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Jazz montage commemorates Black History Month

Langston Hughes died nearly 45 years ago, but the words of the American poet, social activist, novelist and playwright still resonate.

“Langston Hughes is probably even more relevant today,” Dr. Ron McCurdy, professor of music at USC, told the San Antonio Express-News. “Like other great artists, people realized after his death just how important his work is.” On Feb. 13, the Ron McCurdy Quartet will perform “The Langston Hughes Project – Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz” at 7:30 p.m. in the World Theater at CSU Monterey Bay. The multimedia performance is part of the university’s celebration of Black History Month. The poem, “Ask Your Mama,” was written in 1960, when the Civil Rights Movement was getting started and the Freedom Riders were heading to the South. It addresses those issues and is among Hughes’ most ambitious work. He planned to collaborate with Charles Mingus, and then Randy Weston, and he wrote musical cues in the margin of the poem. The scoring was designed to serve not as mere background but to forge a conversation and a commentary with the music. The collaborations never happened, but Hughes did record the piece without music. Dr. McCurdy and his collaborators have created music and added a video component to the performance. The images come from the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930s and ’40s. The words, sounds and images bridge the Harlem Renaissance, the post-World War II beat writers’ coffeehouse jazz poetry world and the looming Black Arts performance explosion of the 1960s. Dr. McCurdy told the Express-News that “the compositions we wrote support Hughes’ words. We don’t hit people over the head. We’ve been told by people that after they’ve heard the program, they want to go out and learn.” Tickets are $5 and can be purchased online at or by calling the World Theater box office 582-4580. The event is sponsored by Student Activities and Leadership Development, Associated Students, College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and the World Theater. For more information, call Tim Bills at 582-4645.