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Honoring Nea Jazz Master Randy Weston

Rep. John Conyers Jr.

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Mr. Speaker, legendary jazz artist Randy Weston will be honored this year by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation at the Jazz Issue Forum and Concert that will take place during the 40th Annual Legislative Conference. Mr. Weston will also perform at the concert, which will take place on Thursday, September 22, 2011, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, in Washington, DC.

Randy Weston is an internationally renowned pianist, composer, bandleader and cultural ambassador, whose compositions encompass the vast rhythmic heritage of both America and Africa. After six decades of active work, he is widely recognized as a true innovator and visionary who continues to inform and inspire. Mr. Weston has had an outstanding career that deserves the recognition of this body. Let me share some of the highlights from his biography.

Randy Weston was born on April 6, 1926 and raised in Brooklyn, New York, son of parents from Jamaica and Virginia. New York City has long been a Mecca for jazz giants and Weston cites Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Art Tatum as his piano heroes. It was Thelonius Monk, however, who made the greatest impact. ``He was the most original I ever heard,'' Mr. Weston remembers. ``He played like they must have played in Egypt 5000 years ago.''

Much of Mr. Weston's connection to African music stems from his father, Frank Edward Weston, who told his son he was ``an African born in America. . . . . He told me I had to learn about myself, about him and about my grandparents,'' stated Weston, ``and the only way to do it was I'd have to go back to the motherland one day.'' Inspired by Nigeria's newly won independence from the United Kingdom, Weston started to incorporate tribal music with a type of West African pop music known as High Life. This blend culminated in Mr. Weston's 1960 album Uhuru Afrika, which featured traditional African percussion and rhythms in the form of a jazz suite.

In the late 1960's, Mr. Weston took his father's advice and left the United States for Morocco, travelling throughout Africa to experience each country's musical diversity. One of the highlights of his travels was the 1977 Nigerian Festival, which drew artists from 60 cultures. ``At the end,'' Weston says, ``we all realized that our music was different but the same, because if you take out the African elements of bossa nova, samba, jazz, blues, you have nothing. . . . To me, it's Mother Africa's way of surviving in the New World.'' He had the honor of playing at the Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto, Japan in 2008 and commemorated the 50th Anniversary of his Uhuru Africa album in 2010. With his strong connection to African music, Weston has enjoyed success with the dozens of albums he released over the past 50 years.

Randy Weston has received awards and acclaim at home and abroad, including the prestigious Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, NEA, in 2001. He has also received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Brooklyn College, City University of New York, in June 2006. In 2009 he was added to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Jazz Wall of Fame. On May 11, 2011 Weston received the award of Royal Wissam of National Merit of the Order of Officer by command of His Majesty the King Mohammed VI of Morocco, for his lifelong commitment to Morocco. His memoirs, African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston, composed by Randy Weston and arranged by Willard Jenkins, was published in 2010.

Mr. Speaker, Randy Weston is a living jazz treasure and I urge all members to join me in commending him for his magnificent contribution to jazz fans around the world.