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PORTRAITS OF THELONIOUS MONK
WELL YOU NEEDN'T

recorded  3 June 1989 
Studio Ferber  Paris  France
LP   1990   Verve    841 3132
CD   1990   Verve    841 3132

See also:
        Portraits of Duke Ellington
        Self Portraits

| real | wm |  
 

        liner notes


Randy Weston piano
Jamil Nasser
bass
Idris Muhammad
drums, percussion
Eric Asante
percussion

Jean-Philippe Allard
producer
Rene Ameline
engineer
Rhashidah E. McNeill
liner notes

 

  1   Well You Needn’t  (Monk / McRae)
  2   Misterioso
 (Monk)
  3   Ruby My Dear
 (Monk)
  4   I Mean You
  (Monk / Hawkins)
  5   Functional
  (Monk)
  6   Off Minor / Thelonious
(Monk)


PORTRAITS THELONIOUS MONK
Well You Needn’t


Always know was one of Thelonious Monk's themes. And he knew. When people told Monk that his music was weird he always replied that it was logical.

His predilection toward logic may have precipitated from the fact that he excelled in physics and math as a high school student. It may also account for the many enigmatic or paradoxical answers or responses that Monk gave when questioned. All jazz musicians are mathematicians unconsciously, was a favorite theory of Monk's. Those who have studied his compositions have found them to be perfectly structured.

Monk also knew that his music and its secret messages would remain an enigma long after its exposure to the world for years to come. The "High Priest of Bop," as he was later dubbed, remarked in 1959 that he had always been content to play his music his way and let the public catch up to him. :'.. even if it does take them 15, 20 years' which, of course, it did!

Randy Weston, a Monk exponent, did a little catching up, too! Randy thought that the pianist just couldn't play the first time he heard Monk. But Weston s admiration for Coleman Hawkins, his idol, made Weston lend a more discerning ear to Monk’s offbeat playing.

Thelonious Monk was probably the most original pianist I ever heard. I first heard him play with Coleman Hawkins in the late '40s. They were playing on 52nd Street. Hawkins was my idol. He was the first man to play jazz on a tenor saxophone and he was so brilliant. Not only that but Hawkins always played with the young, advanced musicians. And, they were all great talents. So, that's how I discovered Monk and ironically, the first song I heard him play was, Ruby, My Dear.

Ruby, My Dear, a Monk composition, and a hauntingly beautiful ballad was inspired by Thelonious' first love, Ruby Richardson, a dietician and his sister Marion's best friend.

Monk himself had been influenced by the grand Duke Ellington, and the great stride pianist, James P. Johnson. Though he rarely talked about his influences Monk was quoted as saying of his blues improvisation, Functional, "I sound just like James P" James P Johnson had lived near the Monk family in the San Juan section of Manhattan, New York, a primarily Black area, and befriended Thelonious in the early '30s. San Juan was a thriving center of rich Black culture and was home for many musicians, writers, and other artists, including Eubie Blake.

Randy Weston proved to be a most loyal, engaging disciple of Monk's. I went to Monk's house, asked him if I could visit him. He said, 'Yes' I went by to see him, spent nine hours in his home. He didn't speak at all, just sent vibrations like the great Sufi masters. And, he refused to answer any of my question.

Though perplexed by Monk, Randy would later learn in his travels to Africa that Monk's way of communicating was the traditional African way of the elders and the ancient African ancestors.

Although he notated all his compositions, Monk often refused to let even his sidemen see his sheet music, preferring to let them learn his tunes by playing them rather than reading them, which was also the African way, Randy would later discover.

When I got ready to leave, Monk invited me to come back again. About a month later, he played about three hours for me on the piano.

When I heard him play I realized that this was the direction for me to go. That really opened my eyes.

This encounter allowed Randy to free up his own style and creativity. He suddenly realized that, with Monk, as he would recognize again later with Duke's piano playing, there were no time or style barriers.

In the early to mid 1950's Monk couldn't work in the New York clubs because his cabaret card had been revoked for six years. For three years, Randy recalls, I used to pick Monk up in my car and bring him to Brooklyn because in Brooklyn we always had that community spirit. He couldn't work but he never complained. Monk just continued to write and play his music. In 1957, Monk was rediscovered as a major composer and musician and in 1964 he became the first Black jazz musician to make the front cover of Time Magazine. 1976 was Monk's last public appearance, at the Newport Jazz Festival of 1976, due to illness.

He made a heavy impact on me because he taught me perseverance. He taught me, also, no compromise - never compromise your Music.

You see, Randy observes, these men are like great prophets. What the Creator has done is bring them to us bringing all these gifts of music and these gifts are like almost a place that has no boundaries «If you can, imagine a building that has no walls and no ceiling but yet, its a building. But its so vast and so expanding.

So, they came and brought us all this music. And with all they gave we can take what they gave and go in our own direction. Which is exactly what Randy Weston did becoming one of the music's most valuable assets and most important composer/musicians, as a modern pianist.

Although Monk's influence is easily recognizable, there is no question that Weston has developed his own style and his own audience. Following the tradition of all the great masters, he has taken the best of what he has learned from all his influences and melded them, to create fresh new music for our future generations.

Though, Portraits of Monk, is a tribute to one of the world's most revered composer/pianists Weston does not attempt to imitate Monk. With musicians Idris Muhammad, drummer, Jamil Nasser, bassist, and Eric Asante, percussionist, Randy plays some of Monk's compositions, Weston style. He combines the sounds and rhythms that he has gathered in his thirty years as a musician with the New-Orleans sound of Muhammad, a touch of Africa from Asante, and the deep, bluesy Memphis sound of Jamil Nasser.

Together, in the Ferber Studio, Paris, they produced a bit of magic, all in a single day and with no prior rehearsal, no music sheets, just sheer joy! All of the funk, the beauty, the unexpected, and of course, the mystery that one would associate with Monk's music is here. At the bottom of it all is the ever present blues.  Deep!

The way I played these songs was spontaneous. We just decided we'd get together and play. We didn't particularly do any arrangements. We just played the way we felt.

I'm not copying Monk. What I'm trying to do is create a musical portrait of him, taking some of his compositions, using some of his riffs, some of his phrases. But, it's a way of, through music, describing him.

The songs I chose were chosen either because they had a particular history or because they were just songs that I heard growing up and loved. These are all songs that Monk wrote before I met him or during the time that I spent with him.» These songs also represent part of a time of great, great creativity in the history of the music - the 20's to the 60's when much of the most influential, greatest music in history was written and performed by the best!
 

1989  by Randy Weston as told to Rhashidah E. McNeill
 

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