Lawrence – Former University of Kansas jazz studies director Ron McCurdy will return to KU to perform the multimedia concert The Langston Hughes Project at 7:30 p.m. April 7 in Swarthout Recital Hall. Admission is free.
Interweaving spoken word poetry, music and video, the concert is a performance of Hughes’ 12-part epic poem “Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz.” Written at the start of the 1960s, the poem is an homage to the struggle for artistic and social freedom at home and aboard.
Hughes wrote the work shortly after participating in the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival and provided musical cues that drew on everything from blues and gospel songs to Latin cha cha and Jewish liturgy. The work had not been performed when Hughes died in 1967.
Using the musical cues, McCurdy created a live soundtrack to accompany Hughes’ poetry. The Langston Hughes Project has been performed across the country with actors Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Blair Underwood and Ice T having all performed the spoken word portion of the concert.
On April 7, McCurdy will perform with the Ron McCurdy Quartet.
Through videography, the performance connects the words and music of “Ask Your Mama” to the topical images of the poem’s people, places and events, as well as the visual artists with whom Hughes collaborated and admired. The combination recreates a moment in history that bridges the Harlem Renaissance, Beat Generation and the looming 1960s Black Arts Movement.
The Lawrence performance is a homecoming in two ways. Hughes spent most of his childhood in Lawrence before becoming a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance. And, McCurdy, a recipient of the KU Distinguished Alumni Award, earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at KU before becoming the school’s first director of the KU jazz studies program in 1983. During McCurdy’s seven years in that position, the jazz studies program gained national and international recognition. McCurdy is currently a professor of music in the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California.
The concert is sponsored by the KU School of Music, the Office of Diversity and Equity, the Hall Center for the Humanities and the African and African American Studies Department.
More information on The Langston Hughes Project can be found here: http://langstonhughesproject.org/.