The Langston Hughes Project
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The Langston Hughes Project

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"Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz"

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Langston Hughes – Ask Your Mama
Paul Riat | Mar 28, 2011 | 0 comments

With a playful air and a total lack of apology, the Langtson Hughes Project filled the Meridian Ballroom last Thursday. The performance was a stream-of-consciousness-like explosion of jazz, poetry and supporting video imagery. Hughes’ 12-part epic poem, “Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz” speaks of the struggle for freedom in the early 1960's. The poem was supported by an eclectic admixture of blues, Dixieland, gospel, boogie-woogie, bebop, Latin ‘cha-cha,’ Afro-Cuban mambo, German Lieder, Jewish liturgy, West Indian calypso, and African drumming — all of which permeated a progressive jazz chassis that captured the audience, and set the pace for the evening.

SIUE Music Professor “Reggie Thomas was the person who originally suggested bringing in this group,” Director of Arts and Issues Grant Andree told This Week In CAS. “Langston Hughes always wanted a musical score to his poem “Ask Your Mama,” but he died before he was able to complete the piece.”

University of Southern California Professor of Jazz Studies Ron McCurdy took up the challenge of recreating Hughes’ vision, working from liner notes in the poets hand that gave strong indications of what kind of music Hughes intended for different parts of the poem. He also brought in the multimedia aspect of the Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age, to provide modern audiences with a richer experience.

“It’s wonderful how he blends the music, spoken word and visuals,” Andree said. “It’s a great opportunity for the students, professors and staff but we are also able to bring in the wider community of alumni, retired professors, and even students from the local high schools. I want to give credit to (SIUE) Student Affairs, who lets us give away 50 tickets to students for each Arts and Issues show.”

Hughes briefly lived in Lincoln, Illinois as a child — and is said to have written his first poem there. He was an important cultural figure bridging the Harlem Renaissance and the post World War II ‘Beat’ writers’ coffeehouse jazz poetry world, as well as the looming Black Arts Movement of the 1960's.

Next up in the Arts and Issues series is musician Simon Shaheen, Thursday, April 14th in the Meridian Ballroom of the Morris University Center. Tickets are available in the Fine Arts box office of Dunham Hall or by calling (618) 650-5774.

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- Southern IL University- Edwardsville

"My "Ask Your Mama" Experience"

My "Ask Your Mama" Experience

Posted by RJ Howard on June 19, 2008 at 9:44am
View Blog

What a great event last night at the Hilbert Circle Theater! The poetry of Langston Hughes as read by Ice-T accompanied by the ISO was amazing.

Our evening started out with dinner at Harry and Izzy's, one of Amber's favorite spots. This is a very cool venue if you have not been. We usually go and sit in the bar, have dinner and people watch. You never know who may show up so it is always a good time. Not too loud, not too crowded and always fun. Last night the Duck pizza and the Garbage Salad were AMAZING!!

We made our way to the theater about 6:45pm after walking from Illinois and Georgia Streets. Once we arrived, I received our tickets from Will Call (Thank You Heather!!). We then mingled outside as it was such a beautiful evening for about 10 minutes. Once we went inside a bit after 7, we were amazed by the size and the diversity of the crowd. All walks of life were in attendance and you could tell it was going to be a crowded house. There was a poetry reading occuring in the lobby which was very cool. We made our way to our seats in the Second Mezzanine, just stage right and they were amazing. Had a great view of the entire stage. The show was scheduled to start at 7:30, but as the crowd kept pouring in, I am speculating they choose to delay it a bit to accomodate seating everyone. Once the show started and Ice-T took his perch upon a stool at center stage, you knew this was going to be something special, and it indeed was. The 12 Moods were delightful combining the spoken word with music and video cues and were absolutely amazing. The blending of the Los Angeles Jazz combo along with our beloved ISO was so very cool.

The show was estimated at 1 hour 45 minutes, with a 20 minute intermission. It never once left you bored or wanting to leave or wondering if it was ever going to end. Amber and I had an incredible time and felt very fortunate to experience such an event.

Thank you to Pat Coyle for the post and to Heather Mourer for providing the tickets. - Smallerindiana Blog- R.J. Howard

"Ask Your Mama- w/Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra"

"Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz"

Posted by Joyce Boadt on June 19, 2008 at 12:30pm
View Blog

Last night’s performance of “Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz” was an amazing experience. The thunderous applause and deafening cheers from the packed house at the Hilbert Circle Theatre leads me to believe that I wasn’t the only one who thought so!

The performance incorporated spoken word, jazz, and symphony seamlessly. The centerpiece of this work was the poem “Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz” by Langston Hughes. The poem is equal parts celebration, lamentation, and castigation, each mood focusing on different aspects of African American history and experiences leading up to the 1960s. It’s also a very personal reflection by Hughes examining the questions, misunderstandings, stereotypes and down right ignorance he faced as a successful black artist. His retort to the uninformed questions such as “will your blackness rub off?”, “can you recommend a maid?”, or “did you vote for Nixon?” – a variation of “ask your mama!”

The performers were both perfect for their roles and also perfectly complimented one another. For me, Ice T was an ideal choice to give voice to Langston Hughes words. His reading was evocative, emotive, and well harmonized with the music. His delivery was both in tune with what Hughes wanted to convey through the poem as well as the mood evoked by the music. His voice became another instrument standing on its own but also contributing to the whole. It was a song without notes, and magical music.

The McCurdy jazz trio, and especially their leader Ron McCurdy was totally captivating. From the moment the piece began with McCurdy walking from the back of the theater to the stage while playing his trumpet in a style reminiscent of a jazz funeral, he totally captivated the audience. Each member of the trio was a virtuoso in his own right and when playing together they became greater than the sum of their parts. Each member of the quartet was given opportunities for solo performances to showcase their talents and enthrall the audience. Beyond his musical abilities, McCurdy had amazing stage presence and showmanship, encouraging the audience participation through clapping or snapping their fingers in time to the music at various points in the show.

Last by not least was the performance by the Indianapolis Symphony. They were truly an integral part of the performance for me. I’ll admit that going in I had a bit of trepidation that adding the symphony might lend a “Muzak” quality to the jazz. My fears were in vain though. In backing up the jazz quartet, the symphony enhanced the musical pieces adding depth and richness to the performance. I truly admire the willingness on the part of the ISO to branch out into something dramatically different from their usual repertoire.

This was a “multimedia” performance and the musical performance was supplemented by a montage of videos and still pictures to further develop the themes in each musical piece. For me this was the cherry on top. It definitely added depth to the performance but like a cherry on a sundae, I wouldn’t have missed it had it not been there.

At the end we were all on our feet clapping and cheering. Like all great performances, it seemed to be over much too quickly. In wrapping up the evening, Ron McCurdy commented on the diverse audience. It was an observation I’d made myself as well. I’ve attended symphony performances in the past and trust me, this wasn’t your typical symphony crowd. It was heartening to see this kind of event in Indy! He also commented on his surprise at Ice T being chosen as the guest performer. His comment “I thought this was a red state”, sums up the impression of many from outside our state borders. Given that, I find it quite amazing that Indianapolis was chosen for the world premier of this work. I’d love to know how this came about since Langston Hughes didn’t have any ties to Indiana.

I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity to attend “Ask Your Mama”. Kudos to Smaller Indiana for promoting this type of event and also encouraging those who attended to share the experience through our blogs. I’m hopeful, that through raising awareness, we’ll see more events of this type in Indy in the future. - Smallerindiana Blog- Joyce Boatd

"Ask Your Mama- Huntington Library"

The Langston Hughes Project - Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz

By Chris Walker

Recorded words recited dramatically by Langston Hughes, the poet/writer laureate of the Harlem Renaissance, filled the stately Huntington Library’s auditorium in Pasadena resoundingly. Then in rapid succession a pre-taped oratory by Ronald McCurdy, chair of the Jazz Dept. and Professor of Music for the USC Thornton School of Music, followed. These highly charged non-musical moments set the mood for Hughes’s Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz, a multimedia program that included accompaniment by Eli Brueggemann on piano, Peter Buck on drums and Edwin Livingston on bass, led by McCurdy on trumpet.

More than 40 years after Hughes’ death in 1967 his long-lost synergy of poetry and music was resurrected and performed to a capacity audience. Of all the talented, enlightened and very influential African-American writers during the 1920s-’40s, Hughes long before jazz was reputable and socially acceptable, voiced an endearing and everlasting affinity for it. In fact, many of his poems resembled the rhythmic cadences and melodic textures of the genre, beginning with “Weary Blues” in 1926. Unquestionably, his homage, or tribute, celebrating the vitality and artistry of the music was predestined.

Yet, it wasn’t achieved during his lifetime. Seven years before Hughes’s death he was asked to be an official for the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival. After enjoying performances by Louis Armstrong, Horace Silver, Dakota Staton, Oscar Peterson and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, along with blues and R&B from Otis Spann, Muddy Waters and Ray Charles, he was strongly moved and created the poetic foundation for Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz. The concept was a conversation between music and verse, instead of the arrangements merely being a backdrop. Interestingly, it was dedicated to Armstrong, with Charles Mingus and later Randy Weston’s involvement as Hughes’ collaborators, for performances that never came to fruition.

Amazingly, McCurdy and quartet, in sync with a milieu of vintage and historic projected footage and stills that included Martin Luther King, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and other luminaries, conveyed Hughes’ majestic love for jazz and African-Americans. The audience, comprised mostly of people older than 40, with a considerable representation of those younger, were spellbound by the presentation. McCurdy’s playing, command of the material and improvisations were the main reasons: He ignited the concert by coming through the audience blazing away, before connecting with the other players.

Additionally, McCurdy put life into Hughes’ verse, alternating between being sassy, scholarly and humorous. McCurdy boldly proclaimed that it was a church service, and spiritually it did possess qualities of reverence and inner wisdom. However, musically the program was far too freewheeling and extensive, ranging from Caribbean/calypso to barrelhouse blues, gospel and modal jazz, to conform to any sacred guidelines. Prime examples were “Ride Red, Ride” featuring hard-hitting band interaction; “Blues in Stereo,” pulsated with Livingston’s walking bass; “Jazztet Muted,” on which Brueggemann astounded the house with stride piano; and “Gospel Cha Cha,” propelled by Buck’s intriguing Latin and gospel rhythms.

Bringing it all home was “Show Fare, Please,” showcasing the bandleader’s contrast with his sidemen’s cool shuffle grooving, with exuberant soloing, while the audience clapped along. A well-deserved standing ovation for the ensemble followed, but it was really for Hughes, for his creation finally being realized. Although interweaving of verse, music and images is not unusual these days, few have created such a poignant, eloquent and exceptionally soulful work. Unquestionably, wider exposure and many more presentations around the country are in order. For more information and possibly other shows go to Ron McCurdy’s website.
- Jazz Times Magazine

"Project Gives Powerful Poetry Portrayal"

Project gives powerful poetry portrayal
Feb. 13, 2008

By Amanda Robison
Entertainment editor

The stunning sound of Dr. Ronald McCurdy's trumpet pierced through the air Tuesday night from the back of Roxy Grove Hall as he made his way through the crowd to pay homage to historical American poet Langston Hughes.

Hughes' voice introduced his own 12-part epic poem, Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz, indicating that it should be experienced while hearing the music he heard in his head while penning it. And McCurdy, chairman of jazz studies at the University of Southern California, along with his associates brought Hughes' words (with their own musical interpretation) back to life through The Langston Hughes Project.

The project is a presentation of Hughes' poem as a multimedia concert, with a jazz quartet putting his words and emotion into music while videos and photographs depicting black history and heritage were shown on a screen in the background.

If you've never experienced jazz (or poetry, for that matter), this is surely the way to experience it. Each note echoed with the same amount of emotion with which it was played, and each word was spoken with emphatic conviction. McCurdy recited the poem in its entirety, often pausing to add the jazz elements with his trumpet that the piece called for as Hughes' words spoke of the musicians of the early days of jazz.

"Some colleagues and I just threw it together," McCurdy said of the initial project. "But the response was so positive that we realized, 'Wow, we really have something here.'"

McCurdy explained that when Hughes composed the 12-part piece, he planned to collaborate with legendary jazz musician Charles Mingus and had even put piano chords on the side of his poetry. Unfortunately, Hughes died before his vision was completed, and that's where the project stepped in.

The 12 parts of the poem were called "moods" -- and rightfully so. Each part brought with it a different mood that evoked pure emotion, that was only exaggerated by the perfectly crafted jazz score and the images which accompanied it.

McCurdy said they wanted to present the composition "as Hughes intended."

Hughes' material tended to be "densely written," McCurdy said, and the poem can be difficult to understand for those not familiar with the names and subject matter it covers. McCurdy had to figure a way to make the content more comprehensible for a younger audience. With a call to videographer Demani Baker in New York, the project acquired a visual element to form a connection to the spoken word. Photographs were pulled from Africa, the Jim Crow South, Harlem and even South America to help visually depict Hughes' message.

"Hughes was a man of the world and a storyteller," McCurdy said. "He spoke of the condition of life all over the world."

He described the project as a "universal work, that transcends race" and is more about understanding how people co-exist in the world.

And after viewing it, understanding seems to be an understatement. The elements came together so seamlessly, offering the audience an all-encompassing feel of the plight of the black race in the racially segregated America of the early 1960s. The pounds of dynamic drums coincided with Hughes' words of the harsh realities of slavery and would then segue into smooth jazz that captured the essence of the black musicianship of which Hughes spoke.

The musicians played with an enthusiasm that demanded the audience's attention and captured it outright as the crowd clapped along, with lingering applause until after the musicians had even left the stage.

But it wasn't all serious. In fact, I have good reason to believe that Hughes himself may have coined the joke: "Your mama"; as he quipped, "They asked me if I voted for Nixon, I said ... I voted for your mama."

McCurdy said he hoped the theme of tolerance and the resiliency of the human spirit would resound with audiences and specifically that the images and words would inspire students to learn more about their history.

The Langston Hughes Project will also be presented during both the 10 and 11 a.m. Chapels today. And so if you want to be inspired and thoroughly entertained at the same time, all you have to do is Ask Your Mama.

More News ...

- Baylor University-The Lariat Online

"UNCA Langston Hughes Project"

West Coast Jazz Meets the Harlem Renaissance

by Ted McIrvine

February 22, 2008, Asheville, NC: The Lipinsky Auditorium of UNC Asheville was almost filled for a performance of the Langston Hughes epic poem “Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz” in its full realization by the noted jazz scholar Dr. Ronald C. McCurdy. The poem was read by McCurdy, who also led a skilled jazz quartet of Los Angeles musicians. UNC Asheville Office of Cultural & Special Events sponsored the event in collaboration with the YMI Cultural Center and others. Gary Bradley and the young YMI Community Jazz Band played a set of composed jazz works before the main event.

“Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz” is a monumental multi-media project that memorializes the artistic productivity of the African-American community, with special emphasis on the Harlem Renaissance. In the margins of his 800-line epic poem, Hughes had indicated the jazz styles that were to be used to accompany each of the twelve sections. The notes called for blues, New Orleans jazz, boogie-woogie, cha-cha, calypso, African drumming and gospel. He probably intended his friend Charles Mingus to provide the full music. That did not happen, no doubt due to the magnitude of the task.

The work was not performed in Hughes’ lifetime. He died in 1967, six years after writing the poem. The work is now on tour with a powerful accompaniment of jazz and images arranged by Dr. McCurdy, who chairs the jazz department of the University of Southern California. The jazz quartet consists of McCurdy on trumpet, Eli Brueggemann on piano, Edwin Livingston on string bass and Lorca Hart on drums. UNC-A had fulfilled the demands of McCurdy for a professional sound and lighting crew, video projection equipment, a sizable projection screen center stage, 1500 watts sound reinforcement system and house speakers, high quality microphones and multiple stage monitor mixes. As a result, the performance went off without a detectable hitch.

The visual effect comes from the projection of still and moving images, mostly of the Harlem Renaissance, created by Romare Bearden, Gordon Parks and other African-American photographers. Parks’ images are particularly apt for this work, since he was a jazz performer as well as an author, film maker and renowned still photographer. The music is a realization of Hughes’ intention orchestrated by McCurdy. After a solo introit by McCurdy, nine of the twelve interludes are composed by McCurdy, Brueggemann, or by these two collaboratively. Two of the remaining three are percussion solos composed by Peter Buck and the “eleventh mood” is the W.C. Handy “Hesitation Blues” performed brilliantly by Brueggemann.

McCurdy entered the hall from the back, playing his trumpet on his way through the crowd and up to the stage. Then came the stanzas of the poem, alternating with jazz. The topics were hard-hitting. African visitors ask why Americans know so little about the accomplishments of their black citizens. “Pigmeat” replaces “pigment” in the text. Images of Harriet Tubman and Niagara Falls accompany a reflection on escape to Canada. Affluent African-Americans in the suburbs are asked if they can recommend a maid. (The answer is “Ask your mama.”) “Is it true that Negroes...?” (The answer is “Ask your mama.”) Impoverished youngsters in Harlem want to go to the movies. (The answer is “Ask your mama.”) “Did you vote for Nixon?” (The answer is “I voted for mama.”)

If one had to choose the high points, they might be “Drums for Your Mama” played by Hart, “Madeleine’s Lullaby” composed and performed on muted trumpet by McCurdy, and the “Hesitation Blues” in an outstanding piano solo by Brueggemann. The concluding “Show Fare, Please” wrapped up the work admirably with a recapitulation of images seen earlier in the suite accompanied by fine rideout.

In summary, we were treated to a successful fusion of a major American poem, quality fine arts photography and first-rate West Coast jazz. Ron McCurdy has completed the work begun by Langston Hughes. A poem by the finest poet of the Harlem Renaissance has become a multi-media magnum opus, as the poet intended, and we were there.
- West Coast Jazz Meets Harlem Renaissance

"Ask Your Mama Review"

The Occidental Weekly > Entertainment
'Ask Your Mama' Brings Jazz To Oxy

By Morgan Flake

Published: Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Updated: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 16:02


Emma Ceddia

Skillful Sounds Cello player takes the stage at Thorne Hall

Emma Ceddia

Big Band Oxy students ears are treated to a jazz performance by the Langston Hughes Project

A trumpet blasts from the back of the auditorium as Dr. Ronald C. McCurdy approaches the stage. A screen lights up with images of the Harlem Renaissance and the band begins to play. The words of Langston Hughes fill the hall.

Last Thursday, Nov. 20 students gathered in Thorne Hall for the Langston Hughes Project as part of Valuing Diversity Week. Put on by Occidental's Intercultural Community Center and sponsored by the departments of Music, Critical Theory and Social Justice, and English and Comparative Literary Studies, the event proved to be successful.

McCurdy, a professor of music at University of Southern California created the project to expand music knowledge. As he read Langston Hughes' poem "Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods of Jazz," his quartet played accompanying music while a screen, displaying a montage of images of prominent Harlem Renaissance figures and video clips of dancers, African drummers and nature, complemented his poetry.

"The compilation of images is intended to flow with the music and text," McCurdy said. "We wanted room for imagination, enough space for the listener to complete Hughes's sentences."

Langston Hughes published the poem in 1961 as homage to the struggle of African Americans for freedom and equality. The Newport Jazz Festival in part inspired him to write the piece. In the margins of the poems, he wrote musical suggestions for accompaniment. He passed away before he could bring the project to full fruition.

McCurdy began work on this project 10 years ago, and in 2001 he composed the music with pianist Eli Brueggemann, based on the cues written by Hughes. He sees the project as a means to connect young people with history.

"A lot of students around the country are disconnected from history. Knowing history helps you to be a more whole and well-rounded person. Our intent is to create a very thought-provoking experience and give you enough thirst for you to do further exploration of Langston Hughes and other Harlem Renaissance artists," McCurdy said.

Students interacted with the performance with clapping, snapping, and cheering. For many, jazz can be a soporific lullaby, but in combination with vocals and visuals, the production was almost overwhelming.

"The incorporation of the visual with the music was great," said Krissy Leahy (sophomore), one of the programming assistants who helped put on the event.

"It's such an important part of history. Jazz is the basis for so many forms of music today," added Edith Zamora (sophomore), another programming assistant.

The programming assistants designed posters, distributed tickets in the quad, and helped with sound checks before the show. They also helped Associate Director of Intercultural Affairs Naddia Palacios acquire the donations from various departments that were vital to putting on the event. Palacios has been working on bringing the Langston Hughes Project to campus since September 2007.

McCurdy's quartet has put on the Langston Hughes Project hundreds of times in the past few years.

"We've been everywhere from here to North Carolina," said McCurdy. "As educators, our mission is to enlighten and inspire."

The Intercultural Community Center decided to incorporate the Langston Hughes Project into its Valuing Diversity Week because this year's theme was "Music of the People."

"It worked perfectly with the theme, telling the story of the forced migration of African Americans and of the Harlem Renaissance," Palacios said.

The only shortcoming seemed to be a want of energy due to a smaller than expected audience. Yet McCurdy´s powerful voice resonated deeply with the audience. Impressive solos on the trumpet, bass, piano, and drums captivated students. The enthusiasm of the audience was observable, but not tangible. I can only imagine the energy the group felt when it performed at Carnegie Hall.

The Langston Hughes Project gave students an opportunity to gain a stronger connection to history and their community through the common enjoyment of music and spoken word. Hopefully McCurdy will inspire students to delve further into the subject matter of "Ask Your Mama" to gain insight into history and a greater appreciation of diversity. - Occidental College- Weekly

"Langston Hughes Poject"

Langston Hughes’ writing explored

Written by CUIndependent in Entertainment on Feb 4, 2011 9:12 / comments

(Courtesy of the Cultural Events Board)

As a jazz trio settled on the front-right corner of a glowing white stage, a noisy but scattered crowd talked among themselves in the less-lighted area facing the band.

All in attendance were silenced the moment a blaring, bright timbre of a golden trumpet blasted through the entire ballroom.

The band, now a quartet with the addition of the trumpet, sat unflinching as Ron McCurdy, the trumpeter, continued his unaccompanied solo.

So began the Thursday night performance of the epic poem, “Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz,” by Langston Hughes, interpreted with musical accompaniment by the Ron McCurdy Quartet at the University of Colorado’s Glenn Miller Ballroom in Boulder.

The performance was a special event organized by several on-campus student and university groups at CU.

The performance is part of the Langston Hughes Project started by McCurdy, who works as a professor and chair of jazz studies at the University of Southern California.

McCurdy started the project after careful academic exploration discovered that Hughes’ poem, written in the early 1960s, actually contained musical cues meant to transform the piece into a full-fledged musical work.

For six months, McCurdy said he “locked himself in” along with a musical partner to compose a score.

He said the project is about enlightening people.

“It’s about giving people an understanding of how we, as human beings, can all work together,” McCurdy said.

Hughes was one of the major figures of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ‘30s and a prolific writer and poet among other artistic venues. He never received an opportunity to organize his jazz piece; he died in 1967.

McCurdy’s project is meant to be a homage to Hughes, incorporating jazz and images from the era of Hughes’ lifetime, including the 1930s through the 1960s.

The motive behind constructing the project was simple for McCurdy, he said.

“I love Langston Hughes,” McCurdy said. “He’s such a great storyteller. He has a way of communicating with people from all different races, creeds, religions. He’s just a great communicator.”

Although a majority of the performance is illuminated with music and dramatic visuals, in black-and-white and full-color photographs, the focus of the performance remains on the unity Hughes suggested in his many works.

“The music and the visuals are also connected,” McCurdy said. “The music helps illuminate the words. The visuals help illuminate the words.”

Despite the upbeat atmosphere, many of the words scribed on the epic poem by Hughes defined a generation filled with the daily reality of racism, discrimination and segregation.

But the poem also lives on as proof of Hughes’ deft ability of combining satire and drama.

The title, “Ask Your Mama,” was a reference to a repeated line within the written work where a question is answered with that phrase, resulting in what sounds like a vintage “yo-mama” joke.

McCurdy suggested Hughes’ ultimate goal in his many writings was about demonstrating unified humanity.

“We are all a part of the human race,” McCurdy said. “It’s not about the black culture, the white culture or the Latino culture. It’s about being human beings and that’s what Langston was about. He was about human beings all coexisting, working together for a common good.”

Ryan Flanders, a 22-year-old senior international affairs major, works as the Outreach Coordinator for the Dennis Small Cultural Center at CU, one of the programs that sponsored the event.

“It was originally my idea,” Flanders said of bringing the quartet. “The performer emailed me and told me they bring the show around the country and that they’d like to bring it to CU.”

Flanders then proposed collaboration with the Cultural Events Board and other groups like the Center for Multicultural Affairs.

He said the performance offered an opportunity to learn about the country’s past and learn about the arts and, “how arts today can promote civil rights and social justice,” within the community.

Nikos Syropoulos was onstage with McCurdy as the pianist. After graduating from USC in May of 2010, McCurdy asked him to join his quartet.

Syropoulos said the project is particularly relevant considering February is Black History Month.

“As you can probably tell, it’s a really dense work, so there are a lot of different motives for putting this kind of thing on,” Syropoulos said. “We have a lot of gigs around the country, really just keeping this type of work alive.”

As fond as Syropoulos is of the work, there was one unpleasant factor about coming to Colorado.

“We came in [Wednesday] and it was negative 15 at night,” he said with a grin. “It was not fun.”

Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Esteban L. Hernandez at
About CUIndependent

The CU Independent or CUI for short is the student newspaper for the University of Colorado at Boulder. We cover News, Sports, Politics, Entertainment, and more. Our mission: to give the students at CU an online publication for students and by students, about the things we care about.

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- University of Colorado Independent

"Langston Hughes Poject"

Langston Hughes Project resonates: Black History Month celebration incorporates jazz, poetry, video imagery
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Cecil Giltz
March 2, 2008

By Cecil Giltz

Lifetimes staff writer

The Langston Hughes Project, "Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz," was performed recently by the Ron McCurdy Quartet in the Kent State University Student Center Ballroom for an audience of more than 300 people of all ages. It was presented by the KSU Hugh A. Glauser School of Music in partnership with the College of the Arts and the Wick Poetry Center.

Representing the Music Department, Linda B. Walker, KSU Music Education Program coordinator and Gospel Choir director, welcomed the audience and introduced the department sponsors represented by Timothy Chandler, dean of the College of the Arts; Maggie Anderson, professor and director of the Wick Poetry Center; and the efforts of Josef Knott, director of the School of Music, who was unable to attend.

The multimedia performance, involving a spoken word artist, a jazz quartet and a video presentation of images from the Harlem Renaissance and beyond, was drawn from a masterwork written in 12 parts by poet Langston Hughes, depicting his vision of the global struggle for freedom in the early 1960s.

Bringing Hughes' works to life were Ron McCurdy, word artist and trumpeter; Eli Brueggemann, piano; Edwin Livingston, bass; and Peter Buck, drums. McCurdy is chairman of the Jazz Studies Department and professor of music in the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Chas Baker, KSU associate professor of music and director of jazz studies, described the multi-media concept as "tough to pull off." He said that in order to include live music, the musicians need to be really good. "These gentlemen, the Ron McCurdy Quartet, were excellent and it is a tribute to their skills that we could hear in this music almost the entire sweep of jazz history. The styles ranged from Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines and Duke Ellington to Charlie Parker, Miles, Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, as well as the individual, cutting edge styles of the musicians on stage. We could not have asked for much more."

As part of the School of Music's community outreach, 35 children and family members affiliated with King Kennedy Center in Ravenna, a community center with educational, recreational and cultural programing, attended this premiere program at KSU during Black History Month. Five KSU students served as mentors for the visitors as the cultural and educational experience was set to jazz and prose.

Also representing King Kennedy Center at the performance were Conni Dubick, KSU associate director of student financial aid and King Kennedy board member; Ann Gosky, senior special assistant to the vice president at KSU; and Dr. George Garrison, King Kennedy board president and professor of Pan-African Studies.

Anderson summed up the evening as "a spectacular performance," adding, "The poetry of Langston Hughes is rich in colloquial language, startling imagery, and complex music. To experience the poems from "Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz" as performed by the Ron McCurdy Quartet is to realize all of these simultaneously. The music leads the words, the images complement the music, and the poems themselves are given all their due and then some."

After experiencing the performance, Walker said, "The arts are powerful reality of life; the Ron McCurdy Quartet made these mediums speak to us."
- Kent State-The Recorder

"Langston Hughes Poject"

The Phoenix
Living & Arts
Langston Hughes Project keeps legend’s message alive


In print | February 17, 2011

As a man of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes is known and remembered as being an innovator of a free-style poetry that battled the oppressive forces of his day. His many works emphasize the importance of social equality by exhibiting the reality of lower-class African-American life during the 1920s to the 1960s. On Wednesday night, the Langston Hughes Project featuring the Ron McCurdy Quartet honored his work with the multimedia performance of “Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz.”
Swarthmore’s Vice President of College and Community Relations Maurice Eldridge ’61, a Hughes enthusiast, helped support the event. “The idea of bringing this performance to campus has been floating around for a couple of years, and would likely have been submitted as a Cooper proposal for next year,” he said.
Eldridge believes that the nature of the performance compliments Swarthmore’s celebration of Black History Month. “Langston Hughes is a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance as a trenchant observer of black life with all its ironies in American society, certainly for the era in which he lived,” he said.
Dr. Ron McCurdy, a distinguished member of the jazz community, has served as president for the International Association for Jazz Education, and currently serves as a board member for Bands of American and the Los Angeles Jazz Society. He is also a professor of music at the University of Southern California. When asked about his teaching style, McCurdy explained, “Music is a reflection of life … and what you want to do is to try to discover your own voice, to try and discover what it is you want to say.” As a trumpet player, McCurdy describes his musical upbringing as a “wide, eclectic experience as a child because [his] parents played a lot of music in [his] home.” His influences include musicians such as Earl Davis, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Beethoven and Brahms.
Fifteen years ago, McCurdy created the Langston Hughes program when asked to perform at the opening of the University of Minnesota’s Weisman Art Museum by the museum’s curator.
Though he intended on only performing the program once, the positive response from the audience encouraged McCurdy to polish and rehearse the program that he has now performed nationwide. Regarding Hughes’ popularity, McCurdy believes his legendary status originates from his power as a storyteller and “someone who was able to tell stories about life in such a way that any and everyone, regardless of educational levels, could appreciate [them].”
Langston Hughes’ message encouraged all, regardless of race or socioeconomic class, to strive for ‘The American Dream.’ It remains just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. “[Because of the] inequality that some people still experience, there is a need for the message that Langston Hughes was trying to convey,” McCurdy said.
Although a feature of Swarthmore’s Black History Month celebration, McCurdy believes Hughes’ ideas about equality are universal. “The message can be delivered at any time of a year … it evokes a message of peace, and hope, and optimism. It’s a message that should resonate with all races, not just Black History Month,” he said.
Especially in light of the current conflict in Egypt, McCurdy believes the notions of peace and optimism resonate with all who are oppressed.
Since Hughes passed away in 1967, he never had a chance to perform his poetry collection “Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz.” Each of the 12 moods reflect social issues about race in America, but McCurdy believes the poems also address ethnic groups worldwide fighting for freedom, such as the black communities in Brazil.
In considering the 12 moods, McCurdy favors the sixth one, which is named “Horn of Plenty.” In the poem, Hughes refers to artists Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, among other legends. For the project, McCurdy transformed the music and poem into a multimedia performance that fuses images, spoken word and music. For the musical element of the project, McCurdy relies on musical cues that Hughes himself actually provided.
“As [Hughes] wrote the poem, he said that he could hear music being played at various sections of the poem. [Such a musical cue] is simply saying something like ‘a triumphant march’ or ‘a gospel flavor,’” McCurdy said.
Composers then used these cues to compose music that reflects that particular emotion. In addition, McCurdy added a videography component, which he believes aids a contemporary audience in relating to the Hughes’ references to names, faces and places of his time.
During Wednesday’s performance, McCurdy believes students were “educated and entertained at the same time … [since Hughes’] work covers a swath of emotions.” In reflection of the Project, Eldridge echoes similar sentiments about the entertainment’s educational value. “Hughes is a fine poet and the music and his poetry were made for each other,” Eldridge said. - Swarthmore College- Phoenix

"Ask Your Mama- w/Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra- Blooger"

ISO's "Ask Your Mama" put the weight of history on my shoulders

Posted by Mike Magan on June 19, 2008 at 11:30am
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(photo by Mike Magan)

I walked into the “Ask Your Mama” performance of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra last night feeling pretty full of myself. Here I am a white-bred Southern Indiana boy taking his 11 year-old daughter to a high-brow event. Dad’s of the world and civil rights leaders are patting me on the back as we take our seats. After all, I was exposing her to a cultural trifecta: music, poetry and African-American history in a month that isn’t February.

As the lights flashed then dimmed above the (score one more for me) multicultural crowd, Ruby Bridges gently put her hand on my shoulder and whispered “thank you” into my ear. After all, I was saving my daughter’s generation by heroically delivering this sheltered white girl to a Langston Hughes poetry reading.

And as it so often is, my ego was deflated quickly when Ice-T started reading lines like this:
“Bitter was the day
When I saw my children unschooled,
My young men without a voice in the world,
My women taken as the body-toys
Of a thieving people.

That day is past.”

OK, I’m getting uncomfortable now, and Annie is transfixed.

“Bitter was the day, I say,
When the lyncher's rope
Hung about my neck,
And the fire scorched my feet,
And the oppressors had no pity,
And only in the sorrow songs
Relief was found.

That day is past.”

I was hoping intermission would never come. My lightening-sharp 6th grader will have questions about the history of the black struggle in America. She wasn’t going to ask about whats and whens on the historical timeline. She would be asking “why.” Why did white people lynch black people? Why did white children throw rocks and tomatoes at black children? and why did police dogs rip into peaceful protesters?

There were more instruments on display than bassoons and French Horns, Ice-Ts voice was unwavering and powerful, the Ron McCurdy Quartet's trumpet and bass were silky smooth and the piano player, while tickling the ivories with his right hand was at times controlling a powerful video slideshow with his left.


I felt the weight of history on my shoulders; I didn’t want to misrepresent the struggle and the deaths of black people. For the first time in my life I realized the civil rights movement impacted me. Could a white guy accurately portray Langston Hughes’ America?

Actually the answer was right in front of me . . . it was in the eyes of my 11 year-old. She didn’t have to unlearn and reprogram born-in prejudices like I did. In her eyes everyone: men, women, blacks and whites were equal. I still make unwitting mistakes because I’m still ignorant in many ways, but Annie is already more attuned than I will ever be.

“Dad, why did the audience laugh whenever (Langston Hughes) would say ‘Ask Your Mama?’” Annie asked.

Here it goes: “Annie, think about the belittling questions white people asked just before ‘Ask Your Mama.’ was given as a response,” I said.

“You mean like ‘Can you recommend a good maid,’” Annie said. OK so far, so good.

“Just because Hughes was black, white people assumed he could recommend a good maid.," I told her. "Hairs on neck firmly standing up straight now. "So he told them ‘Ask your Mama,’ because he didn’t know any more maids than they did.”

Feeling confident I continued, “Ask your Mama” was a revolutionary response because Hughes was rejecting what white society expected him to say; where they wanted him on the totem pole. Hughes was just another servant to The Man. Annie rolled her eyes the more I talked. So whether I was right or wrong, I was losing her. But at least I wasn’t embedding a new set of prejudices.

Annie and I also came to the conclusion that the singular voice of the reader; the louder voice of the jazz quartet and the thunderous voice of the orchestra reflected the ebb and flow of the evolution of civil rights. At times there was but a single voice like Martin Luther King or Malcom X; at times there were more voices such as the NAACP, and finally a crescendo of voices from thousands of black protesters.

Thank you ISO for taking a chance with the McCurdy Quartet and Ice-T on an unconventional and unbuttoned performance. You gave us more than a concert, you gave us all a reminder of how sacrifice and struggle shaped our lives into what they are right now. - Smallerindiana

"Ask Your Mama- w/Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra"

Concert review: ISO, Ice T excite crowd with 'Langston Hughes Project'
whitney smith

June 19, 2008 by whitney smith
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1 comment

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has played its share of first performances, but Wednesday's world premiere of the newly orchestrated version of "Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz" had a special excitement about it.

"Ask Your Mama" is not just any poem by Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes. It's an epic, late-life work consisting of 12 inter-related pieces symbolizing the struggles of black Americans.

Bearing titles such as "Cultural Exchange," "Ode to Dinah," "Horn of Plenty," "Gospel Cha Cha," "Ask Your Mama" and "Jazztet Muted," the poems strike up contrasts between blacks and whites, joys and sorrows, and heroes and everyday folk in the urban American landscape.

When Hughes wrote "Ask Your Mama" in the early 1960s, he envisioned it performed with music, even incorporating musical cues into the text. In 1995, trumpeter Ron McCurdy set the text to music by his jazz quartet for a Minnesota museum opening, and he has been touring the piece ever since.

In this new version, the crack jazz quartet (McCurdy on trumpet, Eli Brueggemann on piano, Edwin Livingston on bass and Peter Buck on drums) remains at the musical core of this compelling multimedia piece. But adding full orchestra deepens the musical texture, especially with lush strings and subtle woodwinds.

Narration by the provocative actor and rapper Ice T gave "Ask Your Mama" a celebrity cachet that surely helped draw the crowd of 1,300 to Hilbert Circle Theatre.

Known both for his controversial rap music in the 1990s and for his more recent role as a detective on television's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," Ice T gave a far cry from a polished poetry recitation. But his earthy presentation offered much, whether it was his crescendo of recurring cadences like "In the quarters of the Negroes," or his playful shading of Hughes' use of the phrase "Your Mama."

The weakest element of the piece seems to be visual. Images of dozens of mentioned places and entertainment figures fell into place, one after the other. While there was something appealing about their vintage look, certain images were grainy, while others were out of focus. Ultimately, they never took on the cohesiveness or sense of direction present in both the text and the music.
- Indianapolis Post


The Langston Hughes Project "Live at the Huntington"
To be released January 2011



The Langston Hughes Project

The Langston Hughes Project was founded in 1995 as part of the opening of the Weisman Art Museum on the campus of the University of Minnesota. Since that time the LHP has performed at colleges and universities, libraries, museums and such venues as Carnegie Hall. In 2008, the orchestral version of the LHP was premiered with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra with special guest spoken word artist and rapper, Ice-T. In addition to the performance, Dr. Ron McCurdy is available to present lectures on The Poets, Dancers and Musicians of the Harlem Renaissance. Other lectures have addressed aspects of music performance and sessions on the Business of Music.

Dr. Ronald C. McCurdy is professor of music in the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California (USC) and is Past-President of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE). Prior to his appointment at USC he served as Director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at USC.

Ron has released two CDs. The first one titled, Once Again for the First Time on the INNOVA label and the most recent CD titled "April In Paris" with his vocal funk group, The Ron McCurdy Collective. He is co-author of a vocal jazz improvisation series titled Approaching the Standards, published by Warner Bros. Ron is the director of the National Grammy Vocal Jazz Ensemble and combo, and also serves as Director of the Walt Disney All-American College Band in Anaheim, CA.

Ron has performed with a host of legendary jazz artists, including Wynton Marsalis, Joe Williams, Rosemary Clooney, Terence Blanchard, Leslie Uggams, Arturo Sandoval, Diane Schuur, Ramsey Lewis, Mercer Ellington, Dr. Billy Taylor, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton, and Dianne Reeves. Ron is a performing artist for the Yamaha International Corporation.

For more information, please visit his website: