03/18/13 By Jon Muchin
New England Conservatory Presents "African Rhythms" - Rare Boston-Area Performance by Legendary Pianist/Composer Randy Weston
In Concert with the NEC Jazz Orchestra Under the Direction of Ken Schaphorst on Thursday, April 18 in Jordan Hall
“…(one) of the most powerful, percussive pianists alive…and also one of the most joyous.” — Lloyd Sachs, Chicago Sun Times
“Weston has the biggest sound of any jazz pianist since Ellington and Monk, as well as the richest most inventive beat…but his art is more than projection and time; it's the result of a studious and inspired intelligence...an intelligence that is creating a fresh synthesis of African elements with jazz technique." — jazz critic Stanley Crouch
New England Conservatory presents a rare Boston-area performance featuring the legendary jazz pianist and composer Randy Weston in African Rhythms, a concert with the NEC Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Ken Schaphorst, at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, 2013 in Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough Street, Boston. The concert is free and open to the public. Go to www.necmusic.edu or call 617-585-1260 for more details.
The concert, which will be the culmination of Weston’s residency at NEC, will include many of Weston’s most well-known compositions including “African Village/Bedford-Stuyvesant,” “African Sunrise,” “Bantu,” “Blues to Africa,” “Hi-Fly,” “In Memory Of,” “Little Niles,” “Sweet Meat,” and “The Last Day.”
Throughout much of his career, Weston collaborated with trombonist/arranger Melba Liston. All of the compositions featured on the concert are Liston arrangements, drawn from some of Weston’s most notable recordings: “Uhuru Africa” (1960), “Highlife” (1963), Tanjah (1973), and ”Spirits of Our Ancestors” (1991).
Weston will return to New England Conservatory in May to receive an honorary Doctor of Music degree.
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1926, Randy Weston didn't have to travel far to hear the early jazz giants that were to influence him. Though Weston cites Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Art Tatum and of course Duke Ellington as his other piano heroes, it was Thelonious Monk who had the greatest impact. “He was the most original I ever heard,” Weston remembers. “He played like they must have played in Egypt 5000 years ago.” Riverside Records released Weston’s first recording as a leader, Cole Porter in a Modern Mood, in 1954. It was in the 1950s when Weston played around New York with Cecil Payne and Kenny Dorham that he wrote many of his best loved tunes: “Saucer Eyes,” “Pam's Waltz,” “Little Niles,” and, “Hi-Fly.” His greatest hit, “Hi-Fly,” Weston (who is 6' 8") says, is a “tale of being my height and looking down at the ground.”
Weston has never failed to make the connections between African and American music. His dedication 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 and about him and about my grandparents,” Weston said in an interview, “and the only way to do it was I'd have to go back to the motherland one day.” In 1967 Weston traveled throughout Africa with a U.S. cultural delegation. The last stop of the tour was Morocco, where he decided to settle, running his African Rhythms Club from 1967 to 1972. As Howard Reich writes in the Chicago Tribune: “When a brilliant jazz artist explores the sounds of another culture, he can change the course of music history.”
Weston has earned numerous awards and honors including a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the French Order of Arts and Letters, honorary degrees from Colby College and Brooklyn College, a place on the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame, a 5-night tribute at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, and Moroccan King Mohammed VI's Honor for Weston’s commitment to Morocco's Gnawa Music Tradition.
New England Conservatory’s Jazz Studies Department was the first fully accredited jazz studies program at a music conservatory. The brainchild of Gunther Schuller who moved quickly to incorporate jazz into the curriculum when he became President of the Conservatory in 1967, the unprecedented program was approved by the National Association of Schools of Music and began offering classes in September 1969. Closely allied to the Jazz Studies program was his Third Stream department (now Contemporary Improvisation), which came along a few years later, building bridges between classical music, jazz and related genres.
Jazz Studies faculty has included Carl Atkins, Jaki Byard, Jimmy Giuffre, six MacArthur “Genius” grant recipients (Steve Lacy, George Russell, Ran Blake, Gunther Schuller, Miguel Zenón and Jason Moran) and four NEA Jazz Masters (Schuller, Bob Brookmeyer, Russell and Ron Carter). Current faculty, led by Jazz Studies Chair Ken Schaphorst, are among the most distinguished jazz artists of today: Jerry Bergonzi, Ran Blake, Luis Bonilla, Anthony Coleman, Dominique Eade, Billy Hart, Fred Hersch, Dave Holland, Cecil McBee, Donny McCaslin, John McNeil, Jason Moran, Bob Moses, Brad Shepik and Miguel Zenon, among others.
Prominent NEC alumni include Darcy James Argue, Bruce Barth, Richie Barshay, Don Byron, Regina Carter, Freddy Cole, Marilyn Crispell, Dave Douglas, Marty Ehrlich, Ricky Ford, Satoko Fujii, Jerome Harris, Fred Hersch, Roger Kellaway, Mat Maneri, Harvey Mason, Andy McGhee, Bill McHenry, John Medeski, Vaughn Monroe, Michael Moore, Noah Preminger, Jamie Saft, George Schuller, Luciana Souza, Chris Speed, Cecil Taylor, Daniel Tepfer, Cuong Vu, Phil Wilson, Bo Winiker, Bernie Worrell and Rachel Z. As of the 2012-2013 school year, the program has 61 undergraduate and 45 graduate students representing 12 countries.
Founded in 1972 by musical visionaries Gunther Schuller and Ran Blake, New England Conservatory's Contemporary Improvisation program celebrates its 40th anniversary in the 2012-2013 season with a series of events in Boston and New York City. NEC’s CI Program trains creative musicians to broaden their musical palettes and develop unique voices as composer/performer/ improvisers and is unparalleled for its structured approach to ear training and its emphasis on singing, memorization, harmonic sophistication, aesthetic integrity, and stylistic openness. Under Blake's guidance for its first twenty-six years, the program expanded its offerings under subsequent chairs Allan Chase and Hankus Netsky. Alumni include clarinetist/composer Don Byron, keyboardist John Medeski, pianist Jacqueline Schwab, and vocalist Aoife O'Donovan; faculty include violinist Carla Kihlstedt, iconic improvisational pianist Blake, vocalist Dominique Eade, and pianist/composer/ improviser Anthony Coleman. Appearing at a departmental event in the fall of 2011 that included world music, chamber music and free improvisation, Gunther Schuller, who coined the term "Third Stream" in the 1950s and articulated the idea of the "Complete Musician" during his presidency at NEC remarked: "I feel that my vision for this department has now been realized." The program currently has 43 undergrad and graduate students from 15 countries.
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