The publishers of Our Time Press, Legacy Ventures and Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam hosted a conversation with Randy Weston & Billy Harper, Sunday, December 29 in celebration of the African Rhythm kings’ new “The Roots of the Blues” album. We thought the process of pulling together such an event in just five days would be the highlight of our Christmas. We thought wrong.
The first guests to arrive were the percussionist Candido de Guerra Camero (“Candido”) and arguably the greatest sax player to ever come out of Houston, Billy Harper. And other superstars flowed in, one
after the other.
We were too much in awe to even think about what had been accomplished in so short a time. We knew enough to know, it wasn’t about us; it was about the maestros: Randy, Billy and the gracious Fatoumata, Randy’s wife, put out the call, sans social media backup, and nearly 50 star musicians, blues impresarios and Weston/Harper fans showed up. In terms of a music movement, that Sunday afternoon into evening was the sweetest of suites.
Gnawan musicians, introduced by Mr. Weston, performed sensational music cross-legged on the floor. Their music and beats never once clashed with the soft sounds of The Roots of the Blues CD playing in the background. Weston and Harper talked about classical blues, traversing the world from Africa to their respective hometowns of Brooklyn and Houston, and back. It was more than a memorable experience. It was like opening the door to all the music that ever was. It was like being in the presence of all the musicians of the Diaspora that ever existed.
When Candido, the great Cuban-born percussionist– one of the first to use Congos in jazz music– walked through that basement gate, we were opening a door of return to Blues roots. Everyone the master percussionist had ever performed with — Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton, Billy Taylor, Babatunde Olatunji, Machito, Gene Ammons and so many
more — accompanied him. The Sunday celebration marked the 40th anniversary year of Candido performing with Weston on the album Tanjah. Prior to that session, the musicians, great friends, first recorded together on Randy’s 1960 groundbreaking Uhuru Afrika album.
Coming up this year is the 40th Anniversary of Weston and Harper’s first recorded collaboration, although the musicians first met in 1972. Their presence at the Conversation recalled the great Max Roach, Duke Ellington, Dexter Gordon, Hubert Laws. It conjured up the spirits of Billie Holliday and Mahalia Jackson – the two women singers who ever
brought Weston to tears, he informed us. The soundtrack of The Roots of the Blues played throughout the
afternoon as guests communed in the presence of the hosts’ ancestors — with images, notes, diaries, journals, mementos scattered in corners of the parlor, on the piano and in “Pierre’s kitchen”.
Only thing missing were the children, peeking from the banisters, in awe of grown people grooving and the presence of something colorful, great and grand, something for them to tell, to read, to sing. And to pass on. But author Carol Friedman remembered them, leaving on the piano two gifts in her popular, hip Nicky the Jazz Cat series.
From beginning to end, four hours from the moment the door opened to God’s libation – a downpour, and Candido’s entrance, pure love making a visit, it was all cool and kind of blue, all about, good words, good people and good vibes.
More on the “Conversation” will be presented in the February Black History Month issue of Our Time Press; “Ancestral Calling” edition of Our Time AT HOME and other local and regional community newspapers. (BG)
For information on Weston and Harper’s latest album, visit: