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Randy Weston Headlines Watts Towers Jazz and Drum Festival Sept. 25 & 26

Randy Weston
Randy Weston
Ariane Smolderen

The 34th Annual Watts Towers Jazz Festival, along with the 29th Annual Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival, promises to turn the last weekend of September into a two day celebration of virtuoso music, vivid art, and irresistibly gorgeous food. Did I mention the events and the parking are free? The beloved yearly Festivals returns stronger than ever despite concerns earlier this year that state funding might have run out for the Watts Towers Arts Center. Instead, Artistic Directors Rosie Lee Hooks, Patrice Rushen, and Munyungo Jackson have assembled an exceptionally spicy mix of local talent with Bona fide Jazz Legend Randy Weston making a rare West Coast appearance.

Weston will be celebrating his 85th birthday and the publication of his autobiography. Although he began playing professionally in the forties, the esteemed pianist/composer established his musical Identity in the sixties as he began to prominently integrate African elements and motifs into his music. HIs elegant informed Afrocentricity influenced generations of musicians, and his compositions have been widely recorded.

But, that’s Sunday. The Saturday Drum Festival presents a Drum and Percussion Summit, bringing together international percussion sensation Babatunde Lea, former Weather Report, Miles, Herbie, and MJ drummer Ndugu Chancler, and the versatile and well traveled Munyungo Jackson.

Opening the show, Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc will explore ancient Mexican traditions. The Drumline Challenge pits Centennial High against Washington Prep in a hard driving percussion competition. The universality of percussion ensembles is further illustrated by the Japanese American group Taikoproject, and the drums, dances and songs of Senegal as presented by Balle Fette Bu Senegal. Fausto Cuevas y Sus Compadres bring the Afro Cuban heat. Hand drumming icon Big Black will perform his Black on Black Environmental Rhythms.

Sunday’s lineup includes opening with a Yoruba ground blessing from Alaadun before the erudite Harold Land leads his trio in a tribute to the great Nate Morgan. A young quintet representing UC Berkeley’s Young Musicians program will make its debut. Then, Babatunde Lea returns with a quintet that includes Gary Brown, former Rolling Stone Ernie Watts, Patrice Rushen, and Dwight Trible. Since this same ensemble recorded Lea’s beautiful tribute to Leon Thomas, Umbo Weti, one can only hope we’ll be hearing several songs from that collection.

Rushen returns to do double duty, this time with the Jazz Mentorship Program All Stars, which also call Ndugu and Munyungo back to the stage along with the sublime Benny Maupin, Jeff Littleton, and Dr. Bobby Rodriguez.

In this economy, you will not find a better or more effortless collection of musical greats performing all weekend in a more comfortable outdoor picnic setting. And did I mention it’s FREE? For more information call 213-847-4646, or visit myspace.com/drummjazz.

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