On Sunday November 6th 2016 a special tribute was held to honor the late John Watusi Branch in Harlem at the National Black Theater on 5th Ave and 125th Street. It was a very moving dedication to the work and legacy of brother Branch, who had the foresight to establish the African Poetry Theater in Jamaica, Queens N.Y. Mr Branch also sponsored several excursions to West Africa where he took folks on tour and exposed them to the culture and greatness of African society.
I was truly blessed to partake on one of his trips to Senegal many years ago. The tribute for John was historical and profound. There were many famous guest speakers in attendance as well as performances by several musical groups. There was also an incredible dance presentation to honor the original Last Poets, who also performed two poems. Closing out the evening festivities was a duo performance dedicated to the memory of John by pianist Dr Randy Weston and myself on flute and saxophone. We performed two of Dr Weston’s original compositions The Healers and The Seventh Queen.
Last Wednesday November 9th 2016, I had the absolute pleasure, honor, and privilege to be part of a unique tribute honoring NEA Jazz Master Dr Randy Weston. Harvard University recently acquired Dr Weston’s complete achieves consisting of personal papers, letters, posters, photographs, manuscripts, film, video, audio and printed music, and an assortment of memorabilia chronicling the life of a such a legendary and iconic artist of the highest calibre. Harvard University invited Dr Weston to partake in a live onstage interview followed by a performance with his African Rhythms Quintet featuring: myself as the musical director, saxophone and flute; bassist Alex Blake; percussionist Neil Clarke; trombonist Robert Trowers; and of course the Maestro on piano.
The evening festivities began in the Agassiz Theater at Harvard with an onstage conversation between Dr Weston, moderated by the extraordinary writer and musical historian Robin D.G.Kelly, as well as Harvard’s Professor Ingrid Monson. The questions asked of Dr Weston were quite poignant, pertinent, and relevant, not only in conjunction with his musical upbringing, but also regarding the history of jazz and its protagonists. Dr Weston shed light on some of his seminal recordings which manifest the beauty and greatness of the African aesthetic, as well as proclaiming the liberation of African consciousness from colonial domination. His detailed explanation of the recording Uhuru Africa from 1960 is a prime example. Dr Weston also expounded on his many travels throughout the continent of Africa and the connections between people of the African Diaspora. He ended by explaining the impetus behind his latest recording project, which is a double CD entitled The African Nubian Suite. His explanation conveys this project as a myriad of musical vignettes featuring many great artists and it depicts the historical significance of African culture throughout the world. The emphasis here is on the world’s first great empire originating in Nubia, which later gave birth to the great Egyptian Dynasties. The African Nubia Suite features percussionist Candido Camera and poet Jayne Cortez and it is dedicated to the memory of Jayne, Senegalese historian Dr Cheikh Anta Diop, and Senegalese percussionist Doudou Ndiaye Rose. It is produced by Dr Weston, co-produced by Fatoumata Weston, and associate producer T.K.Blue.
The second half of the evening was a performance by Dr Weston’s African Rhythms Quintet. The songs performed were Blue Moses, The Shrine, African Sunrise, Berkshire Blues, The African Family (arranged by T.K.Blue), and Love, The Mystery Of. In attendance were many notable musicians and very important individuals: Dr Rudy Crew, President of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn; Dr Henry Louis Gates, historian, documentary film maker, and professor of African-American Studies at Harvard University; Grammy-Award winners and professors of jazz at Berklee–Danilo Perez and Terri Lyne Carrington; Eric Gould–professor and chair of jazz composition at Berklee; Donal Fox–professional jazz pianist and recording artist; Hankus Netsky – Professor of Music at New England Conservatory; Isaiah Johnson – my former student at LIU-Post and currently enrolled in New England Conservatory; Eric Jackson–jazz DJ host; Ron Scott–jazz critic and writer for the Amsterdam News; Pierre Thiam–famous Senegalese Chef; Thurston Brisco; and an assortment of incredible folks and family paying their respect to “Baba” Dr Randy Weston.
From Harlem to Harvard: you can’t experience anything better than that!!!! God Bless
Photo courtesy: <a href=”@johnwestbigelow”>https://twitter.com/johnwestbigelow</a>