For pianist-composer Randy Weston, jazz is more than a flow of hip music with improvisational statements, it represents the roots of Africa, the origin of jazz. He is the music’s griot, playing traditional African rhythms and offering stories connecting the historical and cultural aspects of Africa as it relates to its offspring, jazz.
When Weston met trombonist-arranger Melba Liston in the early 1960s at Birdland, he realized she was special. “Melba and I were on the same spiritual level. It was more than music, it was about the pride of our people,” stated Weston. “Melba is one of the best arrangers on the highest level.”
Weston and Liston became instant collaborators and friends—a relationship that lasted until her death in 1999—beginning with her arrangements of his “Little Niles” and “Seven Waltzes.” Their collaborations on the suite “Uhuru Afrika” and “Highlife” are now jazz masterpieces, as well as their album “Volcano Blues.”
Their collaborations have been compared with the team of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. “It is the spiritual recognition of our ancestors, the original revolutionaries,” said Weston.
“Visions, Roots & Rhythms,” an exhibition of music-inspired visuals celebrating the more than 40-year musical collaboration of the NEA Jazz Masters Liston and Weston will be on exhibit at the Kenkeleba House Gallery (219 E. Second St. at Avenue B) now through Nov. 8, presented by the Wilbur Ware Foundation and Kenekeleba. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The recent opening reception brought out many jazz musicians, including vocalist Tony Middleton, Michelle Rosewoman, Dick Griffin, Rene McLean, Leopolo Fleming, Larry Ridley and Jann Parker. The music of Weston and Liston was performed by pianist Rodney Kendrick, Ed Stout, saxophonist T.K. Blue, trumpeter Antoine Dyre, bassist Juney Booth, drummer Louis Hayes and vocalist Melba Joyce.
Some of the exhibiting artists who reflect their works from a traditional or abstract perspective include C. Daniel Dawson, Dick Griffin, Grace Williams, Errol “Mobutu” Reynolds and Ademola Olugebefola.
“Bravo, this exhibition is a shining visual tribute to the creativity of two masters of jazz, Randy Weston and Melba Liston,” stated Diedra Harris-Kelley, co-director of the Romare Bearden Foundation. “Everyone should see this show and get to know the music that inspired it.”
Oct. 17, the celebration moves to Harlem’s Manhattan School of Music Borden Auditorium (122nd Street and Broadway) at 7:30 p.m. with “Melba Liston Remembered!” featuring the Randy Weston Quartet with Blue, bassist Santi DeBriano, percussionist Neil Clarke and special guest saxophonist Fostina Dixon. Conducting the MSM Jazz Orchestra will be Justin DiCioccio.
Tickets are $30 and $15 for seniors and students. For information, call 917-493-4428 or visit www.msmnyc.edu.
The artists’ panel discussion, “Jazz & Fine Art: An Historical Pairing,” returns to the Kenkeleba House Oct. 19, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Panelists will include fine artists Dawson and Charlotte Ka, writer-lecturer Maxine Gordon, musician-artist Dick Griffin and NEA Jazz Master Slide Hampton, with moderators Janice Robinson and Gloria Ware. No charge.
“Spiritually, this is Melba’s year,” stated Weston. “Dizzy Gillespie was the key to me meeting Melba. I can’t praise him enough.”
Langston Hughes, America’s poet laureate, novelist, social activist and playwright, whose short stories in “The Ways of White Folks” should be required reading for the planet, will be the topic of discussion Oct. 4 at the Renaissance Apartment building (130 Malcolm X Blvd., on the corner of 116th Street and Lenox Avenue).
KiJan Productions presents “Insights,” an interview with the cast and production team of “An Evening With Langston Hughes,” 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. There will be food, music and an open mic. Admission is free. For information, call 917-399-6964.
Elio Villafranca, a young pianist residing in the Apple, is cultivating his own spirited music garden while implementing traditional seeds from his influential Cuban predecessors Bebo and Chucho Valdes. Oct. 5, Villafranca will perform on the Lower East Side at Drom (85 Ave. A, between Fifth and Sixth streets) with his new project “Any Given Night in Havana.” The quintet’s repertoire will include music by the Buena Vista Social Club, legendary Descargas and original compositions.
His abled musicians will be bassist Yunior Terry, trumpeter Dennis Hernandez, Jesus Quinteros on timbales and Arturo Stable on congas.
“This will be a great introduction to 1950s Cuban music and culture if you have never been to Cuba,” stated Villafranca. “And if you have, this will be the perfect opportunity to remember.”
The show is for one night only, with two sets at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. For information, call 212-777-1157. For discount tickets, call 917-439-4331. Each ticket includes a Latin dinner of rice and beans, roasted chicken and sweet plantains.