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Celebrating Black History Month with the Langston Hughes Project

Ron McCurdy and Langston Hughes

Are you a jazz aficionado?

Attend our multimedia virtual concert performance, Langston Hughes’ kaleidoscopic jazz poem suite, “Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz,” featuring the Ron McCurdy Quartet.

On February 10, Scottsdale Community College, in conjunction with Chandler-Gilbert Community College and Mesa Community College, will present the Langston Hughes Project. The twelve-part epic poem is Hughes’ homage in verse and music to the struggle for artistic and social freedom at home and abroad at the beginning of the 1960s. Hughes scored the piece with musical cues drawn from blues and Dixieland, gospel songs, boogie-woogie, bebop, progressive jazz, Latin “cha cha,” Afro-Cuban mambo music, German lieder, Jewish liturgy, West Indian calypso, and African drumming – a creative masterwork left unperformed at his death.

Originally, 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, Otis Spann, Ray Charles, and Muddy Waters. The musical scoring was designed to serve not as mere background 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 performance of this masterwork, it remained only in the planning stages when Langston Hughes dies in 1967. Its recovery now in word, music, and image provides a galvanizing experience for audiences everywhere.

Utilizing engaging videography, this concert performance links the words and music of Hughes’ poetry to topical images of Ask Your Mama’s people, places, and events, as well as to the visual artists Langston Hughes admired or collaborated with over the course of his career. These include 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, the rhythmic sculptural figurines, heads, and bas reliefs of Richmond Barthe, and 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 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.

The performance is brought to life by the extraordinary talents of the Ron McCurdy Quartet. Dr. Ronald C. McCurdy is a professor of music at the Thornton School of Music, University of Southern California (USC), and is a 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. Dr. McCurdy is the director of the National Grammy Vocal Jazz Ensemble and Combo, and serves as Director of the Walt Disney All-American College Band in Anaheim, CA.

Dr. McCurdy 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. He is a performing artist for the Yamaha International Corporation.

This event is free and open to the community. Dr. McCurdy will host a Q&A following the performance.

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