THE LANGSTON HUGHES PROJECT
Ask your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz
The Langston Hughes Project is a multimedia concert performance of Langston Hughes's kaleidoscopic jazz poem suite, Ask Your Mama - Hughes's homage in verse and music to the struggle for artistic and social freedom at home and abroad at the beginning of the 1960s. Ask Your Mama is a twelve-part epic poem which Hughes scored with musical cues drawn from blues and Dixieland, gospel songs, boogie woogie, bebop and progressive jazz, Latin "cha cha" and Afro-Cuban mambo music, German lieder, Jewish liturgy, West Indian calypso, and African drumming -- a creative masterwork left unperformed at his death.
A joyous celebration of music, spoken word and visuals, The Langston Hughes Project is performed by the impressively versatile Dr. Ron McCurdy (as narrator and on trumpet) and his talented group of musicians (on piano, bass and drums) who make heads bob, fingers snap and feet tap throughout. When budget is available, the role of the narrator can be performed by a special guest star. Celebrity guest stars have included actors ICE-T, Malcolm-Jamal Warner or Blair Underwood. Or, theatres may opt to use a local celebrity from their area to serve as co-narrator with Dr. McCurdy.
This multimedia concert performance links the words and music of Hughes' poetry to topical images of Ask Your Mama's people, places, and events, and to the works of the visual artists Langston Hughes admired or collaborated with most closely over the course of his career -- the African-inspired mural designs and cubist geometries of Aaron Douglas, the blues and jazz-inspired collages of Romare Bearden, the macabre grotesques of Meta Warrick Fuller and the rhythmic sculptural figurines and heads and bas reliefs of Richmond Barthe, the color blocked cityscapes and black history series of Palmer Hayden and Jacob Lawrence.
Together the words, sounds, and images recreate a magical moment in our cultural history, which bridges the Harlem Renaissance, the post World War II Beat writers' coffeehouse jazz poetry world, and the looming Black Arts performance explosion of the 1960s. This soundtrack of the 60s has a message that resonates as strongly today as ever.
The creator of the entire piece, Dr. McCurdy, is a Professor of Music in the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California, where he served as chair of the jazz department for 6 years. Dr. McCurdy is a consultant to the Grammy Foundation educational programs including serving as director of the National Grammy Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Guest artists he has worked with include Joe Williams, Rosemary Clooney, Leslie Uggams, Arturo Sandoval, Diane Schuur, Ramsey Lewis, Mercer Ellington, Dr. Billy Taylor, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton, and Dianne Reeves.
Educational and Community Outreach can include numerous workshops, master classes, talk back sessions, and a local Poetry Slam, where the winner(s) of the Slam have their poems set to music by Dr. McCurdy and become the “opening” act for the Langston Hughes Project in their community.