The Last Day
It is June 5th, 1989, and in Paris, it is an unusually mild and sunny day.
Paris is notorious for its daily overcast and spontaneous drizzle. You are
warned, especially if you're a visitor or traveler, to always be prepared
for Paris's sudden celestial dribbles. Even the Eiffel Tower reveals its
full splendor today. Ordinarily, its crown is cloaked in the ubiquitous
At the Ferber Studio, the drama continues to unfold as the magnanimous
frame of Randy Weston descends to face that big, black woman with the
white teeth for the third consecutive day. As he does customarily, Randy
approaches her with reverence. He knows that she can do no wrong! He has
draped her huge, glistening, onyx body with royal kente cloth. The
Bösendorfer piano has never looked more majestic. And yet, today, he is
especially humble for she is beckoning him - no, summoning him - to answer
her call as he has done for over thirty years. And he knows that he must
because there are more lessons to learn, more secrets to get, and more
messages to give.
June 5th, 1989 is not just another day for pianist composer Randy Weston.
For one thing, it is the finale of a three-day recording session that none
present is likely to forget, including PolyGram's Jean Philippe Allard and
Morocco's Jacques Muyal whose excitement could hardly be contained. The
music was that intense! Three separate recordings in three days. For Randy
Weston and his Trio of musicians these were three days of pure
exhilaration, euphoria, and exhaustion.
For another thing, Self-Portraits of Randy Weston, consummates the trilogy
of tributes that Randy has paid to his mentors and ancestors, Thelonious
Monk, Duke Ellington and, of course, his father, Frank Edward Weston.
Additionally, this June 5th, 1989 recording culminates in Randy's total
expression. Artistically, of the plethora of influences that he has been
harvesting since he was a young boy until now, including those he gathered
while living in Africa.
Self-Portraits of Randy Weston is not a self-indulgent appraisal of Randy,
himself, but rather a musical delineation of the great richness of Africa
and her traditional music, the roots of most other types of music in the
Finally, these recordings are welcome reprieve for Randy Weston' s fans
from his five-year hiatus from recorded music. His last recording was
This music, which Weston prefers to call African Rhythms, is a potpourri
of crystal tones, funky, indigenous rhythms, pensive melodies, and
syncopatic adventure always with spiritual overtones and homage to his
predecessors. it is steeped in tradition and the copious, varied
experiences that Weston feels honored to have gained while in Brooklyn,
New York, in the Berkshire in New England, from Africa, from nature,
children, and beyond. Weston's music may well be the just restitution for
the sometimes obscure origin of music.
Significantly, Self-Portraits of Randy Weston demonstrates, through
Randy's careful selection of musicians and their synergistic performances
of his compositions, the connection of the roots of all modern music.
"For me, the most compelling aspect of African culture is its music,
magnificent in its power and diversity, with drums - African rhythms -
always at the heart. The music of no other civilization can rival that of
Africa in the complexity and subtlety of its rhythms. All modern music -
jazz, gospel, Latin, rock, bossa nova, calypso, samba, r & b, the blues,
even music of the avant-garde - is in debt to African rhythms", Randy
Jamil Nasser, bassist, Eric Asante, African percussionist, and Idris
Muhammad, drummer, all provide a synoptic overview of the drum's eminence
in Randy's synthesis of African traditional music. They are the backdrop
of Weston' s honed vision and on these recordings, the perfect complements
of Weston's musical interpretations of African rhythms.
Randy Weston's potent fertility as a pianist-composer, and especially as
bandleader, in this instance, is resplendent in the respect he elicits
easily from his peers, and sidemen Nasser, Asante, and Muhammad.
Jamil Nasser, who met Weston in 1957, admitted that Randy is one of the
few bandleaders that he never refuses a date with. Anytime he calls. If I
have something I could cancel. it's not a matter of how much because Randy
is a musician's king and you give kings consideration. This should be one
of the nicest things that ever happened for Randy because now people can
have a panorama of the mind of this king.
You see, Randy should have had monuments built to him already. So, I think
that its one of the greatest things that ever happened that the true link
between Monk and Ellington would be doing these tributes' cause nobody is
more qualified to do them than Randy Weston. And I'm thrilled that I'm a
part of it.
You see, the only important people in our music are the ones who change
things. That's the reason why Mr. Monk, Mr. Ellington, Lester Young,
Charlie Parker, the predecessors are important - because they changed
things. They brought something new that could be added on to what was
already known - like Louis Armstrong. He changed things. The music would
never be the same again. Young and Count Basie - they changed things. They
took it further. Randy is not only a super performer, a super pianist,
he's also a super writer. We, artists, didn't need the critics to tell us
We've known that for years! We exchange knowledge. We don't criticize,,,
said the virtuoso bassist from Memphis who played with piano genius,
Phineas Newborn jr. for several years before joining Weston in '57 Prior
to that, he played with blues giant, B.B. King.
Eric Asante, a newcomer, African percussionist from Ghana said, Since I
started playing with Randy I know that I have a lot to learn but I enjoyed
myself. I will listen to him many times in the future with this music.
They -Randy, Nasser, and Idris -make me feel that I'm on the right track.
I felt more free in my drumming.
Idris Muhammad, whose flexibility as a drummer has allowed him to play
diverse music styles with artists of equal versatility said that he was in
tune with Weston’s music 20 years ago and after seeing and hearing
Weston’s rhythmic playing at a set in Germany 1988, Idris decided that he
had to play with Randy, although he had no idea that it would happen so
soon or be so good.
I was happy because he had Jamil Nasser and I know that I played so well
with Jamil and to play with Randy would be a challenge to play his music.
Doing this was a great challenge for me to play some music with a person
like Randy Weston who has a vast variety of music and not only that - he's
a wonderful human being.
Randy is the link between Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Monk. I think
that for so many years as these people passed, then Randy was just
overlooked and he didn't get the credit. He didn't get what was duo to
him, but I'm sure that now after people hear this music that whoever wont
credit him will feel bad, insists the drummer who's originally from New
Orleans. He began with the Neville Brothers in 1956 and since then has
played and/or recorded with a long list of credits with artists such as
the Impressions, Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield, Little Richard, Roberta
Flack to CTI and Blue Note label artists such as Freddie Hubbard, Stanley
Turrentine. Lee Morgan and Pharoah Sanders. Ions has also recorded about
six to his own discs with the Fantasy and CTI labels.
The common denominator between all these men is not only their creative
genius, flexibility, and veteran experiences, but also an authentic,
serious, and deep understanding among them that music is a sacred art
form. The result is a combination of spiritual unity, dignity, and
commitment, that gives way to a ready, yielding improvisation.
The Creator is the real musician, Randy Weston philosophizes. I am
an instrument. The piano is an instrument. When we are in tune with each
other beautiful music arrives.
1989 by Randy Weston as told to Rhashidah E. McNeill