Performance Saturday, March 19, 2016 | 9 PM

Randy Weston's African Rhythms

Randy Weston's 90th Birthday Celebration

Zankel Hall
NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston celebrates his 90th birthday by combining the rich music of Africa with the African-American tradition of jazz, mixing rhythms and melodies into a hybrid music that has been a hallmark of his storied career.

Part of Late Nights at Zankel Hall.


  • Randy Weston's African Rhythms
    ·· Randy Weston, Piano
  • ·· TK Blue, Alto Saxophone and Flute
  • ·· Cándido Camero, Conga Drums
  • ·· Alex Blake, Bass
  • ·· Neil Clarke, African Percussion


  • Randy Weston

    Randy Weston is an internationally renowned pianist, composer, bandleader and cultural ambassador whose compositions encompass the vast rhythmic heritage of Africa. His lifelong connection with African music and culture is due in large part to his father, Frank Edward Weston, who told his son that he was "an African born in America."

    "He told me I had to learn about myself, about him, and about my grandparents," Weston remembers, "and the only way to do it was to go back to the motherland one day."

    On his 1960 album, Uhuru Afrika (for which Langston Hughes wrote the liner notes), Weston composed for large ensemble and employed traditional African percussion and rhythms. His affinity for African music became the force behind dozens of albums released over the following five decades.

    In the late 60s, Weston left the US and moved to Africa. Though he settled in Morocco, he traveled across the continent, tasting the musical fruits of other nations. One of his most memorable experiences was the FESTAC 77 in Nigeria, a festival that drew artists from 60 cultures. "At the end," Weston says, "we all realized that our music was different but the same, because if you take out the African elements of bossa nova, samba, jazz, and blues, you have nothing. To me, it's Mother Africa's way of surviving in the new world."

    After six decades devoted to music, Weston continues to record, teach, and perform throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe. He has also been the recipient of many international awards, including honorary doctorates from Brooklyn College, Colby College, and the New England Conservatory of Music. In 2009, he was added to the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame. Two years later, Weston received a Guggenheim Fellowship; the same year, he was named an Officer of the Order of National Merit by His Majesty the King Mohammed VI of Morocco. In 2014, he received a Doris Duke Artist Award.

    More Info

  • TK Blue

    TK Blue is a musician of the highest caliber who is at the peak of his creative output. His artistry can be found on more than 80 recordings, and his performances include collaborations with Don Cherry, Abdullah Ibrahim, Sam Rivers, Archie Shepp, Dizzy Gillespie, Pharoah Sanders, Melba Liston, Johnny Copeland, Billy Higgins, Reggie Workman, Chico Hamilton, Stefon Harris, Eric Reed, Regina Carter, Bobby McFerrin, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Benny Powell, James Moody, Paquito D'Rivera, and Jimmy Scott.

    In 2007, Blue released Follow the North Star--his eighth CD as a leader. He also received a commission from the New York State Council on the Arts and Transart to compose a piece of music dedicated to the early African-American presence in the Hudson Valley area of Upstate New York; Blue chose to write a suite based on the life of Solomon Northup and his book Twelve Years a Slave.

    Blue released his ninth CD, Latin Bird, on Motema Music in 2011. A short documentary video produced by Brian Grady on the making of Latin Bird was nominated for Short Form Video of the Year by the Jazz Journalist Association. Blue and his Latin Bird band went on to perform at the world-famous Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and with NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston at the DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Fest in Delaware. He also joined vocal legend and NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Scott at Red Rooster Harlem. In January 2014, BluJazz Records released Blue's 10th CD as a leader, A Warm Embrace. He is now composing and arranging music for his 11th.

    TK Blue earned bachelor's degrees in music and psychology from New York University, as well as a master's degree in music education from Teacher's College, Columbia University. He continues to teach and mentor budding musicians at every level from pre-k to graduate.

    More Info

  • Alex Blake

    Alex Blake was born in Panama, where as a child he enjoyed the infusion of cultures common in Central America, before moving to Brooklyn with his family at the age of seven.

    Blake's first instrument was the trumpet. But his father, who was also a musician, had a strong premonition that his son's future would be with the bass--that the instrument would take him all over the world. With that, Blake's father became his first bass teacher.

    Blake began playing bass professionally by the time he was 12, though he continued to study privately with some of the great teachers of stringed instruments, composition, theory, and arranging. He soon began to collaborate with some of the more recognized Afro-Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Latino jazz artists, including Mongo Santamaría, Machito (Mario Bauza), and Celia Cruz, to name a few. By the time he was 16, Blake had reached a new level of success when he started touring and recording with Sun Ra. From there--at only 17--he started to work with Dizzy Gillespie, catapulting his recognition internationally, including requests to perform from Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Randy Weston, and Pharoah Sanders.

    After becoming one of the major players of the fusion movement in the late '70s, Blake established himself as a drummer's bassist: His ability to flow between melodic and extremely rhythmic playing enabled all-star drummers to express themselves without having to worry about keeping anybody else's time.

    The range of Alex Blake's talent continues to be phenomenal, with a plethora of musicians in virtually every musical genre calling upon him for countless recording and touring dates. 

    More Info

  • Neil Clarke

    Neil Clarke has been a student of percussion for more than 40 years. In that time, he has had many great opportunities to study, perform, and collaborate with percussion masters worldwide.

    Clarke's skill and artistry have taken him to Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, and the United States. He has had performing, touring, and recording relationships with many notable artists. In addition to his ongoing collaborations with Randy Weston, Clarke has enjoyed longstanding relationships with artists such as Harry Belafonte, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Dianne Reeves, David Sanborn, Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbulu, Carlos Garnett, Paul Winter, Spirit Ensemble, Tulivu-Donna Cumberbatch, Noel Pointer, and Arthur Prysock, among many others.

    Regardless of where or what the musical genre--folk, jazz, pop, rhythm and blues, gospel, or classical--Clarke is equally at home. He also had the opportunity to perform in the Broadway production of Timbuktu! and in the feature film Beat Street, as well as making numerous television appearances on both network and cable presentations.

    More Info

Jeff Tamarkin on Randy Weston

When Randy Weston was a young man growing up in Brooklyn, his father insisted that he study two things: the piano and Africa. Today, as he approaches his 90th birthday on April 6, Weston is still learning about both.

“My pop decided he wanted his son to be a piano player,” says Weston, who performs in Zankel Hall on March 19. “I was very tall for my age—six feet when I was 12 years old—and I wanted to play basketball and football. Pop said, ‘No, you practice that piano.’”

Weston began creating an extensive and highly regarded body of work fusing jazz—his major influences include Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk—with traditional African music more than a half-century ago, featured on albums such as Uhuru Afrika and African Cookbook. Visiting Nigeria in the early ’60s
and later living in Morocco, he was able to fully immerse himself into the culture and history of the continent. “You never really learn Africa—you just take what you can,” he says. “I was hanging out with traditional people, seeing how they view the importance of music. You realize how little you know.

“The whole human race comes from Africa,” he adds. “Everybody on the planet’s got African blood. It’s a big secret, but once that comes out, we might be a little better. We’re all related to each other. And music was started in Africa by people who knew the language of the birds and the animals. It’s so important to know that because it gives a better appreciation of this music that we all love.”

Once he’d begun learning the history of the African people—and, in particular,
slavery—it didn’t take long for Weston to trace the path of African music directly into that of jazz. “Our ancestors brought this music with them,” he says. “People like Louis Armstrong approached life as Africans. When you hear the traditional way of life, you can understand why.”

Named an NEA Jazz Master in 2001, Randy Weston surmises that his greatest contribution to the music is “recognizing that great people were taken from Africa and gave us so much spirituality and love in the world, despite their condition and their pain. I was with the Africans in Brazil,” he says, “and you’ve got the ones in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica. Wherever they are, they have different rhythms, but the pulse is always there. I’ll always be a baby with this music.”

—Jeff Tamarkin is the associate editor of JazzTimes magazine.

This concert and The Shape of Jazz series are made possible by The Joyce and George Wein Foundation in memory of Joyce Wein.
Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with Absolutely Live Entertainment LLC.
This performance is part of The Shape of Jazz.