Text by Augusta Palmer
It’s rare to have the opportunity to listen to a conversation that is deeply intellectual, profoundly spiritual, and laced throughout with laughter. The Greene Space event “Cornel West and Randy Weston: Jazzmen in the World of Ideas,” ably moderated by Terrance McKnight, was just such a conversation. A lot of ground was covered: the nights a Harvard-educated West slept in Central Park because he was “broke as the 10 Commandments”; the inspiration to become an “Africanist in every sense” that Weston received from his Marcus Garvey-inspired father as well as his encounters with Morocco’s Gnawa, who once put him into a trance that lasted for 2 weeks; the impact of the prison-industrial complex; and the current prevalence of what West referred to as “the 11th Commandment: Do not get caught!”
West also spoke eloquently about his early fascination with music, sports, and girls, as well as his tendency to identify with the underdog, and his grade-school experiences with the redistribution of wealth – in the form of tuna sandwiches. He spoke eloquently of Blues and Jazz as the best responses to terrorism, because they are the creation of “a terrorized, traumatized people who decided to lift every voice and sing.”
The actress Tamela Aldridge started the evening with beautiful readings from Cornel West’s Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, which was recently issued in paperback and Randy Weston’s African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston (written in collaboration with Willard Jenkins), which has just come out in hard cover. Weston’s autobiography is an amazing ride. It takes readers from his upbringing in 1930s Brooklyn, through Weston’s first trip to Africa in 1961, and his continuing love affair with the continent that all of our ancestors emerged from. Along the way, the reader meets Weston’s friends and mentors, giants of jazz like Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, and Duke Ellington, to name a few. Thankfully, Weston also sat down at the piano to play “High Fly” and the Gnawa-inspired “Blue Moses.” A grand piano in Tribeca may seem awfully far away from Gnawa castanets in Marrakesh’s Djemaa el Fna, but Weston’s playing takes you there effortlessly.
The Tribeca Performing Arts Center venue is an intimate, beautiful space which will also be the venue for the 50th Anniversary performance of Uhuru Afrika, an amazing four-part suite composed by Mr. Weston and arranged by Melba Liston, with lyrics by Langston Hughes. The performance on Saturday November 13th will feature three performers from the original 1960 recording: Mr. Weston on piano, Charlie Persip on drums, and the legendary Candido on Cuban percussion.
I’ve only skimmed the surface of this 80-minute event, but you can view a video of the entire conversation here:
Randy Weston speaks about his autobiography:
More info on Uhuru Africa:
Please read more about Randy Weston by Augusta Palmer: http://www.doobeedoobeedoo.info/2010/03/19/taking-flight-with-randy-weston-george-wein-at-symphony-space/