Randy Weston The African Nubian Suite NEA Jazz Master, iconic pianist and composer, and still-vital jazz elder Randy Weston, at 90, remains a powerful force in jazz. Currently serving as artist-in-residence at Medgar Evers College at the City University of New York; celebrated earlier this month at Harvard University, which has acquired his archive; and named a United States Artists (USA) Fellow last week, Weston is now preparing to release a new recording on his African Rhythms label. The 2-CD set, The African Nubian Suite, captures a concert presented at New York University's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts by the Institute of African American Affairs on Easter Sunday 2012 and will be released by African Rhythms on January 20, 2017.
The African Nubian Suite lays out the history of the human race in music and words. Weston and narrator Wayne Chandler trace it back to Ardi, a woman who walked upright 4.4 million years ago in Nubia, a region along the Nile River that straddles parts of what are today Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia.
"In one single work," Robin D.G. Kelley writes in the booklet notes, "Weston manages to pay tribute to the ancient tombs of Sidi Bilal in Aswan, the sufi tradition, the holy city of Touba in Senegal, China's great Shang Dynasty, African folk music, the timeless history of the blues, and the unity of humankind."
Weston was joined in a circle at the sold-out concert by a remarkably diverse, truly international cast of performers. A few played without accompaniment, others as duos, trios, and larger ensembles. They include trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, trombonist Robert Trowers, tuba player Howard Johnson, saxophonist-flutist T.K. Blue, tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, bassist Alex Blake, drummer Lewis Nash, conguero Candido (who, at 94, is four years older than Weston), nefer player Ayodele Maakheru, guimbry player Lhoussine Bouhamidy from Morocco, kora player and vocalist Saliou Souso from Gambia, balafon player Martin Kwaku Obeng from Ghana, pipa player and vocalist Min Xiao-Fen from China, singer Tanpani Demda Cissoko from Mali, African-American percussionists Neil Clarke and Ayanda Clarke, and the late poet Jayne Cortez.
"The suite is saying, 'Let's start with our first mama,'" Weston explains. "The whole idea is that we're all so different on this planet, but in reality, we all look alike. If you look at the flowers and look at the insects, Mother Nature paints all the colors of her subjects. One is brown. This one is black. Whatever. We've got one nose, one mouth. The whole idea is we all come from the same place. We all come from Africa. It's scientifically true, culturally true."
Weston adds: "I feel that this is the kind of work that should be in the schools, in the churches, in the cultural centers, the kind of work for all people to listen to and read about, because it will give us a better understanding of Mother Africa."
Today, the Brooklyn resident continues to tour throughout the United States and overseas. He holds honorary Doctor of Music degrees from Colby College, Brooklyn College, and the New England Conservatory of Music; was artist-in-residence at NYU, the New School earlier this year, and currently at Medgar Evers College at the City University of New York. In 2010 Duke University Press published African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston, composed by Randy Weston and arranged by Willard Jenkins. Weston is a Fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation and a Grant recipient of the Doris Duke Foundation; he was honored by King Mohammed VI of Morocco, and his decades of work -- including scores, correspondence, photographs, and recordings -- are now archived at Harvard University as the Randy Weston Collection. In 2016 Weston was voted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame.
Weston's African Rhythms Trio will perform at Aimé Césaire Performance Hall in Martinique on Friday 11/25. Weston conducts an African Rhythms Masterclass ("A Spiritual Awakening"), featuring Eddie Palmieri, at Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn, NY, 11/29. The Randy Weston African Rhythms Quintet appears at Dizzy's, NYC, Friday through Sunday 12/2-4. A CD release show for The African Nubian Suite in New York City is in the works.