texas and he had the typical big sound from Texas. I don't know why, but for some reason many great tenor saxophonists come from Texas and they have all got this big sound. For instance, Billy Harper is from Texas, Dexter Gordon, Frank Haynes. I could go on and on and on.
Ray Copeland, we went to Boy's High School together. We were in the very first band that I ever played in as a kid. I was 17 years old, and so was Ray. Ray became a wonderful musician. He played at the Roxy Theater. He recorded with Thelonious Monk. We were very close. Our families were close. We grew up together in Brooklyn and we played in the Berkshires together along with Booker Ervin. Ray was special because he was really Brooklyn although he was from Virginia. He was also a very fine arranger. So on this recording these are Ray Copeland arrangements.

The arrangements are based on my piano style. So Ray was a very important influence in my life. I was a very important influence in his life, and when we toured Africa in 1967 he was the musical director of the band. We toured for 3 months. So Ray was extremely important. a great musician, and even more so, he was a great teacher. He loved to teach students. He was also at another institution. But Ray, being so sensitive, those schools were not very kind to him. They took his methods, they took his way of teaching, then he had to leave. So it was really a sad example of a great musician who, finding it hard to get work playing all the time, went into the universities and then gave everything he had to his students until at a certain point he was gotten rid of. The next bass player was Bill Wood. He was from Detroit and he was a very strong bass player, and during this period we were young; we had the opportunity to spend time rehearsing and praying together. So he had a very strong sound and we worked on a lot of African rhythms together.

The drummer was Lenny McBrowne. He is pure, authentic Brooklyn like Ray Copeland. Lenny McBrowne lived right around the corner from my house on Lafayette Avenue and Downing Street He was a wonderful drummer. He studied with Max Roach, and he worked with Kenny Burrell and a lot of other musicians. So Lenny was a very good drummer and a very supportive drummer. In fact, we did our first film together on jazz dance going back into the 50's. Lenny and I go back quite a ways.

Big Black  -very interesting story about Big Black, because at the time  -I'm talking about 1954 on, especially the early 60's- I was doing more and more pieces about Africa. I was working with different percussionists. Montego Joe was one, Chief Bey was another. But, one night we were playing at Birdland. At that time Birdland was open on Broadway. A guy named Jimmy Davis -he was involved with an African group in Harlem- he came up to me. He said, "Randy, I have a very great drummer sitting with me. Can he come in and play with you?" I said, "What's his name?" He said, "Big Black." I said, "Big Black! That's a strong name!" So I said, "Yeah, okay." Sometimes with musicians you never know. Sometimes a guy will come in and sit in and play, and he'll be great; and sometimes he'll be horrible. So you always have to feel. So Big Black came in and he set up his drums. The program was arranged in such a way that I was getting ready to play a ballad at that time and he never forgot that. Anyway, I heard him and realized that he was a great talent, plus he had a different way of playing the drums, because almost everybody that I knew of -except Chief Bey -was playing the drums with the Latin concept. The skin on the drum is very tight, you know, very strong like Tito Puente, and Machito, which is African but especially Latin. The Latin element is stronger. Big Black had like a whole African concept. So when he joined the group we had a perfect group musically speaking. And at that time I wasn't playing that much piano. I didn't have that much confidence as a pianist. I was concentrating more on my compositions. I had such great musicians with me I didn't play very much, which I used to be criticized for. If you listen to my early recordings with my groups, you don't hear me playing much. I was so knocked out to have those guys playing my music that I never played that much, you see?

So this sextet was very special, and today, 1993, its even more special, because we were one of the first to project a really strong African message with our music.

My influences certainly were Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie when he had Chano Pozo, a Black Cuban. Chano Pozo was the greatest drummer in Cuba. When Dizzy had Chano play with that big orchestra playing bebop and modern music-when I heard the mixture of the two -I realized that was the way I wanted to go.
We played local clubs and we also were involved in the "History of Jazz"! We were the first ones to take the "History of jazz" not only into the college circuit, which we did in the 50's (before Big Black joined) but in the early 60's we did concerts in the schools.

What I did was this. I took my briefcase and my tie and my suit and I went to the Board of Education in Brooklyn. I saw three ladies. One was a Jewish Lady, one was a Hispanic lady, one was an African-American lady. I sold them on this program. I told them that this is a program where we bring the "History of Jazz" into the school system, we play for the kids, 45 minutes. It breaks some of the monotony of school. We gave them a history of Africa. We gave them a history of jazz. What we would do was we would start with African rhythms, then we would go to the Caribbean, then the Black church, then we would do "The Saints Go Marchin' In" and we would do a whole history of the music for the kids. The kids really would get involved. So all three of these ladies agreed. They said, "Its a great program." We went to Local 802. We got them to put up a certain amount of money. Ray Bryant was very close with a brother named Harley Russell, who was vice-president of Pepsi-Cola. At that time, he was the only Black vice-president of Pepsi-Cola. We went to him and we got Pepsi-Cola to put up money. Well, we ended up going 40 concerts in the elementary school system. Sometimes we would do concerts at 7 in the morning, 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. And Ray Bryant had a group. I had my group. Nadir Kamar had another group. Finally, Pepsi decided on just two, which was my group and Ray Bryant's. I think we had the strongest. Ray Bryant did his history because he had very strong blues and gospel roots. I did my history taking the African route, you know. And it was really wonderful. As far as pay was concerned, we just made union scale. We didn't make very much money. But we got to these kids. For example, we would demonstrate the 1920's blues because the blues is the whole essence of our music. So we would do a song by Ma Rainey; she was like the mother of the blues. So Big Black would sing "C.C. Rider," for example.

Unfortunately, Pepsi-Cola went on strike that year and we never got funded since. But we made a tremendous impact because our group was tight, our group was strong. At the time some people could not accept Africa, you see. I was writing many songs with African themes and African names. Even Big Black's name at that time was very controversial, because then there were people who were still afraid to be called Black.

But it was a very powerful group and it was my best group and today, well, listening to the music I hear today, I realize that we were just ahead of our time in what we were doing. But it was really, really great.
This concert at Monterey, it's so important because of Cecil Payne. We go back so far that Cecil's father had a tailor shop and my father had a barber shop and we were right next to each other and we shared the same bathroom as kids. But Cecil was already a fine musician. He was well known in Brooklyn with Max Roach and some of the other guys, you know. So for this particular concert at the Monterey Jazz Festival, Booker Ervin had decided to go on his own. He had decided to form his own group. So in the sextet we have Cecil Payne playing baritone with Ray Copeland, which we've done many times. Booker Ervin is listed as "guest star." He knew all the music, but at that point he had planned to form his own group. So instead of him being part of the group, it was "Randy Weston sextet featuring Booker Ervin as guest star." The music he plays and that all the guys play, you can hear just how beautiful and modern it is.

If anybody were to ask me which of my recordings are the most important, I'd have to name this one first, because the musicianship was so high we stayed together for 3 years, and we knew each other. Most of the things I've done since have been with larger groups. But this was a small group. And for the fire, the dynamics, and for being together -when you hear the recording, Big Black and Lenny McBrowne sound like one drummer! That's from playing together for 3 years. you see. And there's a certain cohesion that happens when you're together. Also, after this recording the band broke up. Lenny McBrowne decided to live in California. Booker Ervin went and got his own group. I came back to New York, and then, shortly after, I was chosen to do the African tour. This is why this recording is so special."
Randy Weston.

1993 By Randy Weston as told to Rhashidah E. McNeill




Randy Weston's album "The Spirits of Our Ancestors" (Verve 511 857-2) was released to great acclaim in Japan in 1992, and later that year was awarded the prestigious silver prize at the jazz Disc Awards, sponsored by "Swing Journal." Randy himself attended the awards ceremony, held in Tokyo on January 14, 1993. For Randy, his six foot seven inch frame wrapped in a black tuxedo, this night was undoubtedly one of the proudest moments in his life. He was immediately besieged with requests for more interviews than he could possibly ft into his short stay.

I, myself, took him the very next day (January 15) to perform a spur of the moment piano solo concert at a small hall called "Nonk Tonk" in Morioka, more than three hours trip by bullet train from Tokyo. Randy had yet to play an official concert here in Japan. That night, while he was dazzling the full house with a rendition of Little Niles, a sizeable earthquake suddenly occurred in the area. The audience seemed to panic for a brief moment, but Randy did not take his hands away from the keys and continued his brilliant performance. He simply turned to the audience and flashed them a smile that said everything was alright, and continued playing all the more fervently. The audience, as if under a magical spell, calmed down until the moment Randy finished his performance when they showered him with applause thunderous enough to bring the building down.

On the return train to Tokyo after the concert, I learned that Randy was in possession of valuable tapes of his performance recorded live at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival, and that they had never been released to the public. Randy went on to tell me that these historic tapes captured one of the best performances of the great tenor sax player, Booker Ervin, who died in 1970. Ervin had played with Charles Mingus from 1958 until 1962, before becoming a member of Randy's group from 1963 to 1966. However, his recordings with Randy Weston during this period were few, and these performances can only be found on Colpix and Randy's own label Bakton. When Randy called the tapes "historic and valuable," this was no doubt part of the reason.

Well, here they are, the historic and very valuable live tapes that Randy was talking about, pressed into the album that you now hold in your hands. According to my research, the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival, the ninth such festival, was held for three days over the weekend of Friday the 16th through Sunday the 18th of September. The performers that year included the Charles Lloyd Quartet, Don Ellis Orchestra. Gil Evans Orchestra, Denny Zeitlin trio, Carmen McRae, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Randy Weston's sextet with guest star Booker Ervin, performed on the last of the three days, Sunday night the 18th.  Among the members that played with Randy that night were longtime musical companions Cecil Payne (born 1922) on baritone sax and Lenny McBrowne (born 1933) on drums, both natives of Brooklyn, New York. (Randy Weston, himself, was born in Brooklyn in 1926.) Trumpet and flugelhorn player Ray Copeland (1926-1984) was born in Norfolk, Virginia. but moved to Brooklyn when he was in his teens; he, too, played with Randy since the mid-1950s, and was fully part of the above gang. Bass player Bill Wood, on the other hand, was born in 1937 in North Carolina and gathered acclaim in the Detroit jazz scene in the latter part of the '50s. He forged his way to New York in 1962, and soon after caught Randy's eye.

Tenor giant Booker Ervin was a regular member from the very inception of the sextet Randy formed in 1963. However, his performance with the group at Monterey was to be his last, as he had announced that he was leaving the group to go out on his own. To that end, he was billed as a "guest star" for the festival and they brought back their old friend Cecil Payne, to complete the sextet. Conga player Big Black (born in Georgia in 1934) had become a regular member of the group when, in early 1963, he visited Randy backstage at Birdland in New York where he was playing and was asked to join the group then and there.

Actually, Randy himself broke up the group, with his line-up that had continued since 1963, and made the performance at the festival their last. In January of 1967, Randy planned to travel to fourteen countries in West Africa for a three month tour as a musical envoy dispatched by the Department of State of the United States of America. (Randy ended up actually emigrating to Africa after the tour, basing himself in Tangiers in Morocco until 1973.) So for Randy, this performance at the West Coasts historic Monterey Jazz Festival, in fact, tolled a fond farewell for quite a long time to his musical compatriots as well as to the United States of America itself.

Randy Weston's set begins with an Introduction from the Festival's producer, Jimmy Lyons. First, he calls Randy onto the stage, then one by one each member of the group is introduced; as each comes on stage and begins playing his instrument in succession, the opening number The Call is built up from scratch. Although not a long number, it is a powerful spiritual, a signal for unity. This, along with all of the numbers they performed that day, is a Randy Weston original, and it was at this Monterey Jazz Festival that it was given its first public performance. (A longer version of this title can be heard on the aforementioned "The Spirits of Our Ancestors" album)

Next comes Afro Black. Its a composition Randy wrote in 1963 for conga drummer Big Black. In the second half of the piece, Big Black is prominently featured in a conga solo, and along with his performance on the last number African Cookbook, it can be considered one of his best performances. It is a number which also serves as a showcase for the talents of each member of the group; in the first half, Cecil Payne, Ray Copeland, and Booker Ervin trade solos, and you can also hear piano and drum solos as well.

The next number, Little Niles, is a beautiful waltz and probably the most well known of Randy's compositions. It was written in 1951, not long after the birth of his first son, Niles (Azzedin Weston, percussionist, born August 12, 1950), to whom it is dedicated. It features strong, emotional piano playing by Randy.

Portrait of Vivian is a ballad Randy wrote for his mother Vivian, who died in 1986 at the age of 83. According to Randy, during this performance of Portrait of Vivian, Booker Ervin became so overpowered by emotion, he finished his solo with tears flowing from his eyes. Randy also asserts that this is indisputably one of Booker's masterpieces.

Berkshire Blues is a blues waltz, the first performance of which can be found on the Bakton issue of the October 1964 recording. The Berkshires is an area of Massachusetts famous for its summer music festivals, but Randy worked there every year since 1950 as a chef in a resort hotel during the summer season. By night, he treated the guests to his piano performances and in doing so, met such important people as Duke Ellington, poet
Langston Hughes, and producers from Riverside Records. Thus, the Berkshires was, for Randy, a very important and memorable starting point for his career. Featured in the Berkshire Blues are solos by Randy and Ray Copeland on flugelhorn. This title was also recorded again in 1989 and can be found on "Self Portraits -The Last Day" (Verve 841 314-2).

Blues for Strayhorn needs little explanation; it is Randy's aural portrait of Billy Strayhorn, whom Randy became close with through his family-like association with Duke Ellington. Randy played this tribute at Strayhorn's funeral in 1967, at a church on 91st Street in New York City. In the performance of this piece at the Monterey Jazz Festival, Randy turns the stage over to Cecil Payne after his own gentle piano solo.

The set ends with an exciting, twenty-five minutes rendition of African Cookbook. The composition is played in 6/8, and a dialogue of percussion instruments is followed by a succession of solos by the band members. Randy has said that he wants to help out the spotlight on the African culture and music that he has admired for so long, and African Cookbook is a testimony to that desire. He has lived and breathed this devotion to Africa in his music continuously, and in 1992 was presented with the Jazz Disc Award, silver prize, for his opus "The Spirits of Our Ancestors".
With that in mind, I hope you enjoy listening to the brilliant African Cookbook.

1993 Kiyoshi "Boxman" Koyama

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