In 1972, when Randy Weston returned from over five years living in Africa, he no longer played the piano as a Western instrument. As he told interviewers often over the years, he had reconceptualized the piano as an “African instrument,” essentially a combination between a harp and a drum. This new understanding of the piano is reflected in Randy’s entire body of work from that point onwards—from his grand imaginings, like Blues to Africa, African Rhythms and The African Nubian Suite, to his memorable collaborations with African musicians, especially Gnawa spirit healers of Morocco. Perhaps more than any American jazz artist of his time, Weston fully immersed himself in the cultures of the continent, and embraced their deep and mysterious manifestations in American music. We know that many in the Afropop community are feeling a great sense of loss since Randy died peacefully in his sleep last Saturday at age 92. Another legend gone.
Randy was a phenomenal composer, pianist and Africanist. He adored and revered Africa and was among the first jazz artists to insist that jazz was fundamentally an African music. He gave Afropop a long interview on this and other subjects at his Brooklyn home, and that interview became the core of a favorite Afropop program, “Spirits of the Ancestors with Randy Weston.”
Randy exemplified what Afropop is all about—the realization that African musicality is not something exotic and far away, but a basic part of our cultural nature as Americans. No surprise that he served as a member of the Afropop Worldwide board for over 20 years. Down through those years, we were graced with Randy’s presence at a number of Afropop events, including the night he came to a party and sat close to take in a performance by singer Khaira Arby of Timbuktu, another legend who recently left us. Randy was beaming that entire night. He was a profound lover of traditional African music, which he saw as the deepest root of the world’s greatest music.
We thank you, Randy, for your encouragement and support over the many years we were privileged to know you! And thank you for your unique take on jazz, and for the consciousness you brought to the world. You will be greatly missed.
Sean Barlow and Banning Eyre