African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston
Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., Dec. 10, 2010
African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Westonby Randy Weston, arranged by Willard Jenkins
Duke University Press, 352 pp., $32.95
No one has done more to explore and celebrate the African roots of jazz than pianist/composer Randy Weston. Considering himself "an African born and living in America," Weston demonstrates a pride in his ancestry and culture that is both the primary source of his artistic inspiration and the central theme that suffuses this fascinating autobiography. Now 84 and riding the success of a new live album, The Storyteller (Motéma Music), Weston's career has been both typical and extraordinary. Raised on the streets of Brooklyn's renowned Bed-Stuy neighborhood by a father of Jamaican descent, his music first blossomed while working resorts in the Berkshire Mountains. He parlayed an early interest in African culture into touring the continent under the aegis of the U.S. State Department. While many of his peers expatriated to Europe in the 1960s, Weston moved to Morocco, opening a popular jazz club and developing deep musical, cultural, and emotional ties, especially to the people of Gnawa. For decades his recording projects, many examined here, have exuded an unabashedly Afro-centric sensibility. Weston refers to himself as "a storyteller through music" rather than a jazz musician. He's unsurpassed as a goodwill ambassador.