Welcome to The Langston Hughes Project!
Ron McCurdy’s performance of
The Langston Hughes Project
A multimedia concert performance of Langston Hughes’ kaleidoscopic Jazz poem suite, “Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz.” (Hughes’ homage to the struggle for artistic and social freedom at home and abroad at the beginning of the 1960s).
By way of videography, this 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. 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.
…an emotionally infused multimedia performance that is “intellectually stimulating and musically electrifying!” -Lillian U. Harder, Director at the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts, Clemson University
…our list of successful programming at these colleges- Skirball Cultural Center, Carnegie Hall, University of Nebraska, Arizona State University, Cal Poly University, University of Southern California.
…your audience to the wonderful world of blues, gospel songs, boogie woogie, bebop, Afro-Cuban mambo music, German lieder, West Indian calypso, and African drumming!
…the 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.
About the Langston Hughes Project
Jazz was a cosmopolitan metaphor for Langston Hughes, a force for cultural convergence beyond the reach of words, or the limits of any one language.
It called up visual analogues for him as well, most pointedly the surrealistic techniques of painterly collage and of the film editing developed in this country in the 1930s and 40s, which condensed time and space, conveyed to the viewer a great array of information in short compass, and which offered the possibility of suggesting expanded states of consciousness, chaotic remembrances of past events or dreams — through montage. “To me,” Hughes wrote, “jazz is a montage of a dream deferred. A great big dream — yet to come — and always yet to become ultimately and finally true.”
By way of videography, this 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.
Ask Your Mama was dedicated to Louis Armstrong, “the greatest horn blower of them all,”
and to those of whatever hue or culture of origin who welcomed being immersed in the mysteries, rituals, names, and nuances of black life not just in America but in the Caribbean, in Latin America, in Europe and Africa during the years of anti-colonial upheaval abroad and the rising Freedom Movement here at home. Not only the youthful Martin Luther King, Jr. but the independence leaders of Guinea and Nigeria and Ghana and Kenya and the Congo fill the chants and refrains of Hughes’s epic poem.
Originally, Langston Hughes created Ask Your Mama in the aftermath of his participation as an official for the five-day Newport Jazz Festival of July 1960, where he shared the stage with such luminaries as Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Horace Silver, Dakota Staton, Oscar Peterson, Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross, Otis Spann, Ray Charles, and Muddy Waters.
The musical scoring of the poem was designed to serve not as mere background for the words but to forge a conversation and a commentary with the music.
Though Hughes originally intended to collaborate with Charles Mingus, and then Randy Weston, on the full performance of his masterwork, it remained only in the planning stages when Langston Hughes died in 1967. Its recovery now in word, music, and image provides a galvanizing experience for audiences everywhere.
Rave Reviews & Testimonials!
“Although interweaving of verse, music and images is not unusual these days, few [Ron McCurdy] have created such a poignant, eloquent and exceptionally soulful work.
– Chris Walker, Jazz Times UK
“…a raging, inspired revival that would make Langston Hughes proud…Ask Your Mama is as relevant today as it was in 1960.”
“…Ron McCurdy’s setting of the text…brought the house down at the Barbican on the penultimate night of the London Jazz Festival…his aim was to ‘spread the gospel of Langston Hughes’ and he certainly achieved that. He had a capacity crowd hanging on the poet’s every word and on their feet, cheering themselves hoarse come the end. He got his Baptist church atmosphere too – there were plenty of “Amens”. – Jazzwise Magazine
Winner of the Jazz FM 2016 Awards!
“The Langston Hughes Project” blends passionate spoken word and original soul, swing and gospel music composed by McCurdy with a vivid visual backdrop featuring the works of African American visual artists who Langston Hughes either admired or collaborated with. Honouring the poet was not the only objective for McCurdy and Ice T’s project. The projects secondary purpose was to highlight the fact that music had become “too segregated” from other art forms and was trying to blur the lines by creating a true multimedia performance with a clear social message. – JAZZ FM
“…the evening’s focus was the imaginative intelligence, rhythmic magic and contemporary relevance of Hughes’s jazz-infused poetry which had been so warmly brought to life. The performance won its ovation, and the show deserves a run.”
– Financial Times
The Langston Hughes Project was a tremendous success at Clemson University. Dr. Ron McCurdy and colleagues have created an amazing multi-media performance of Langston Hughes: Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz. The use of the spoken word, visually stimulating images from the Harlem Renaissance, and great music performed by their jazz quartet, made for a fantastic celebration of life and creativity. Dr. McCurdy’s masterclass for Clemson’s jazz ensemble was definitely a highlight of the students’ musical experiences this year, for he is an experienced educator who knows how to communicate with students. I highly recommend this project to anyone who wants an intellectually stimulating and musically electrifying performance.
Lillian U. Harder
Director, Brooks Center for the Performing Arts, Clemson University
Ron McCurdy and the Langston Hughes Project presented a polished and vibrant program celebrating the poetry of Langston Hughes and the richness of the Harlem Renaissance! The music was phenomenal and the spoken word powerful. The audience was completely engaged and left the performance feeling energized and uplifted!
Coordinator of Continuing Education, Huntington Library
Jazz Arts Group of Columbus
The optimism of Langston Hughes was exposed to us in “Ask Your Mama” as we discovered the people, places and events cleverly portrayed as a valuable part of the rich history of the road to freedom.
Director of Education, Jazz Arts Group of Columbus
Skirball Cultural Center
Wow! What an amazing show tonight – it got a standing ovation. Not only are Mr. Hughes’s words so timely still, the music was amazing and the visuals on the screen quite powerful and insightful. Not to mention parallel alignment with the mission statement. Wish we could have done a second show.
Producer, Skirball Cultural Center
Cal Poly University San Luis Obispo
The Langston Hughes Project is a truly magnificent event. It combines quality entertainment, with key educational information. It is uplifting and truly special, and is attractive and valued by all segments of the community. A wonderful event that we definitely plan on bringing back to our Cal Poly community.
Dr. Ken Barclay
Professor Coordinator of the Artist Series , Cal Poly University San Luis Obispo
Arizona State University
The project is a ‘celebration’ of the African-American experience, yet it is brutal in its honesty. It is a lesson in literature, music, culture, history, and, ultimately, human rights. I have never been so entertained, educated, AND inspired. Our campus did not stop talking about the event and what it meant on a personal level for several weeks after the performance. The professors who had students in the audience reported to me that it was the perfect out of class activity, as it brought life to the subject matter and deepened understanding.
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, Arizona State University
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1 Mood 1: Cultural Exchange (Live) 7:02
2 Afronato (Live) 4:08
3 Mood 2: Ride Red Ride (Live) 1:48
4 Mood 3: Shade of Pigmeat (Live) 2:57
5 In a Spiritual Place (Live) 2:11
6 Mood 4: Ode to Dinah (Live) 8:09
7 Mingus Time (Live) 1:00
8 Mood 5: Blues in Stereo (Live) 2:30
9 Louis’ Trumpet (Live) 0:59
10 Mood 6: Horn of Plenty (Live) 6:45
11 Meet Me At Congo Square (Live) 4:21
12 Mood 7: Gospel Cha Cha (Live) 3:37
13 Mood 8: Is It True? (Live) 2:55
14 Mood 9: Ask Your Mama (Live) 3:48
15 Mood 10: Bird in Orbit (Live) 5:47
16 Madeleine’s Lullaby (Live) 3:43
17 Mood 11: Jazztet Muted (Live) 1:36
18 Hughes’ Blues (Live) 2:55
19 Mood 12: Show Fare, Please (Live) 1:55
20 Show Fare, Finale (Live) 4:47
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1 Brazasia | Yutaka Yokokura 5:13
2 In the Winelight | Grover Washington 5:10
3 Even the Rain | Richard Page 6:31
4 April in Paris | Vernon Duke 4:42
5 Hush, Hush, Hush | Paula Cole 4:21
6 Tight | Betty Carter 5:19
7 Jazz Crimes | Joshua Redman 4:59
8 Seven Steps to Heaven | Miles Davis/Victor Feldman 6:00
9 So What | Miles Davis 4:14
10 Jacket Town | Jimmy Haslip 4:48
Show Schedule 2018
Misericordia College, Dallas, PA | January 18
Concordia University, Morehead, MN | February 1
Mayville State University, Mayville, ND | February 2
SW Minnesota State, Marshall, MN | February 5
Bemidji State University, Bemidji, MN | February 6
Carleton College, Northfield, MN | February 7
The Ritz Theater, Jacksonville, FL | February 10
Carolina Theater, Durham, NC | February 11-13
Claflin University, Orange, SC | February 14
Jamaica Center for the Arts, New York | February 17
Belmont University, Nashville, TN | February 21
Chattanooga State Community College, Chattanooga, TN | February 22
Pellissippi Community College, Pellissippi, TN | February 22
San Jose Community College | March 8
Huntington Library, Los Angeles | April 12
CSU Monterey Bay, Monterey, CA | April 19
Cincinnati Jazz Festival, Cincinnati, OH | July 30
Orange Coast College | September 18
Now Accepting Bookings for 2018!
Educational/Community Outreach activities include: Local Poetry Slam contest (winners have their poems set to music by Ron McCurdy, and they get to open the show), Numerous Master Classes and Workshops conducted by Dr. Ron McCurdy or Use of well-known local celebrity as guest narrator.
Ron McCurdy | MilesCliff Productions
Fran Heller | BiCoastal Productions
o. 212.268.6969 c. 917.686.3313