T.K. Blue Explores the Legacy of Randy Weston

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T.K. Blue became music director and arranger for pianist Randy Weston in 1989.

(Photo: Enid Farber)

T.K. Blue never will forget the first time he heard pianist Randy Weston perform. Especially because when he found himself at The East, a Brooklyn-based arts education center that held jazz concerts on the weekends, he thought he was going to see Ramsey Lewis.

“When I got there, it was Randy Weston!” Blue remembered, with a laugh. “I had never heard of him. He came out with his son [Azzedin Weston] on congas, and it was quite mesmerizing. I had never heard that kind of symmetry between two musicians. I was so attracted to what he was doing musically.”

So much so that some time later, at a 1980 event raising funds for the fight against apartheid in South Africa, Blue boldly asked if he could sit in with Weston.

“And the very first tune that I ever played with him was ‘Hi-Fly,’” Blue said. “And all I had was my piccolo at the time. He said, ‘High-flying piccolo. Let’s do it.’”

The two went on to play many more songs together. Blue joined Weston’s backing band, African Rhythms, and took on the role of music director and arranger for the group in 1989, positions that the saxophonist and flutist held until the pianist’s death on Sept. 1, 2018. During that time, they developed the kind of tight friendship that comes from creating art together. And it’s that relationship that inspired Blue to pay tribute to Weston on his latest album, The Rhythms Continue (JAJA).

It’s as warmhearted and spirited as the musician it honors. Recorded over the course of a single day this past February, the record spins from Blue’s originals, which range from funk-infused swing to powerful balladry, to an array of Weston tunes that show off his early days as a bebop pioneer to the growing influence of African and Asian sounds on the pianist’s work.

The album also boasts an impressive roster of players. Some were former collaborators of Weston’s, like African Rhythms members Alex Blake and Neil Clarke, and Chinese pipa player Min Xiao Fen. Others were friends or just lucky enough to be mentored by him, like the many pianists who appear throughout, including Kelly Green, Mike King and, on the majority of the tracks, Sharp Radway.

“We come from the same roots,” Radway said of Weston. “We both really loved Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. Randy played in church. I played in church. We both come from similar cultures. His father was born in Jamaica and my parents are from there. We share the same love of Africa and African music. As a result, we approach the piano the same way.”

A key aim of The Rhythms Continue is to paint as complete a picture of Weston’s musical legacy as possible. To do so, Blue also chose a handful of compositions by Melba Liston, the groundbreaking trombonist who was Weston’s chief arranger for the better part of 30 years.

“I knew Melba before Randy,” Blue said. “I got to know her through Patti Bown, when they were both members of Quincy Jones’ big band. I used to go up to her house and pick her brain about things. So, I knew I wanted to honor her and have some female energy on the album.”

That energy and those songs are welcome additions and wind up having the effect of turning the spotlight back to Weston, helping to highlight the generosity and boldness that he exuded for the entirety of his 92 years.

“He touched me and he touched the lives of so many people,” Blue said. “Especially in situations of adversity. A lot of guys would be in a negative situation and come to him for sympathy, and before you know it, he has you laughing. Because he makes you realize that the thing you’re bummed about, in the context of life, is really not that important.” DB




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September 2020
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