What piece of art changed your life? How did it affect you?
That’d be a lot of things. On the wall of our house when I was growing up in Brooklyn, my father had pictures of African kings and queens, and he’d tell me that Africa had more queens than any other civilization in the history of the world. It really started at home.
On the other side, the Tarzan movies really turned me off. When you go to the movies as a child, it’s a great moment. You get away from mom and pop, and you see all the shorts and comedies. I was affected when they showed Tarzan as the strongest man in Africa, and the Africans were servants. That really affected me.
Another thing that comes to mind is the black church. As a boy, I’d be very hot in that church, and I’d want to get out of there. But the ladies wouldn’t let you get out—they’d block you. But you were absorbing all this powerful music, and that church was one of the few places African people could congregate, commune with the creator, and hear that wonderful music.
The years I lived in Morocco, performing for the people, hearing the music of the Sahara, the Atlas Mountains, the Rif Mountains, the Gnawa people, the range of music. Touring Africa—I went to 18 countries in Africa.
Being exposed to the great Arab singers and musicians in Lebanon, and, of course, in Japan. I played the Shinto shrine in Kyoto.
And I can’t leave out the Berkshires, my god. That’s where I met Candido, Babatunde Olatunji, Leonard Bernstein, Lukas Foss, Marshall Stearns, and John Lee Hooker.
And growing up in Brooklyn. Max Roach and Eubie Blake lived in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, and their houses were always open to young musicians. That’s where I first met Charlie Parker, Dizzy, George Russell, Miles Davis—at Max Roach’s house. Eubie lived one block from my mother’s church. I’d go to his house, sit in the corner, and he’d tell me stories about what happened in the 19th century and all these great pianists I’d never heard of before and how they’d have these piano battles.
A lot of those stories I retain because it was a hidden culture. Today, people don’t get any information about African culture. They don’t get information about jazz for that matter. If it were up to me, Louis Armstrong would be on every TV show everyday—Louis, Duke, Jimmie Lunceford, and all these giants that brought so much beauty to this country.
Jazz giant Randy Weston celebrated his 85th birthday last week with a dazzling concert at the Walters. As his answer to this question indicates, Weston is an incredibly generous and inquisitive artist, and his music certainly reflects that. His latest disc, The Storyteller, is one of his best—an excellent addition to a recording career that began 56 years ago.