African Rhythms, the as-told-to autobiography of the NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston (composed by Randy Weston, arranged by Willard Jenkins; Duke University Press) is set for October release to the retail marketplace. In the meantime we have embarked on the first in a series of forthcoming book signings and other book-related events coupled with Weston performances. The series kicked-off on September 17 at the beautiful Rubin Museum in Manhattan, where Randy performed a trio concert followed by a book signing. The Rubin quickly sold out of its allotment of books, cheerfully autographed by Weston following the concert.
Last weekend marked our first joint book signings as the arranger joined the composer at Eso Won Books in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles on September 25. For those of you not familiar with the area, Eso Won Books is located directly across the street from the World Stage, the late drummer and NEA Jazz Master Billy Higgins legendary venue on Degnan Blvd. When Randy and I arrived we were greeted by an array of his entire vinyl discography lined across the tops of the stacks — including several rarities even he hadn’t seen in ages. Having artists like the great flutist James Newton, saxophonist (and bass clarinetist supremo) Bennie Maupin, and performance poet Kamau Daaood bellying up to the table with books in hand and kudos on lips was quite gratifying.
The store soon filled to an SRO audience that sat in rapt and appreciative attention as Randy detailed anecdotes from his journey, with the arranger interjecting questions and observations here and there. Following our talk book purchasers lined up nearly out the door into the sidewalk and we joyously signed about 100 books. Later that afternoon we went over to the Watts Towers for the Watts Tower Arts Center’s annual day of the drum, the highlight of which was the trio of Ndugu, Munyungo Jackson, and Babatunde Lea calling the spirits in improvised ensemble. Hypnosis came when all three sat down to essay on cajon, the Peruvian box drum.
The following day, back at Watts Tower (and what an amazing arts installation that series of Simon Rodia constructs is — smack dab in the middle of the ‘hood; pretty unprecedented and a real cultural treasure), it was the 34th annual Watts Tower Jazz Festival.
Hearing artists like pianist Harold Land Jr. with bassist Henry “The Skipper” Franklin, the burning Watts Tower Arts Center’s jazz mentors ensemble with Patrice Rushen, Bennie Maupin, Bobby Rodriguez, Munyungo and Ndugu, reprising Maupin’s “Butterfly”. Babatunde Lea’s spiritual Umbo Weti with vocalist Dwight Tribble successfully channeling Leon Thomas, Ernie Watts on tenor, Patrice, and bassist Jeff Littleton was uplifting, giving one greater appreciation for the brilliance and abundant fruits of SoCal’s jazz artist community. Randy closed the festival in duo with the great hand drummer, and his long time cohort, Big Black — another rare sighting for those of us east of the Mississippi. And what a treat it was to hear the youth of the UC-Berkeley Jazz Ensemble, under the tutelage of Patrice Rushen and Ndugu.
Earlier that day, through the good graces of Watts Tower Arts Center director Rosie Lee Hooks, we were set up at a shaded table — L.A. was in the midst of an unusual fall heat wave — signing more books and greeting well-wishers. I couldn’t think of a better kick-off to our series of book events. Our next book signing event takes place Saturday, October 9 in Brooklyn (details below). Stay tuned to The Independent Ear for other upcoming book events, including New York, Chicago, Washington, DC and more.