By Erica Fox
RANDY WESTON 1926 - 2018
"Death does not sound like a trumpet" -African Proverb
For jazz pianist and composer, Randy Reston felt Africa was the wellspring of music – the spiritual and rhythmic source of various genres such as African American spirituals, bossa nova, samba and especially jazz!
Randy Weston died at the seasoned age of 92 on September 1, 2018 at his home in Brooklyn, New York. He was one of the chief ambassadors for traditional African music in the United States. He was an advocate for incorporating that continent’s rhythms, and call-and-response patterns in albums that brought in a new era of intercontinental fusion.
Weston had a well-deserved six-decade career that found him rubbing elbows with the likes of pianist Eddie Heywood, drummer Max Roach and trumpeter Miles Davis. Bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik introduced Weston to Middle Eastern and North African instruments. His breakout song was “Hi-Fly,” which Weston described as a “tale of being my height and looking down at the ground,” due to him being a giant 6-foot-7 inches tall! It has become a jazz standard for the jazz greats to record such as Art Blakey, Jon Hendricks, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme’ and Cannonball Adderly. He released his debut album in 1954, “Cole Porter in a Modern Mood.”
According to the Washington Post, Mr. Weston surprised some critics, and many of his listeners, when he turned toward a more African-inflected sound, beginning with his 1960 album “Uhuru Afrika” (Swahili for “Freedom Africa”). Recorded with a 24-piece band, the record featured lyrics and an opening poem by his friend Langston Hughes, who wrote of freedom from colonial rule and empowerment for African women — leading South Africa’s apartheid government to ban the record, along with an album by singer and civil rights activist Lena Horne. Mr. Weston had not yet visited Africa at the time of the album’s release (Harrison Smith, Washington Post). His final album is titled, “The African Nubian Suite,” and was released in 2016. It was Weston’s 50th album. In 2001, he was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Weston is survived by his wife of 17 years, the former Fatoumata Mbengue, and said the cause of his death was not immediately known. Additional survivors include three daughters, Cheryll Weston Farella of Mountainville, N.Y., and Pam Weston and Kim Moran Weston, both of New York City; seven grandchildren, six great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild. His son died in 2007.
"Our Roots (Began in Africa)" - Pharoah Sanders