Ron McCurdy

Ron McCurdy

CLEMSON — Take a journey through jazz history as Clemson University welcomes The Langston Hughes Project’s “Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz.” The multimedia event features the Ron McCurdy Quartet for a one-time performance at 5 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts. Admission is free.

The event is sponsored by the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities as part of Clemson’s Race and the University Series.

“Ask Your Mama” is Langston Hughes’ homage in verse and music to the struggle for artistic and social freedom at home and abroad at the beginning of the 1960s. It is a 12-part epic poem that Hughes scored with musical cues drawn from blues and Dixieland, gospel songs, boogie-woogie, bebop, progressive jazz, Latin “cha cha,” Afro-Cuban mambo music, German lieder, Jewish liturgy, West Indian calypso and African drumming — a creative masterwork left unperformed at the time of his death.

Using videography and spoken word performance, the concert links the words and music of Hughes’ poetry to topical images of “Ask Your Mama’s” people, places, events, as well as the visual artists Langston Hughes admired and/or collaborated with most closely over the course of his career. Together, the words, sounds and images recreate a magical moment in cultural history, which bridges the Harlem renaissance, the post-World War II Beat writers’ coffeehouse jazz poetry world and the looming Black Arts performance explosion of the 1960s.

The performance is brought to life by the extraordinary talents of the Ron McCurdy Quartet. Ronald C. McCurdy is professor of music in the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California and is past president of the International Association for Jazz Education. Prior to his appointment at USC, he served as director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at USC.

Though Hughes originally intended to collaborate with Charles Mingus, and then Randy Weston, on the performance of this masterwork, it remained only in the planning stages when he died in 1967. Its recovery now in word, music and image provides a galvanizing experience for audiences.

McCurdy has performed with a host of legendary jazz artists, including Wynton Marsalis, Joe Williams, Rosemary Clooney, Terence Blanchard, Leslie Uggams, Arturo Sandoval, Diane Schuur, Ramsey Lewis, Mercer Ellington, Dr. Billy Taylor, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton and Dianne Reeves. He is a performing artist for the Yamaha International Corporation.

McCurdy has two CDs: “Once Again for the First Time” and “April In Paris” with his vocal funk group. He is co-author of a vocal jazz improvisation series titled “Approaching the Standards,” published by Warner Bros. McCurdy is the director of the National Grammy Vocal Jazz Ensemble and combo, and also serves as director of the Walt Disney All-American College Band in Anaheim, California.