Randy Weston joins EMCVPA in celebrating Int'l Jazz Day
Born in Brooklyn, with a Jamaican-Panamanian father, an American mother and a tremendous love for Africa (especially its music), Randy Weston can claim to be a citizen of the world. He's also an acclaimed musical visionary, pianist and composer who, for well over half a century, has been travelling the world to share his talent.
That's why the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) invited him to lead a few dozen other musicians associated with the college (current or past students or faculty), in celebrating International Jazz Day 2018. The celebration was a concert on the east lawn of Devon House on Monday evening, where scores of persons attended the nearly four-hour-long event.
Many left during or soon after the intermission, maybe because it was a Monday. The length
and complexity of Weston's composition took most of the second half of the show. Whereas each of the 10 sets in the first half lasted between five and 10 minutes (with all but one closer to five than 10), Weston's four tunes lasted about 20 minutes each. It's worth noting that on his albums on sale at the event, the tunes run half the time. Evidently, a lot of improvisation takes place at Weston's live shows.
Commenting on the exodus after the first half, one patron complained about the short attention span of Jamaican music lovers, but if that is a fact, the EMCVPA organisers should take it into account for next year's Jazz Day. Putting a 'long-metre man' like Weston on stage late on a work night is not a good idea.
Happily, those who stayed enjoyed Weston's tunes, which, with Weston on piano, Alex Blake on double bass and Neil Clarke on percussion, included African Cookbook, African Sunrise and Blue Moses.
They began with Weston playing his notes simply, meditatively - meandering like a small stream through some African terrain. Soon, though, the other instruments come in and the stream becomes a mighty, tumultuous river, full of rocks and waterfalls. Focus is needed to navigate the wild waters, but the view the music conjures up is enchanting - the entire experience euphoric.
Weston's piano style owes much to Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, and he has paid tribute to both on his albums. Still, he has his own distinctive style, and on Monday night he gave thanks to his African travels and studies for it.
Weston's most recent release is An African Nubian Suite (2017), a two CD recording of a sold-out concert at the Institute of African-American Affairs of New York University in 2012 - it features an international cast of performers. His numerous awards include two honorary Doctor of Music degrees - from Colby College in 2012 and New England Conservatory of music in Boston in 2013.
Last year, he received the 'Legends of Jazz' award from the National Jazz Museum of Harlem, and he celebrated his 90th birthday in 2016 with a concert at Carnegie Hall.
The many fine local musicians featured in the concert included Marjorie Whylie, Jon Williams, Ibo Cooper, Orville Hammond, Rafael Salazar, Dale Haslam, Jeremy Moder Ashbourne and June Lawson. Their varied performances were enthusiastically applauded. In addition to the performances, the audience also enjoyed watching four students from the School of Art work on jazz-inspired paintings, which were to be auctioned.