[Blackstudies-l] Langston Hughes’ jazz “Ask Your Mama” launches national tour

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Fri Jan 6 11:00:37 EST 2017

lisaparavisini posted: " A review by Eric A. Gordon for People's World.
This year marks a half-century since the death of preeminent Black poet
Langston Hughes. He died on May 22, 1967, and as jazz performer and
historian Ron McCurdy says, we need Langston in our lives today m"
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<http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/> Langston Hughes’ jazz
“Ask Your Mama” launches national tour
lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>

[image: jazz960.jpg]

A review by Eric A. Gordon for *People's World*.

This year marks a half-century since the death of preeminent Black poet
Langston Hughes. He died on May 22, 1967, and as jazz performer and
historian Ron McCurdy says, we need Langston in our lives today more than
ever. Amen to that! Long before Trump wanted to make America great again,
Hughes said, “Let America be America again

Professor of African-American music and culture at the University of
Southern California, McCurdy teaches a course “From Be-bop to Doo-wop to
Hip-hop,” and has composed a multimedia concert piece around Hughes’
lengthy poem suite, *Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz*. McCurdy recites the
poetry, plays trumpet, and directs his four-man ensemble (with piano, bass
and percussion), all accompanied by a videographic component pointing up
the personalities and the scenes evoked in Hughes’ writing.

I caught a performance (Jan. 4) in The Sorting Room at the Wallis Annenberg
Center for the Performing Arts, a nightclub-like space for intimate
culture, named such because “The Wallis” has been lovingly converted from
an Art Deco-era post office which still preserves its original
working-class murals. What I did not know beforehand is that McCurdy is
taking his ensemble on the road this year to perform this work in
commemoration of Langston Hughes’ life and career.

Written as a response to the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival and all the great
African-American creative talents who amassed there, *Ask Your Mama* is a
gorgeous carpet of sound, words and images recreating a magical moment in
our cultural history and referencing almost every phase of African-American
life, particularly its urban expression. The poem forms a central piece in
the emerging Black Arts performance explosion of the Sixties.

Jazz was a universal metaphor for Hughes, a convergence of the arts beyond
the reach of words or the limits of any one language. In text he replicates
the collage and film editing techniques of cubist modernism so that a vast
treasure chest of information is conveyed to the reader or listener in
chaotic remembrance of our collective past.

Unifying elements take us back to the present, as in his running gag where
insensitive, though perhaps well-meaning people ask inherently offensive
questions of Hughes (standing in for all Black people), and the poet
returns the compliment. As an example, totally out of the blue a white
person might ask Hughes if he can recommend a maid, and he’ll reply, “Ask
your mama!”

The musical score serves not just as background to the words but as
commentary and part of the conversation. You’ll hear blues, spirituals,
free jazz, classical *Lieder*, barrelhouse, all in thrilling juxtaposition.
McCurdy freely interjects remarks with his audience, as though he were
sharing this performance piece with you in his living room. Audience
sing-along to certain catchy phrases is invited, and you are not
discouraged from clapping or contributing a timely “Amen!” to something you

*Langston Hughes was identified with the Left
for much of his life, so the poem explodes with references to worldwide
figures in the anti-colonial insurgency of the time, including some
admiring mention of Fidel Castro. Many African liberation leaders are
included, and Hughes also reflects on his travels in the Caribbean and to
Bahia, Brazil, important centers of the worldwide Négritude movement.*

At the same time, as Hughes became more widely recognized he entered the
African-American middle class. Some of the later “moods” in *Ask Your Mama*
deal with the relatively new phenomenon of having a little money in his
pocket for the first time in his life.

Further information, and most important, a show schedule for the year 2017,
can be found at the Langston Hughes Project website here
<http://langstonhughesproject.org/>. Audiences around the country,
including those at colleges and universities where this material needs to
be heard, are advised to check it out. Bring your mama!
*lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>* |
January 5, 2017 at 6:59 pm | Categories: News
<http://repeatingislands.com/category/news/> | URL: http://wp.me/psnTa-sSL

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