Pianist and Composer Randy Weston, at 91, Keeps Exploring an African Groove

Apr 6, 2017

Randy Weston
Credit Carol Friedman

Randy Weston, the powerfully expressive pianist, composer and NEA Jazz Master, turned 91 on Thursday, though he gives the impression of someone at least a decade younger. He’s celebrating his birthday on the bandstand, with a four-night Jazz Standard engagement that draws from an ambitious new double album, The African Nubian Suite.

“When you go to Africa, you become very humble,” Weston told Sheila Anderson in a recent Salon Session at WBGO. “You realize that you are from thousands and thousands of years of civilization, and how much we have to learn from these people.”

During the conversation, which took place on March 3, Weston discussed his eye-opening experiences in Africa, as well as his historic collaborations with trombonist and arranger Melba Liston and poet Langston Hughes, among others. He also performed several compositions at the piano, including “Niger Mambo,” by Bobby Benson, and his own classic “Blue Moses.”

The African Nubian Suite, Weston’s 50th album, and the first on his own African Rhythms label, was supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship. Recorded in concert in 2012 at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, it features narration by the scholar Wayne Chandler and poetry by the late Jayne Cortez.

At the Jazz Standard, Weston will lead his African Rhythms Quintet, with TK Blue on alto saxophone and flute, Alex Blake on bass, Lewis Nash on drums and Neil Clarke on African hand percussion. Each night will bring at least one featured guest; on Thursday they include the great Cuban conguero (and NEA Jazz Master) Candido Camero, the trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater and the pipa virtuoso Min Xiao-Fen. Friday’s guests are Howard Johnson on tuba and Kwaku on balafon.

For reservations and more information about the run, see jazzstandard.com.

Weston and his African Rhythms ensemble will also appear at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, on April 23, and at the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. on April 29. For more information, visit randyweston.info