Randy Weston African Rhythms
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recorded  4 July 1995  
National Monument Ludget-Duvemay Hall Montréal Canada
CD    1997   Verve/Gitanes    537 088-2

| real | wm |

liner notes

Randy Weston piano
Christian McBride bass
Billy Higgins

Orchestra du festival de Jazz de Montreal
(except 5)
Paul West Conductor
Violins :

Marcelle Mallette
(solo), Monique Poitras (2. solo), Hun Bang, Denis Béliveau, Marc Béliveau, Arlane Bresse, Sophie Dugas, Nadia Francavilla, Pascale Frenette, Daniel Godin, Jean-Marc Leblanc, Isabelle Lessard
Francine Lupien-Bang
(solo), Margot Aldrich, Jocelyne Bastien, Suzanne Careau, Lorraine Desmarais, Christiane Lampron, Sylvie Laville, André Roy
Jean-Luc Morin
(solo), Christine Giguère, Christine Harvey, Sylvie Lambert
Jacques Beaudoin

Melba Liston arranger, string arrangements
Jean-Philippe Allard
Jay Newland
engineer, mastering, mixing
Guy Voisin
assistant engineer
Carol Friedman
cover photo
Patrice Beausejour
art direction
Benoit Gauvin
technical engineer
Rhashida E. McNeill  liner notes


  1   Earth Birth  (Weston)
  2   Pam’s Waltz  (Weston)
  3   Little Niles
  4   Babe’s Blues
  5   Where
  6   Hi-Fly
  7   Portrait of Billie Holiday
  8   Berkshire Blues
  9   Portrait of Vivian


Earth Birth was recorded in Montreal, Canada, 1995, July 5th. There were 24 strings of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Christian McBride was on bass and Billy Higgins was on the drums. Randy Weston was, of course, on piano. Paul West was the conductor and Melba Liston, the arranger.

What was certainly important was the ambiance of Paul West, the conductor. He was so smooth and laid back that the Montreal Orchestra was so happy at the end of the concert. Paul made them feel so relaxed. It was wonderful to work with him. He's a wonderful conductor. Of course, as an arranger, Melba Liston was there to make suggestions or changes. Christian McBride is a young genius and fantastic bass player because he has the old concept of the bass; modern, but he's wonderful.

We recorded live during rehearsals before the performance, and we also recorded the night performance. That way, if there were any mistakes during the live performance, we were covered.

The very first song is called Earth Birth and that comes out of a composition that I wrote in the 50's in the beautiful Berkshires;" Randy explains. "That's during the time when I was writing waltzes about children and that was our first recording with Melba Liston. The song Earth Birth is from this collection of waltzes that Melba and I did together called Little Niles, and on this recording we did  7 waltzes for children. The 7 waltzes were Earth Birth, Nice Ice, Little Niles, Pam's Waltz, Babe's Blues, Little Susan and Let's Climb a Hill. It was recorded on the United Artists' label. It was given 5 stars and that was our first recording, Melba and I, together.

Here we are in 1995, July, Montreal and Melba has written some of the songs with strings. Earth Birth, for me, is about when a child first arrives in the world and its first experience of arriving in a beautiful atmosphere, a beautiful planet.
Langston Hughes wrote the original notes on the album record cover.

The 2nd composition, Pam's Waltz was my very first waltz written about my daughter, Pamela, in 1950. I wrote it when I first came to the Berkshires to get away from New York. I had an opportunity to work in the Berkshires as a breakfast cook during the day at the Music Inn, and then I'd be at the piano at night. The active season in the Berkshires was July and August. That was the time when the Boston Symphony Orchestra would perform for seven weeks of the year. They would invite students from all over the world to come and study. Certain composers, like Leonard Bernstein, were there and Lucas Foss was there, and all the big names of European classical music were there. The students were gifted. They'd come there to study opera, symphony, voice training, everything you could imagine. So, it was a beautiful atmosphere for me. And the area itself in the Berkshires is just so beautiful. The whole area was just music and art.

"So, this is my first song, Earth Birth because my daughter Pamela and my son Niles gave me a lot of inspiration when they were small.

Pam's Waltz
was not only written for my daughter but also for a little girl.

Little Niles was written for my son Niles in 1951 or around that time. But, anyway it was the beginning of me writing waltzes for children;" Randy continues to recall. "After this recording, Cannonball Adderley gave me the title, The Jazz Waltz King," Randy smiles, fondly remembering.

I guess the waltz itself is a kind of a very swinging rhythm. How I got influenced by the waltz rhythm is very interesting. First of all, it certainly came from Fats Waller with his Jitterbug Waltz, which I liked but it had to be in the back of my head. Ironically though, it came from a calypso singer named MacBeth, who was up at the Music Inn and he played for me a West Indian song and he used what's called a quadrille. It was kind of like a swinging ¾ .
I had never heard a waltz swing like that before. That's the story of Little Niles. What's so interesting about this song, I didn't play this song for three years! I thought that it was a sad song. And Willie Jones, the drummer, used to push me to play this song. I never dreamed that it would become what's called a jazz standard or classic song.

Babe's Blues is simply children singing the blues. Jon Hendricks wrote the lyrics, as he did for Where.

is a spiritual I wrote in the early 50's. I originally recorded this with Brock Peters singing, also with Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Durham, Roy Haynes, with Wilbur Little on bass. We did it on a Monday night, a Live at the 'Five Spot'. It's the only trio piece on the Earth Birth CD.
Myself on piano, of course, and Christian McBride on the bass, Billy Higgins very light on the brushes. I can't emphasize enough the musicianship of Billy Higgins and Christian McBride, really sensitive, precise, and they blended in very beautifully with the 24 strings.

Of course, Hi-Fly is my most popular composition of all. There have been many recordings of Hi-Fly and many variations by other artists but I think this is the first one like this one. We play it, as a ballad. Of course, Melba Liston brings out all that beauty and sweetness and it's the kind of song you can do anything with. The melody is really a basic rhythm. I can hear the bossa nova, I can hear the samba but I think this arrangement brings out, for me, the beauty of Melba Liston.

Portrait of Billie Holiday is about that great lady, Billie Holiday. My first contact with her physically was when I was in the service. When I would go home on furlough (break) I would go to 52nd St. in New York. 52nd St. back then was so royal because all the greats were there. So, I was at the bar in my uniform and Billie came in with her gardenia and her fur, that's when she was really regal, and she also had her little dog. She looked at me and she said, Would you please hold my little dog?' I said,’ Yes, of course!' So, I held her dog and she went and sang. And, I cried that night. Seeing her, listening to her sing actually brought tears to my eyes. That had happened only once before when I had heard Mahalia Jackson sing. I think I cried because the music was so deep and so spiritual.

But, I didn't get to know Billie. I gave her back her dog and that was the end of that, that night. I didn't get to know Billie until she was quite ill. She had sung at a concert down in the Village. It was with Charlie Mingus, with Mal Waldron and I was also in the same performance. Even though the voice wasn't there her spirit was still powerful. That was my last time to see Billie. The original title of this song was, Cry Me Not, but it was written for Billie. And, I learned from Mr. Ellington that sometimes you take the same tune and just change the title. It may have a different meaning but it was written for Billie. One of the greatest arrangements of this song is the arrangement Melba did with Freddie Hubbard. It's incredible. But I tried to capture the spirit, the love, the pain of Billie Holiday in this song,  Portrait of Billie Holiday.

Berkshire Blues is about the happiness and beauty of nature in the Berkshires, a beautiful area in Boston written in the early 1950's. It's a pretty, romantic blues, but light. I've never been in an area so beautiful.

Portrait of Vivian is about my beautiful Mother, Vivian Moore. God, she was such a wonderful lady; very cool, very laid back, very religious but with a tremendous sense of humor at the same time.

The overall concept of this CD is love, romance, and the beauty of life. It's something to slow you down, make you appreciate the finer qualities of life. The inspiration for this CD came from the 1981 concert we did in Boston for which Elma Lewis gave me a commission to do music with the Boston Pops Symphony Orchestra. John Williams was the conductor. He had done music for the film, "Star Wars." It was an incredible night and 3 of my compositions were featured plus Hi-Fly. The 3 compositions were 'Three African Queens, Portrait of Billie Holiday, and 'Blues for Elma Lewis'.

So after that, I've always wanted to record with strings. Of course, recording with 24 strings is not the same as recording or playing with 130 strings! But this CD just emphasizes and is another example of the beauty, the depth, and the sensitivity of Melba Liston as an arranger. She can adapt to any situation whether it's a chorus, or strings, or horns, or Africa;' Randy says with great admiration and respect.

1996  by Randy Weston as told to Rhashidah E. McNeill

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