Teaming up for the first time, BMCC/Tribeca Performing Arts Center and The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space/WNYC will present a special conversation between author and political activist Cornel West, hailed by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as “the preeminent African-American intellectual of our generation,” and internationally renown jazz great Randy Weston.
A legendary New York Conversation
The event will take place Tuesday, October 26, at 7:00 p.m., as part of WNYC’s series, The NEXT New York Conversation, in BMCC’s Theater II at 199 Chamber Street, on the college’s main campus.
Hosted by WQXR’s Terrance McKnight, the conversation between cultural icons Randy Weston and Cornel West will touch on politics, race, the blues and jazz, and how the two men’s personal histories have intertwined over the years.
An autographed copy of Cornel West’s new memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud will be included in the $40 to $50 ticket price, and distributed at the event.
Celebrating Uhuru Afrika’s 50-year anniversary
On Tuesday, November 13, in BMCC’s Theater I and presented by BMCC/TPAC, Randy Weston and his Orchestra will celebrate the 50-year anniversary of Weston’s spectacular landmark opus, Uhuru Afrika, which was arranged by renown trombonist Melba Liston, and features lyrics by Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. Tickets range from $25 to $45, and students and seniors can attend for $15.
“For me, 2010 is the year of the spirits of our ancestry, the emergence of a great continent: Africa,” says Weston. “Seventeen African countries received their independence 50 years ago.”
This fall also marks a new live album from Motéma Music by Weston and his African Rhythms Sextet, The Storyteller: Live At Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola—a musical companion to his soon-to-be released memoir from Duke University Press, African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston.
The BMCC community is invited to a book signing of his new memoir; a free film, Randy Weston, Live in St. Lucia, and discussion moderated by jazz producer Willard Jenkins in BMCC's Theater II on Saturday, October 30, 4:15 to 6:00 p.m.
An international career, starting in Brooklyn
Born in 1926 and growing up in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Weston listened to Negro spirituals as a child, took classical piano lessons, studied with saxophonist Cecil Payne, trumpeter Ray Copeland, Thelonious Monk and his idol, Coleman Hawkins.
An artist who traveled throughout the continent of Africa in the sixties and immersed himself in each country’s popular and traditional music, Weston’s compositions weave the vast rhythmic heritage of Africa into what became an indelible list of jazz standards including “Little Niles,” “Babe’s Blues” and “Hi Fly.”
He is the recipient of many distinguished awards, including a Jazz Masters Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the French Order of Arts and Letters.
Beloved by audiences around the world, Weston was named World’s Best Jazz Pianist at the International Roots Festival in Lagos, Nigeria, and honored with the Black Music Star Award from the prestigious Arts Critics and Reviewers Association of Ghana. The Montreal Jazz Festival presented a five-night tribute to his music in 1995, and Harvard University honored both Weston and Melba Liston with a week of performances in 1999, the same year he received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Brooklyn College, CUNY.
Talk about what matters, and leave the world a better place
Cornel West, professor of African-American studies and religion at Princeton University, has been awarded 20 honorary degrees, won the American Book Award and written over 20 books, including the seminal classic Race Matters—which marks the one-year anniversary of the riots in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict—and effectively changed the course of America’s dialogue on race and justice.
Known for his political and moral insight, as well as his contributions to the post-1960s Civil Rights Movement, West not only lectures and writes, but has made numerous TV and film appearances and produced spoken-word CDs including his disc, Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations, which combines hip-hop and intellectual dialogue.
“Well, I love young people,” West explained on a recent Tavis Smiley PBS interview. “And I love Black people and young Brown people who create this great hip-hop movement … As an educator I want singing education as well as a textual education. So I intervene in hip-hop culture.”
That intervention also takes the form of criticism on cultural phenomena, and its impact on a generation of youth.
“How ironic that in America we’ve moved so quickly from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘Let Freedom Ring!’ to ‘Bling! Bling!’,” he writes in the preface to his New York Times bestselling essay collection, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, “as if freedom were reducible to simply having material toys, as dictated by free-market fundamentalism.”
His philosophy toward race, class and gender hits a chord on college campuses such as BMCC, which is a nationally recognized leader in awarding degrees to students of color—who comprise over 85 percent of the student body, and are often first in their families to attend college.
In a recent Talk of the Nation interview with Tony Cox on National Public Radio, Weston spoke of what is often at the center of his discussions:
“Brother, I try to, in my own fallible way, speak the truth. The condition of truth, is to allow suffering to speak—which means attend to suffering of the least of these; of the orphan, the widow, the poor, the working people, the gay brother, the lesbian sister, the transgender, the black people.
Of course, I'm black, so, you know, I'm again with black folk, but it's a love that spills over to vanilla suburbs and red reservations and brown barrios and yellow slices. And knowing that, you know, you're going to fail, you try again and fail again, ‘Fail better’, as the great Samuel Beckett used to say. And you're trying to just leave the world a little better.”