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Pianist Weston blends African with American

| Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Carol Fridman
Pianist Randy Weston

Pianist Randy Weston says his inquiring mind about music comes from being “spoiled” in a positive way.

“I was spoiled by love and an attention to culture,” he says of his childhood in Brooklyn.

Weston says those two elements fueled his fascination with the music of Africa, which has shaped the current direction of what he plays and writes. Weston and his African Rhythms Quintet perform Oct. 26 at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side. With him will be saxophonist-flutist T.K. Blue, bassist Alex Blake, percussionist Neil Clarke and trombonist Benny Powell.

Weston, 87, studied piano as a child at “50 cents a lesson,” he recalls.

After serving in the Army in World War II, he began his career in the bebop era in the late ”40s and soon moved into the hard-bop years that followed. His most famous song, “Hi-Fly,” has become a jazz classic, but his career has been guided by the words of his father.

“He said, ‘You are an African who was born in America, and you need to go to Africa to find out what your people are all about,' ” Weston says.

His father, a Panamanian of African descent, and mother, from Virginia, were fascinated by music and all forms of culture, Weston says.

“We had all the best stuff around the house, whether it was opera, blues or jazz.”

He says he also encountered music in churches in Brooklyn and from unlikely sources such as “shoeshine boys who would be whistling a Charlie Parker solo.”

He put together his love of music and the words of his father when he was sent to Africa in 1967 in a State Department-led jazz tour.

“I was able to explore the music of the Sahara, the Berbers, the cities, and to see how different it all is,” he says. “It made me more aware of Africa, how huge it is, how varied it is, and how little we know about it.”

He lived, performed and studied African culture in Morocco from 1967 to 1972. Since then, his work has shown many elements of African culture. His playing is greatly shaped by the rhythms produced in the band.

The work has led to many honorary doctorates and being named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.

He says his exploration of African music also led him to believe all forms of the art are related and come from the same basic influences, whether it is the jazz of Duke Ellington or the rondos of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

“It is all different, but it is all the same,” he says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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