Randy Weston

Chicago Reader

by Peter Margasak

When: Sat., Sept. 24, 11 p.m.
Price: $5 suggested donation

Pianist Randy Weston turned 90 this year, but by all accounts he’s undiminished by age. He was integral to the development of hard bop in the 1950s—he wrote standards such as “Berkshire Blues” and “Hi-Fly”—and since then he’s become a thoughtful extender of its reach. Perhaps no single jazz musician has done more to integrate music from Africa, particularly Morocco, where Weston lived and owned a nightclub in the late 60s and early 70s. He’s always exuded serious presence at the piano, and not just because he’s six foot eight—his left-hand figures are never less than commanding, with a low end that can get people dancing or summon an ominous portent. He internalized lessons from Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk but created a sound all his own, especially when he began incorporating influences from the Gnawa people in North Africa. At the 2013 Chicago Jazz Festival, he gave a gripping solo performance, and that same year he released The Roots of the Blues (Sunnyside), a gorgeous duo recording with tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, a longtime collaborator. The album demonstrates just how much sound Weston can produce without simply piling up notes, and its selection of tunes is similar to his solo repertoire, summing up his rich aesthetic—it mixes his hard-bop classics with later tunes where he deftly incorporates the blues and elements of traditional music from Senegal, Mali, and Morocco (a full-circle vision if ever there was one). As much as I’d like to imagine that Weston is as immortal as his music, I can’t recommend passing up this opportunity to hear him live—you may not get another.

Rockefeller Memorial Chapel

University of Chicago, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave.