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Jazz legend to perform Saturday

Renowned pianist Randy Weston incorporates African culture, history into jazz music

At 91 years old, pianist Randy Weston remains a dynamic and distinguished figure in the world of jazz music.

Weston will visit the University this Saturday for a concert with the World Music Ensemble. Weston will be joined by Kwaku Obeng, teaching associate in music and the director of the World Music Ensemble, who will be playing percussion.

“It is a very eclectic concert. The program has songs from all sorts of traditions,” said Dana Gooley, an associate professor in the music department and one of the principal organizers of the event. But all songs incorporate African influences and percussion, he added.

Weston is distinguished for both his innovative compositions and interest in the connection between African culture and American music, particularly jazz.

Gooley called Weston “an extraordinary jazz pianist” influenced by Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. “There (are) a lot of great players who are not well known as composers, but he’s known as both.”

Weston said he was deeply interested in traditional African music and how it has influenced music worldwide.

“You can see where our culture comes from,” Weston added. “You call it jazz, you call it blues … all those titles. But it’s the African pulse that makes this music so unique and so rich. For me, it’s just a continuation of African civilization, that should have died after the slave trade, but was so beautiful and so powerful it influenced the entire world.”

Having travelled to most African countries, Weston has had a long history of playing with and learning from traditional African musicians.

“He was a real pioneer of jazz and African musicians coming together and playing and making a kind of collective musical product out of two traditions that are close but not identical,” Gooley added, noting the importance of Weston’s 1960 suite titled “Uhuru Afrika,” which translates to “Africa Freedom.” 

“That suite was a statement for the freedom of the African continent during the period of decolonization,” Gooley said.

“I look at myself as a member of planet Earth. All the music belongs to me, even if I don’t understand it, so I play music from China … from India and all the world. Because in all the world, music is our first language,” Weston said. “It’s like the music teaches you that we’re one planet and one people, despite all of this emphasis on divided human beings.”

“In the West, everything is composed,” said Martin Obeng, who has performed and travelled with Weston in the past. “When we come to folk music, that’s totally different. When you listen to blues and many other cultures, it’s not about who composed what, it’s about how the people came together and made that music.”

In addition to the concert on Saturday,  Weston will work with the student jazz band. There will also be a lecture by Weston and a screening of a documentary about his life and music on Friday at 3:00 p.m. in the Martinos Auditorium in the Granoff Center.


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