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The Langston Hughes Project – Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz

Recorded words recited dramatically by Langston Hughes, the poet/writer laureate of the Harlem Renaissance, filled the stately Huntington Library’s auditorium in Pasadena resoundingly. Then in rapid succession a pre-taped oratory by Ronald McCurdy, chair of the Jazz Dept. and Professor of Music for the USC Thornton School of Music, followed. These highly charged non-musical moments set the mood for Hughes’s Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz, a multimedia program that included accompaniment by Eli Brueggemann on piano, Peter Buck on drums and Edwin Livingston on bass, led by McCurdy on trumpet.

More than 40 years after Hughes’ death in 1967 his long-lost synergy of poetry and music was resurrected and performed to a capacity audience. Of all the talented, enlightened and very influential African-American writers during the 1920s-’40s, Hughes long before jazz was reputable and socially acceptable, voiced an endearing and everlasting affinity for it. In fact, many of his poems resembled the rhythmic cadences and melodic textures of the genre, beginning with “Weary Blues” in 1926. Unquestionably, his homage, or tribute, celebrating the vitality and artistry of the music was predestined.

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