Jazz trumpeter Ron McCurdy picked up where poet Langston Hughes left off.
A former professor at University of Minnesota, McCurdy created an educational, multimedia piece for a Harlem Renaissance-themed exhibit there, and 20 years later, he continues to present it around the globe.
The Ron McCurdy Quartet, a multimedia concert involving spoken word and poetry, presents “The Langston Hughes Project — Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz,” at Misericordia University’s Lemmond Theater on Thursday, Jan. 18, at 7:30 p.m.
The concert’s spoken-word artistry, live music and images recreate Hughes’ vision of the global struggle for freedom from the Harlem Renaissance to the early 1960s. By way of videography, the performance links the words and music of Hughes’ poetry to topical images of people, places and events mentioned throughout the poem.
“It set out as an academic venture,” McCurdy said. “But now, we’re always modifying, tweaking it, making it relevant and keeping it entertaining. Originally, I was standing at a podium reading the poem. Now, it’s a bit more theatrical, less academic. Langston Hughes’ words are the same, but they are delivered in a more theatrical fashion.”
Hughes wrote “Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz” in 1960 after he was asked to serve as the master of ceremonies for Newport Jazz Festival, where the likes of Muddy Waters, Duke Ellington Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald and more were set to appear. It was oversold by about 2,000 tickets and shut down when a riot ensued because people were not allowed in.
“Langston wrote this piece as a commentary on the struggle with African-Americans in the 1960s,” McCurdy said. “It’s very beautiful work.”
Originally, Hughes intended to collaborate with Charles Mingus and Randy Weston on the full performance of his masterwork, but it was only in the planning stages when the poet died in 1967. He wrote musical cues alongside the poem, however, which McCurdy used to create his multimedia performance.
McCurdy has faced the challenge of people not wanting to give the project a chance because it sounds too academic to them. But all of the effort seems worth it when “the light bulbs come on” in audiences’ brains and McCurdy notices them understanding and asking questions about the show, he said.
“The poem is so beautifully written,” McCurdy said. “It was written well over 50 years ago, but the text and the words are so relevant today, and they were relevant when we started doing this. … It was initially an academic presentation; we were using it as a teaching tool to help students think about their own core values.
“Langston was about bringing people together, and lord knows, given our political climate today, this is certainly a time we could use more connectivity between people from all different backgrounds. It’s important for us to understand that we are more alike than different.”
If you go
What: The Langston Hughes Project presents “Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz”
Where: Lemmond Theater in Walsh Hall, Misericordia University, 301 Lake St., Dallas
When: Thursday, Jan. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Details: Tickets cost $10 for general admission and are free to Misericordia staff and students. They can be purchased at the door or by calling the box office at 570-674-6719. For more information, visit