'Ask Your Mama' fuses the epic poetry of Langston Hughes with the new musical setting by Emmy Award-winning composer Laura Karpman in a mash-up of jazz, carnivale, tent revival, film, opera and poetry slam, featuring performances by a masterly cast including sopranos Janai Brugger and Angela Brown, hip-hop innovators The Roots and Medusa, jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon and others, conducted by Grammy-nominated George Manahan.
'Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz' is the most modernist, defiant work by Langston Hughes, an icon of the Harlem Renaissance known as the pre-eminent voice of the African-American experience. It gives voice to the outrages and the joys of African-American life through the eyes of a child and the man he becomes, alternating between the fury of indignation and wild comedy, taking us on an odyssey from Africa to the Americas, high art to low art, from south to north, from cities to suburbs, from opera to jazz - and in Hughes' own words, "from shadows to fire." Hughes conceived his epic 12-part poem as an interdisciplinary creation, including in the margins suggestions for types of music including hot jazz, German lieder, cha-cha, patriotic songs, post-bop, Arabic and more.
Laura Karpman's composition is the first musical setting of Hughes' complete masterpiece. Her score takes its cue from Hughes' boundary-exploding text and musical notations. Integrating 21st century technology, Hughes' words are brought to life with orchestral music, live singers, rap artists, and recorded voices of African-American icons from Louis Armstrong to Leontyne Price to Pigmeat Markham. The result: an exhilarating tapestry of jazz, carnivale, tent revival, film, opera and poetry slam.
'Ask Your Mama' premiered to a sold-out Carnegie Hall in 2009 and has since played from Harlem's Apollo Theater to the Hollywood Bowl, and has reached millions more through media coverage by National Public Radio, PBS, NBC TV, The New Yorker and the Huffington Post. The release appropriately comes in the wake of Independence Day: as Hughes says in his poem, "your country is your mama."