Randy Weston

Randy Weston

Fellow: Awarded 2011
Field of Study: Music Composition

Competition: US & Canada

Randy Weston is an internationally renowned pianist, composer, bandleader, and cultural ambassador, whose compositions encompass the vast rhythmic heritage of Africa. Still a true innovator and visionary after six decades of active work, Randy Weston continues to inform and inspire.

Randy Weston was born April 6, 1926, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a Jamaican father and a mother from Virginia. As a boy he didn’t have to travel far to hear the early jazz giants that were to influence him. Although Weston cites Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Art Tatum as piano heroes, it was Thelonious Monk who had the greatest impact. ”He was the most original I ever heard,” Mr. Weston remembers. “He played like they must have played in Egypt 5000 years ago.”

Weston’s lifelong connection with African music and culture is due in large part to his father, Frank Edward Weston, who told his son that he was “an African born in America.” “He told me I had to learn about myself, about him, and about my grandparents,” stated Weston, “and the only way to do it was I’d have to go back to the motherland one day.”

In 1960, inspired by Nigeria’s newly won independence from the United Kingdom, Weston began to experiment with elements of tribal music as well as those of High Life, Nigerian pop music. On his 1960 album Uhuru Afrika (for which Langston Hughes wrote the liner notes), Weston composed for large ensemble and employed traditional African percussion and rhythms as a framework for a jazz suite. Weston’s affinity for African music became the force behind dozens of albums released over the past five decades. During that time, he has never failed to make the connection between African and American music.

In the late 1960s, Weston left the United States, but instead of moving to Europe like so many of his contemporaries, Weston went to Africa. Although he settled in Morocco, he traveled throughout the continent tasting the musical fruits of other nations. One of his most memorable experiences was the 1977 Nigerian Festival, which drew artists from sixty cultures. “At the end,” Weston says, “we all realized that our music was different but the same, because if you take out the African elements of bossa nova, samba, jazz, blues, you have nothing. To me, it’s Mother Africa’s way of surviving in the new world.”

After six decades devoted to music, Randy Weston continues to record, teach and perform throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe. In 2006 he performed at the Pan African Dance Festival as Cultural Ambassador for the World Culture Open in Kigali, Rwanda. That same year he performed at the Panama Jazz Festival in Panama City and at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with his Quartet and the BBC Big Band in London. He had the honor of playing at the in Kamigamo Shrine in 2008. In 2010 he celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Uhuru Africa recording with a concert celebration.

Randy Weston has been the recipient of many awards, including an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Brooklyn College, City University of New York, in June 2006. In 2009, he was added to the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame. On May 11, 2011, Randy received the award of Royal Wissam of National Merit of the Order of Officer by command of His Majesty the King Mohammed VI of Morocco for his lifelong engagement with Morocco. African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston, composed by Randy Weston, arranged by Willard Jenkins, was published in 2010.

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