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Colby-Sawyer College to Host The Langston Hughes Project, A Multimedia Performance of 'Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz'

NEW LONDON, N.H. – Colby-Sawyer College will host The Langston Hughes Project's multimedia performance of Langston Hughes' epic poem “Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz” featuring the Ron McCurdy Quartet with spoken word and images from the Harlem Renaissance.

The performance will take place on Thursday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. in Wheeler Hall at the Ware Campus Center. There is no charge for admission and the public is invited to attend this Black History Month event.

The 12-part poem “Ask Your Mama” by the prolific African-American poet and writer Langston Hughes (1902-1967) is the centerpiece of the multimedia performance. It is, says Ronald C. McCurdy, musical director of The Langston Hughes Project, Hughes' “homage in verse and music to the struggle for artistic and social freedom at home and abroad at the beginning of the 1960s.”

“Ask Your Mama” was written after Hughes attended the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival and as freedom riders prepared to start rolling through the South. Hughes included musical cues in the margins of “Ask Your Mama” that included the blues and Dixieland, gospel, boogie woogie, bebop and progressive jazz, Latin “cha cha” and Afro-Cuban mambo music, German lieder, Jewish liturgy, West Indian calypso and African drumming. The musical scoring, says McCurdy, was designed to forge a conversation and a commentary with the music. Hughes intended to collaborate on a full performance of his masterwork, but it was only in the planning stages when he died. Hughes left an impressive body of work and a reputation for insightful portrayals of black life in America. Influential in contributing to and shaping the Harlem Renaissance, he stood out for telling the stories of his people in ways that reflected their – and his – true culture, celebrating their love of music, laughter and language, without ignoring the truth of their suffering.

“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,” explains McCurdy. “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 1940s, 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.” For Hughes, jazz was “a montage of a dream deferred.”

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-Kate Seamans

Colby-Sawyer, founded in 1837, is a comprehensive liberal arts and sciences college located in the scenic Lake Sunapee Region of central New Hampshire. Students learn in small classes through a select array of programs that integrate the liberal arts and sciences with professional experience.

Colby-Sawyer College, 541 Main Street, New London, N.H. 03257 (603) 526-3000