Get Happy with the RANDY WESTON Trio
Randy Weston (p) Sam Gill (b) Wilbert Hogan (drs)
Hackensack, New Jersey; August 29 and 31, 1955
1. Get Happy (3'43") (Kochler-Arlen)
2. Fire Down There (2'52") (traditional)
3. Where Are You? (4'10") (H. Adamson-J. McHugh)
4. Under Blunder (3'06") (Randy Weston)
5. Dark Eyes (3'34") (M. Salama)
1. Summertime (3'57") (Ira and George Gershwin)
2. Bass Knows (5'16") (Randy Weston)
3. C-Jam Blues (2'50") (Duke Ellington)
4. A Ballad (4'18") (Sam Gill)
5. Twelfth Street Rag (2'56") (Razal-Bowman)
It's easy enough for a record company to announce that it has discovered a great new talent. Easy, and frequent - it's done all the time. But it is something else again to find that quite a few people with no axes at all to grind in the matter agree most enthusiastically with you claims. It's particularly gratifyin g when those enthusiasts include a substantial proportion of the men whose business it is to pass judgment on jazz artists. There's a long-standing gag line about an authority being someone who knows enough to agree with you. By that definition, there are quite a few jazz authorities (some of whose comments are reprinted elsewhere on this album sleeve) on the subject of RANDY WESTON.
It was with special pride that we noted the naming of Weston, in Down Beat magazine's annual poll of jazz critics, as the "New Star" on piano for 1955. That alone might be considered sufficient cause for titling this new album "Get Happy." There is, however, much more reason than that for naming this LP by the Weston trio after the fine Harold Arlen standard. It's that Randy's swinging, leaping treatment of Get Happy strikes us as one of the happiest and most compelling musical experiences in recent jazz history. We are, admittedly, prejudiced. But after listening to this lead-off tune - and to all that follows it - there's a good chance that you, too, will end up prejudiced in favor of Weston.
This six-foot seven-inch musician, still in his twenties, has been playing piano for nearly half his life. His first through exposure to jazz came in the early 1940s, when he began drifting over from Brooklyn to Manhattan's 52nd Street, then in tradition from "Swing Street" to "Bop Street". A young pianist could hardly have chosen any more stimulating time and place: the area was alive with what were to be major names of modern jazz, and there was certainly a goodly number of strong piano stylists on hand. Randy absorbed from several of these, probably most notably from Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk.
Different critics have noted in him resemblances to Tatum, to Monk, to Erroll Garner, even to Count Basie (jazz writers seem to have an almost compulsive tendency to compare). But such comparisons are at best only very partially accurate, and undue emphasis on who or what has "influenced" Randy can be highly misleading. For ever since he first began the process of listening-learning-playing-developing, the most important thing happening musically to Weston was that he was becoming himself. By now he has just about arrived.
In general, the top-flight performer masters technique early, and quickly establishes at least the outlines of his approach, of the kind of ideas he wants to work with. From there on it is a matter of gleaning what he finds self-assurance, of broadening and deepening, of exploring his own potentials - in short, of fully "becoming himself". This time of growing maturity and self-discovery is perhaps the most fascinating period in the creative life of any artist. As this writer sees it, that is the stage Weston is at now. It becomes increasingly clear (presumably to Randy himself, as well as to his listeners) that this is a lyrical pianist, who builds with clean, strong, uncluttered line towards what are often rather complex structures. As this album demonstrates, he has a keen ear for the humor in a piece of music and, even more often, for the beauty.
His playing insists, too, that jazz is a music with a firm beat - Weston never fails to swing, never forgets that the piano is played with two hands. Above all (and this may be the rarest quality of all), this is a relaxed musician, who projects his feeling of ease: his up-tempo numbers never sounding driven or pushed, his slow tunes not mere aimless wanderings.
He benefits also from the firm and cohesive support of his co-workers here. Sam Gill has played with Randy long enough for them develop what John S. Wilson, in High Fidelity Magazine has termed "exceptional rapport." Drummer Wilbert Hogan, recently added to the trio, fits neatly into the close-knit pattern.
The repertoire indicates something of Weston's taste and variety, and his tendency to go as far afield as need be to find suitable and unhackneyed material. There's a rich standard like Summertime; a pair of rocking originals; a couple of highly individualized reworkings of elderly items from different ends of the world: Twelfth Street Rag, and the Russian folk-melody, Dark Eyes. Fire Down There is a lightly Afro-Cubanized treatment of a calypso song. There are a pair of soulful ballads: Where Are You? and the haunting original by Sam Gill; and there's romp through a Duke Ellington riff tune. And of course there is the infectious Get Happy, which can serve as reminder that, no matter how you look at it, it's food deal of fun to listen to Randy Weston.
- ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Weston is featured on two earlier, ten-inch Riverside LPs, which are listed below together with a sampling of critical reaction:
Randy Weston plays “Cole Porter in a Modern Mood” (RLP 2508):
What Is This Thing Called Love?, I Love You, Night and Day, I Get a Kick Out of YOU, In the Still of the Night, Get Out of Town, Just One of Those Things, I’ve Got You Under My Skin.
The Randy Weston Trio, with Art Blakey (RLP 2515):
Again, If You Could See Me Now, Sweet Sue, Zulu, Pam’s Waltz, Solemn Meditation.
“Randy is one of the most musically and mechanically articulate pianists around these days. He has a fine, deft touch, and has a good beat and a tender feeling which he is able, because of his technique, to transmit to an audience.”
- George Simon, Metronome
“He swings in everything he plays. He can toy with a melody with much of Errol Garner’s pixie charm but an intetiveness purely his own.” - John S. Wilson, High Fidelity Magazine
“Charged with musical meaning and expressiveness … rarity of imagination. Should (have) a major jazz future.”
- Nat Hentoff, Down Beat
“A man of high intentive discretion … (His variations are a durable, highly-individual pleasure. Weston safely avoids the modern jazz tendency towards insipid refinement.” - Wilder Hobson, The Saturday Review
“A brilliant display of modern jazz stylings.” - The Billboard
“Real imagination and a distinctive style. His variations on familiar material are intelligent and never merely ramble.
- Paul Sampson, Washington Post and Times Herald
“PIANO-NEW STAR … Randy Weston” - Down Beat August 24, 1955
Other outstanding examples of modern music in the Riverside “Contemporary” jazz series include:
Thelonious Monk plays Duke Ellington; with Pettiford, Clarke (RLP 12-201)
The Mundell Lowe Quartet (RLP 12-204)
Sarah Vaughan with John Kirby (RLP 2511)
Six Valves: Don Elliott and Rusty Dedrick, with Hyman, Lowe, Safranski, Lamond (RLP 2517)
A Woman in Love; Barbara Lea sings, with Bill Taylor and Johnny Windhurst (RLP 2518)
A high fidelity recording
Produced by Orrin Keepnews and Bill Grauer
Cover designed by Gene Gogerty; photograph by Carole Reiff Galletly.
Engineer: Rudy Van Gelder
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street, New York 19, N.Y.