Skip to page content
  • HB
  • The Roots, Jessye Norman, Nnenna Freelon, George Manahan, and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra Perform Together in Laura Karpman’s Ask Your Mama at the Hollywood Bowl
  • Aug. 30, 2009
  • SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2009, at 7:30 PM

    The exciting new work that made the sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall “thunder its approval” (New York Times) takes the stage at the Hollywood Bowl for its West Coast premiere on August 30 at 7:30 p.m. This remarkable collaboration between Emmy Award-winning composer Laura Karpman and world-renowned soprano Jessye Norman takes audiences from Africa to the Americas, from the South to the North, from cities to suburbs, opera to jazz, gospel to be-bop, and "shadows to fire," reflecting the pathways of Langston Hughes' epic Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz.

    The panoramic score weaves a tapestry of orchestral music and recorded selections drawn from a dozen traditions. Using Hughes' 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' vibrant poetry. Artists for the performance are Jessye Norman, honeyed-voice jazz great Nnenna Freelon, Grammy -winning hip-hop band The Roots, and the esteemed George Manahan conducting the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

    From the outset, Hughes 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. Using these cues Karpman evokes the turbulent flux and flow of American cultural life to create “Vocals that are stunning in their feeling, and spoken word that added deep, rumbling gravity” (Vanity Fair). 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.

    Composer Karpman was raised on bebop and Beethoven, and trained at Juilliard, where she played jazz and scatted in bars. But in 1988, the multi-faceted Karpman left her concert stage roots in New York for the film, TV and interactive media worlds in LA, where she has risen to great heights: she was among the first composers to be invited to the Sundance Institute Film Scoring Lab (studying with Dave Grusin), has collaborated with Steven Spielberg, Barbara Koppel, Kathy Bates, Martin Bell, and others, and earned four Emmy Awards (and been nominated for eight more). Her concert works have been hailed in performances by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cabrillo Festival Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop, Juilliard Chorus, and the Detroit, Richmond, Seattle and Prague Symphonies.

    Karpman's score is the first major vocal setting of Hughes' 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.


    One of the largest natural amphitheaters in the world, with a seating capacity of nearly 18,000, the HOLLYWOOD BOWL has been the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since its official opening in 1922, and is home to the best and brightest in all genres of music. The 2004 season introduced audiences to a revitalized Hollywood Bowl, featuring a newly-constructed shell and stage and the addition of four stadium screens enhancing stage views in the venue. To this day, $1 buys a seat at the top of the Bowl for many of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's concerts. While the Bowl is best known for its sizzling summer nights, during the day California's youngest patrons enjoy "SummerSounds: Music for Kids at the Hollywood Bowl," the Southland's most popular summer arts festival for children, now in its 42nd season. In January 2009, the Hollywood Bowl was named Best Major Outdoor Concert Venue for the fifth year in a row at the 20th Annual Pollstar Concert Industry Awards; the Bowl's summer music festival has become as much a part of a Southern California summer as beaches and barbecues, the Dodgers, and Disneyland.


    SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2009, at 7:30 PM

    HOLLYWOOD BOWL, 2301 N. Highland Ave. in Hollywood


    Laura Karpman, composer

    Hollywood Bowl Orchestra

    George Manahan, conductor

    Jessye Norman, soprano

    Nnenna Freelon, vocalist

    The Roots

    Tickets ($28 - $116) are on sale now at, at the Hollywood Bowl Box Office (Tuesday–Saturday, 12 p.m.–6 p.m.), or by calling Ticketmaster at 800.745.3000, and at all Ticketmaster outlets. Groups of 10 or more may be eligible for a 20% discount, subject to availability; call 323.850.2050 for further details. For general information or to request a brochure, call 323.850.2000.

    # # #

  • Contact:

    Sophie Jefferies,, 213.972.3034; Lisa Bellamore,, 213.972.3689; For photos: 213.972.3034