From Africa to the Americas, the South to the North, cities to suburbs, opera to jazz, gospel to be-bop, and “shadows to fire”—these are the pathways of Langston Hughes’s epic and visionary poem cycle ASK YOUR MAMA: 12 MOODS FOR JAZZ which comes to life at Carnegie Hall on Monday evening, March 16, 2009, in a remarkable collaboration between Emmy Award-winning composer Laura Karpman and world-renowned soprano Jessye Norman. Karpman’s impressive 90-minute score of music, film, and spoken word stands as the centerpiece of the Honor! Festival at Carnegie Hall, curated by Miss Norman. The panoramic score weaves a compelling tapestry of orchestral music integrated with recorded selections drawn from a dozen traditions. Using Hughes’s own voice at the core of the work, this musical journey includes quotations from Louis Armstrong, Big Maybelle, Pigmeat Markham and Bill Bojangles, all seamlessly integrated with projected images by Rico Gatson and archival video as well as Hughes’s vibrant poetry. Annie Dorsen directs performances by Miss Norman, The Roots, vocalist De’Adre Aziza, mezzo-soprano Tracie Luck, and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s conductedby the esteemed George Manahan.
From the outset, Hughes (1902-67) conceived ASK YOUR MAMA as an interdisciplinary creation, actually penning an imaginary soundtrack in the margin of each page as an accompaniment to his words. As his subtitle “Twelve Moods for Jazz” suggests, Hughes imagined a kaleidoscope of styles -- hot jazz, German lieder, cha-cha, patriotic songs, post-bop, Middle Eastern music, Afro-Caribbean drumming-- to which Karpman turns to evoke the turbulent flux and flow of American cultural life. Ubiquitous is The Hesitation Blues, which asks “How long will I have to wait?,” an auditory emblem of the American dream deferred, of justice and equality lying just out of reach. ASK YOUR MAMA first appeared in 1961, yet its heady mixture of high culture and street talk is startlingly current. Technology has evolved as well: the boundary-crossing score that Hughes “composed” to accompany his text has finally been brought to life, jumping from Harlem to Rio, from hot jazz to Hip-hop, with the click of a mouse or the beat of a baton.
Karpman’s score is the first major vocal setting of Hughes’s great text. ASK YOUR MAMA bursts the boundaries of time, place, and verbal expression to trace the currents and tributaries of cultural diasporas, an altogether timely and true intersection of art and politics.
words LANGSTON HUGHES
music LAURA KARPMAN
soprano JESSYE NORMAN
featuring THE ROOTS
featuring TRACIE LUCK
featuring de’ADRE AZIZA
featuring ORCHESTRA OF ST. LUKE’S
conducted by GEORGE MANAHAN
directed by ANNIE DORSEN
video design by KATE HOWARD
featuring art by RICO GATSON
Carnegie Hall World Premiere March 16, 2009