RANDY WESTON Plays: Cole Porter in a Modern Mood
Randy Weston (p) accompanied by Sam Gil (b):
in a modern jazz interpretations of eight favorites by a great American composer.
New York; April 27, 1954
1 What Is This Thing Called Love? (2'52")
2 I Love You (2'59")
3 Night and Day (3'35")
4 I Get A Kick Out of You (3'10")
5 In the Still Of The Night (4'42")
6 Get Out of Town (4'30")
7 Just One of Those Things (4'30")
8 I've Got You Under My Skin (3'08")
This album introduces an exciting new jazz talent: a pianist whose musical concepts are thoroughly "modern", yet who also possesses one skill that has been a fundamental since the earliest days of jazz - the ability to lay down a firm, true beat.
The music of Cole Porter has been put to many uses, but hardly ever can it have been removed so far from its standard settings in the suave slickness of musical comedy or as background for cocktail-lounge conversation. But in this LP the intention is quite different. Here, these familiar Porter tunes serve to showcase the brilliant jazz ideas of RANDY WESTON.
Regardless of how the composer might feel about it, there's a definite compliment being paid him. Jazz improvisation in any style benefits by starting from a strong base, and Weston has discovered a richness and firmness in the melody and structure of this Porter repertoire that provides a very rewarding jumping-off place for his own imaginative jazz interpretations. Most of these are quite well-known numbers, and the choice is both intentional and valuable. For, quite fundamentally, it's a great help to a listener to be aware of just what the starting point is from which a musician begins his improvisatory light. Lack of initial identification can be a serious drawback, as far as the essential matter of communication between a jazzman and his audience is concerned. In brief: if they don't know where you came from how can they know where you're at and where you're going.
For such reasons, there has come about this unique combination: memorable Cole Porter songs placed in a fresh context by the mind and fingers of a richly promising young jazz artist.
Randy Weston is also uniquely striking in appearance. As the photograph on the cover may indicate, he's very probably the only pianist with the problem of fitting in full six foot, seven inches of height at the keyboard. He was born in Brooklyn in 1926. It was his father who persuaded him to start studying music, and (except for a couple of years in the Army, followed by some brief indecision about returning to a jazz career) Randy has been playing piano steadily since he was 15. It's safe to easy that from the start there was little question as to what his path in jazz would be. For like is many others of his generation, Weston grew up with a strong awareness of the music of those groups that helped pave the way for modern jazz: the big bands of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Earl Hines (all, of course, led by pianists). Like so many others, the first piano soloist he was conscious of was Art Tatum. And when he first began to think of himself as a musician, it was the early '40s, and there was Manhattan's 52nd Street, just beginning to turn into the first downtown stronghold of the new jazz form they were calling "be-bop."
Just about everyone was playing on "The Street" then, but for Randy there was, above all, Coleman Hawkins. Actually, he tried briefly to play piano with phrasing patterned after the Hawk's born, but soon recognized that "it just didn't fit." But the great tenor stars band in those days included a good many able young musicians; in particular, a steady flow of remarkable piano men, all of whom Randy listened to often and was impressed by: Thelonious Monk, Hank Jones, Eddie Heywood, Sir Charles Thompson. He credits all of these as "influences" on hi style, although it's clear enough that the impact of Monk was (and still is) most significant.
Although slow in returning to music after having been cut off from it during military service, Weston was back at the piano in earnest by 1950. By this time there were Bud Powell, Duke Jordan, and the brilliant pianist-arranger John Lewis to be added to his list of "influences." The quotation marks continue to go around that word because it's Randy's own term, and matically and perhaps more often than is really accurate one that an aware young musician is apt to use auto - Of course any young artist - particularly one coming along at a time when a new approach to jazz and to his instrument is just braking forth - hears many players, is awed and impressed by more than a few. Inevitably, almost all contribute something to his own approach, although it may be far more a matter of inspiration or instruction (a specific concept grasped, or a bit of technique mastered) than of literal "influence" on sound or phrasing, or on overall style. Since few if any musicians can function effectively in a vacuum, a young pianist like Weston is bound to reflect in some way the slightly older generation from whom he absorbed first principles and the contemporaries with whom he consorts and competes. But the test must be whether these "influences" lead him into creative musical expression that is identifiably his own, or make him merely a mild melange of other members of the same 'school' - a mirror that does no more than reflect, or a prism that creates its own pattern. This album should leave no doubt that Randy Weston's playing is his own, that the style and its impact are personal and unique.
But you can learn a great deal about any artist by knowing specifically what it is he hears and prizes most highly in others. Thus it's worth noting that Weston ranks Tatum, Powell, Lewis and Monk as "best." In speaking of John Lewis he refers to his plating and arrangements as "really cool, melodic and beautiful," and he ways of Thelonious: "His importance in modern music can't be overemphasized. Just about everything about Monk impresses me: his compositions, the melodies and rhythms he creates. One thing that I've always thought important is the way you can always feel the beat with Monk. And then there's what I think of as his "simplicity." Not that his music isn't very complex; of course it is, but it always comes through so clear and accurate and true, so uncluttered - not like some players today, where there's just too many notes and nothing happening." These qualities of beauty, clarity and a beat you can always feel turn out, not at all surprisingly, to be abundantly present in Weston's own work.
In the past few years, Randy has been playing in small groups and as a soloist in Greenwich Village, in Brooklyn, in upstate New York, at Massachusetts resorts. For the most part he has been able to stay in the modern-jazz vein he loves - although there have been a couple of bread-and-butter "rhythm and blues" detours. But he feels that, until this recording session, he had never really had an opportunity to take off on his own. Riverside is proud of its choice of Randy Weston for its own debut release in the modern jazz field. For on this LP, Weston - ably assisted by bassist Sam Gill, a recent Julliard graduate - takes full advantage of his initial chance to demonstrate that he has a great deal to say and a considerable jazz future.
A High Fidelity Recording
Produced by Bill Grauer and Orrin Keepnews
Cover designed by Paul Bacon; photographs by Robert Parent.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 29th Street New York 19, N.Y.