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LITTLE NILES

LP   1978   Blue Note  LA 598-H2   2 LP set

Originals and other collections:

        LITTLE NILES

        CD   2009  Jazzbeat  540
        CD   2003  Mosaic              004

        LP    LITTLE NILES  Blue Note LA 598-H2   2 LP set

        DESTRY RIDES AGAIN

        LIVE AT THE FIVE SPOT


         liner notes


LITTLE NILES                  | real | wm |

recorded  October 1958 
New York   USA

Randy Weston piano
Ray Copeland
trumpet  (except 7)
Idrees Sulieman
trumpet  (on 7)
Melba Liston
trombone
Johnny Griffin
tenor sax
George Joyner
(Jamil Nasser) bass
Charlie Persip
drums
 

  1   Earth Birth  (Weston)
  2   Little Susan
  (Weston)
  3   Nice Ice
  (Weston)
  4   Little Niles
  (Weston)
  5   Pamís Waltz
  (Weston)
  6   Letís Climb a Hill
  (Weston)
  7   Babeís Blues
  (Weston)

  


DESTRY RIDES AGAIN        | real | wm |

recorded  May 1959 
New York   USA

Randy Weston piano
Slide Hampton
trombone
Benny Green
trombone
Melba Liston
trombone
Frank Rehak
trombone
Peck Morrison
bass
Elvin Jones
drums
Willie Rodriguez
percussion

  8   I Know Your Kind  (Herald Rome)
  9   Every Once in a While 
(Herald Rome)
10   Once I Knew a Fella 
(Herald Rome)
11   I Say Hello 
(Herald Rome)
 


LIVE AT THE FIVE SPOT        | real | wm |

recorded  26 October 1959 
The Five Spot  New York  USA

Randy Weston piano
Kenny Dorham trumpet
Coleman Hawkins tenor sax
Wilbur Little bass
Clifford Jarvis drums
Roy Haynes drums
Brock Peters vocal
 

12   Hi-Fly  (Weston)
13   Beef Blues Stew  (Weston)
14   Star-Crossed Lovers (B. Strayhorn / D. Ellington)
15   Spot Five Blues (Weston / K. Dorham)
16   Where  (Weston)
17  Lisa Lovely  (Weston) 
 


LITTLE NILES  Blue Note

Randy Weston by Robert Palmer

Pianist / composer Randy Weston has been associated throughout his career with beautiful landscapes. He is no stranger to urban decay, having been born and raised in Brooklyn, but the rolling hill country of the Berkshires, in Massachusetts, and the Jebel or "little hills" just beyond Tangier, Morocco have fascinated him, and drawn him irresistibly, over the past twenty-five years. It was during summers in Lenox, 1950's summers full of pastel sunsets, concerts by the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood, and conversations with visitors such as poet Langston Hughes, dancer Geoffrey Holder, and Riverside records president Bill Grauer, that Weston decided to devote himself full-time to music. It was in Tangier, where he lived for several years in a spacious apartment with a balcony facing the hills, that he consolidated the most recent phase of his development by becoming a connoisseur of the rhythms of Mother Africa.


Weston had yet to visit Africa when he recorded for United Artists, but the Berkshires had left their mark. The cover of the Little Niles album showed Randy on a leafy hillside with his son Niles and daughter Pamela. The pastoral liner notes were by Langston Hughes. The titles "Earth Birth," "Nice Ice," "Lets Climb A Hill" reflected the Berkshires ambience. But above all, the music itself suggested air, sunlight, a breeze blowing the clouds away. With its skipping piano improvisations - beautifully recorded, by the way - and its brittle horn textures. Little Niles is for me one of the two or three finest of Weston's dozen albums, I've been listening to it regularly for fifteen years, ever since I bought it, for $1.29, in a Little Rock, Arkansas Woolworth's.  And it still sounds fresh.


Weston's music wears well, but it has yet to make his name a household word. More than one of his albums has been remaindered to Woolworth's like Little Niles and seldom heard of again. In fact, the Live at the Five Spot - LP which is also reissued in this package, and which features Randy's early idol Coleman Hawkins, came as a complete, delightful surprise to me. So rather than jump into effusive praise of the music, I'd like to begin by sketching Randy Weston's life and career, including as I go along some observations of the Weston household as I've encountered it in New York and Tangier.


Randy was born April 6, 1926. His father, F.E. Weston. is a culinary magician as well as a music lover, and although he called on Randy to help out around his luncheonette, he also made sure the youngster had piano lessons. "All I wanted to do was go out in the street and play ball," Randy later told Ira Gitler. "After three years of classical study, my teacher gave up." But jazz began infiltrating Weston's consciousness when he was twelve, and when he was fourteen a friend, drummer Al Harewood, taught him a familiar song on the piano. Once Randy could relate something he was playing to a melody he heard, there was no stopping him. He practiced on his own and developed firm favorites, among them Basie, Ellington. and Coleman Hawkins. Later in his teens he began gigging around Brooklyn with the Sudanese bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, trumpeter Ray Copeland, and baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne. He worked in Greenwich Village with guitarist Huey Long before being drafted.


He was a supply sergeant in Okinawa and the Philippines, but spent most of his Army years near New York. where he constantly visited 52nd Street. Thelonious Monk was playing there with Coleman Hawkins, and Randy "didn't think Monk was playing at all at the time, but I had such a respect for Hawk that I said. 'This guy must be saying something or Hawk wouldn't have him.' and I found myself going back." After he was discharged, in 1947, Weston hung out with Monk, "studying," listening. "I felt." he told Gitler, "that he was so heavily steeped in the basic blues, and yet he was able to create modern ideas. A unique and ideal combination."


The styles of Weston's earlier pianistic influences, particularly Waller and Ellington, were refined by Monk into a compacted essence. As a beneficiary of this stylistic progression, Weston was able to find his own balance. He was able to combine Monk's acerbic, ringing inversions with Waller's effulgent fluency, to partake of the legacy of Harlem stride which passed from Ellington to Monk almost unaltered without neglecting Waller's more rococo variations, to become, in other words, a further link in a strong, supple chain.


At the same time, other more exotic influences appeared very early. There were the Afro-Caribbean rhythms of Weston's partially West Indian heritage and of the transplanted West Indians of the Brooklyn ghetto. There was the explosion of New York Afro-Cuban music which so profoundly colored the area's rhythmic atmosphere during the forties. As a teenager, Weston was already hearing things "another way," His partner in crime was Abdul-Malik; the two were often castigated by other musicians for their harmonic and rhythmic innovations. Hearing Monk completed Randy's cycle of influences in more ways than one. The experience reminded him of these earlier experiments in Brooklyn and gave him an "ethnic connection with self-expression ... without saying a word. Monk taught me, 'Play what you feel although it may not be the way it's supposed to be.'"


The late forties should have been years when these inspirations flowered. Instead, Randy worked in his father's luncheonette, unsure of what he wanted to do. Max Roach and most of the other major figures of the bop movement were regular customers, and Randy installed their records on the jukebox, but somehow he wasn't quite aware that the music had become his calling. New York can do that to you. Days can succeed one another, with sights, sounds, and nagging notions of things to do assaulting your senses from the moment you open your eyes. If you're not careful, you can spend several years treading water, living from one sensory impression to the next. When that happens, you need to get away and clear your head out, and thus Randy took a job as a cook in Lenox during the early fifties. It was there, at a camp for elderly refugees from Central Europe, that he appeared in an informal concert, struck a chord in his listeners, and let their reaction tell him what had eluded him in New York, that he was a musician. During the next few years he met Marshall Steams, who was to become an important force in his life and thought, and Bill Grauer. It was Steams who started him thinking on the rich history and pre-history of Jazz, as far back as West African roots. It was Grauer who arranged for him to make his first recordings, for Riverside. In 1955 he won the new star on piano award in Downbeat's critics' poll and formed the first of many groups of his own.


There were plenty of ups and downs during the late fifties and early sixties, but plenty of musical rewards. Weston was developing rapidly as a composer, writing "Little Niles," "Hi-Fly," and "Where?." the much-played waltz-time tunes which are perhaps his most enduring contributions to jazz. He was working with the finest musicians, as the presence of Hawkins. Kenny Dorham, Johnny Griffin, and Elvin Jones on these sides indicates. And in 1961 he was able to make an all-important direct connection with his heritage by visiting Africa for the first time.


F.E. Weston had first fired his son's interest in things African. "He talked to me about Africa from the time I was three years old," Randy told me years later. "He let me know that I had a heritage that was very rich and that one day I should go back to Africa," Marshall Steams added fuel to the fire: "In 1957 we began doing a history of jazz together in various universities. Marshall did the lecturing and my band did African folklore, calypso, dixieland, bop. We were showing the whole heritage of this music, which is really what African peoples contributed to America. Marshall was very interested in the West African beginnings of the music; he got involved in finding out what groups of people came on the slave ships, what happened when they arrived in America, how they acquired musical instruments, and so on. Then he had a heart attack, and since he couldn't continue to travel he suggested that I develop my own narration, which I did."


Randy's 1961 trip was sponsored by the American Society of African Culture. He was part of a black American delegation to Lagos, Nigeria which included Langston Hughes, Geoffrey Holder, Lionel Hampton, and Nina Simone. The visit was "a tremendous lesson and emotional experience. As a child I grew up listening to Negro spirituals on Mom's side. I listened to a lot of West Indian calypso on Pop's side. So when I went over there, I heard both in their raw form. I heard the basic rhythms that I recognized from the calypso music, and I heard some of the singing and hand-clapping that I heard in the churches on Mom's side." In 1963, Weston returned to Lagos for a 12-day visit. Then, in 1966, "my band was chosen by the State Department to do a fourteen-country tour of Africa, Marshall was on the board that selected us. Ironically, the article came out that we were chosen to go and right next to it was a picture of Marshall, who had died. I never had a chance to thank him."


Randy settled in Tangier following the tour and opened his own African Rhythms Club. I met him there in 1971 and described the club in an article in Rolling Stone, as "an opulent upstairs den, above the Mauritania Cinema and across the Avenue du Prince Heritier from another notable Tangier nightspot, the Parade bar. Each serves an overlapping community of international expatriates and affluent, upwardly mobile Moroccans. The Parade's garden exudes the scent of honeysuckle and the aural elegance of records by Marlene Dietrich and Billie Holiday. Weston's club is dark and smokey. To reach it, one climbs a winding orange staircase, decorated with indistinct black faces fading into tribal designs. The bar at the top may be crowded or empty but the center of attention is invariably a central area that includes a dance floor and bandstand. The club operates between 11 p.m. and the hours before dawn and depending on the time of night the floor will be filled with couples dancing to James Brown or cleared while Weston, an almost seven feet tall apparition in a dashiki, plays his brand of jazz, which owes as much to the rhythms of Moroccan folklore as to the bristling angularity of Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington."


By this time, Randy's son Niles had grown into a young man who'd changed his name to Azzedin and was a ferociously powerful conga drummer. F.E. Weston was around when he wasn't in Panama or New York, and the evenings my wife and I spent with the three of them are some of the most pleasant I can remember. Weston Sr.'s cooking was one of the principal attractions, to be sure. He would walk down into the souks or open-air markets of the old, pre-European part of the city in the morning and haggle over produce like the most experienced Berber barterer, returning with treasures for which he paid mere pennies. He would then apply the sort of creativity many musicians think is their own exclusive preserve, putting soul-food and traditional Moroccan culinary ideas together with ťlan. Randy would keep putting the mellowest jazz records on his turntable and Azzedin would regale us with tales concerning his latest adventures around town. Once, I remember, he told how he'd taken his conga to sit in with devotees of one of the mystical brotherhoods. "They started going into trance after awhile," he said. "cutting themselves with knives and things. One of them stuck his whole head into the flame of a torch and his beard wasn't even singed. I began to get the idea that I wasn't wanted, so I packed up my drum and split."


There was no such thing as a generation gap around this Weston household. Dad would cook,  gab, and go to bed early, Randy would go to the club and perform with his son, friends would be in and out, and never did I see signs of any misunderstandings due to age or relative experience and inexperience. Several years later Randy gave a party in Queens and again, the generations were at peace. Ed Blackwell, who'd toured Africa with Randy, and a few younger players of post-modernist persuasion were there. J.J, Johnson stopped by. R.E. Weston forced his visitors to down quantities of liquor in the interest of conviviality and then allowed that he never drank himself. Azzedin and his buddies were in and out, along with French visitors, jazz critics, and God knows who else. The scene had been transported from the Arabian nights to the most prosaic urban setting with its soul
and humor intact.


And that's just the way I feel about the music in this album. It has that mixture of modernity and blues roots which Weston admired in Monk's work, and its soul and good humor have survived more than a decade with style and grace. The three sessions are diverse. The Little Niles date features a sextet playing colorful, relatively tightly-knit arrangements. The six tunes from the Five Spot are performed by a much more loosely organized ensemble: the wonderfully authoritative work of Coleman Hawkins and the poignant lyricism of Kenny Dorham are the music's most immediately attractive attributes. In addition to the entire contents of these two LP's, four tunes from Destry Rides Again, featuring a Weston quartet plus four trombones, have been added. The jazzman-plays- show-tunes era may be one many jazzmen would rather forget, but these four selections find Randy in a relaxed, playful mood and afford a rare glimpse of his abilities as an interpreter of other composers material. In addition, the rhythm section features Afro-Cuban percussionist Willie Rodriguez and an exuberant Elvin Jones and in its multi-textured layering and polyrhythmic complexity foreshadows Weston's later use of African Rhythms.


Melba Liston's charts provided an underlying unity for all three dates. She was closely associated with Randy's music at the time, having already worked with Dizzy Gillespie and Gerald Wilson as trombonist and arranger and toured Europe with Quincy Jones. Just as Hall Overton translated Monk's peculiar sonorities into orchestral terms with a fidelity nobody else has been able to match, Melba is the one arranger and orchestrator who has been able to turn horns into an extension of Weston's piano. The arrangements included herein abound with touches that make you want to cry out with pleasure. Some of my favorites include the crystalline intro to "Nice Ice," the way the close voicings and parade drumming interact in a glorious epiphany on "Little Susan," the entwined, hocket-like trombone choir under the piano on "Once Knew A Fella." Another of Melba's trademarks is her fondness for breaking solos down into exchanges a few bars in length, a practice which builds incredible excitement on "Little Niles" and "Hi-Fly." But why don't I stop and let you discover these things for yourself?

1978  Robert Palmer

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