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Press for ELEVEN SONGS on Poems by Maya Angelou


 

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

Lustrous Songs of Romance and Guilt

By Hedy Weiss, December 20, 2005

LOUIS ROSEN AND CAPATHIA JENKINS at Steppenwolf's  Traffic Series

Something quite magical can happen when a composer has a specific voice to serve as his muse. Consider the case of Louis Rosen, the Chicago-bred, now New York-based songwriter, and his songbird of choice, Capathia Jenkins, who describes herself as "a Brooklyn girl who grew up in church."

On Sunday afternoon, as part of Steppenwolf Theatre's Traffic series, the two shared a bill (along with their sublime piano accompanist, David Loud), performing songs set to the poetry of Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, along with excerpts from Rosen's long-ago Goodman Theatre musical, "Book of the Night." There also were nine of the 12 songs from a nostalgic, romantic, guilt-laced song cycle, "South Side Stories," dealing with much the same emotionally charged biographical material found in The South Side: The Racial Transformation of an American Neighborhood, Rosen's 1998 book about "white flight" in the 1960s.

Rosen is gaunt, angst-ridden, Jewish. Jenkins, who was featured on Broadway in "Caroline, or Change" and is set for the cast of the newly titled show "Martin Short on Broadway: Fame Becomes Me" (which, as it turns out, is not yet confirmed for a Chicago preview) is full-figured and ebullient. She has a voice of tremendous expressive range and a face of such sweetness and joy that it comes as a surprise when she soars in edgier songs of pain and experience.

Although Angelou's poems can be a bit precious on the page, Rosen's settings make you think about them anew. And Jenkins' interpretations -- lustrous, worldly wise, yet always with a hint of vulnerability -- were uniformly winning, whether she was speaking in the voice of a married man's mistress or a woman being two-timed, recalling a blues-ridden summer, or best of all, warning her rival in the sensational "I Hate to Lose Something."

There is no recording of the Rosen-Jenkins collaboration as yet. But Rosen's new musical, "The Pearl," based on the Steinbeck novel, will debut in 2006 as part of Northwestern University's American Musical Theatre Project.

 

CABARET SCENES

Capathia Jenkins & Louis Rosen

Birdland

When love is in the air, there are few voices more sumptuous than Capathia Jenkins' to capture the spirit. Along with her galvanic theatre appearances, she has been the muse of songwriter Louis Rosen. Rosen composed melodies to the poetry of Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and he recently added the work of Nikki Giovanni. He also created a personal memoir of growing up in the south side of Chicago, called "South Side Stories."

Capathia Jenkins brought these poetic musical sketches to life with a voice smooth as warm honey, reflecting a personality of spark and wit. They recently returned to Birdland for the third time, bringing pianist Kimberly Grigsby and David Phillips on bass. If you have not heard this music, the passion and intelligence of Maya Angelou's "Twelve Songs on Poems" and "Dream Suite" by Langston Hughes was gripping. They are poems of reflection, remembrance and inspiration, with Jenkins interpreting the emotions that Rosen formed into music. Her rendition of "Lullaby (For a Black Mother)" was sweet and comforting, a universal connection.

Rosen took turns between piano, guitar and voice, but his strength is songwriting. Starting Langston Hughes' "Blues at Dawn," Rosen quipped that this probably reflected what Rudy Giuliani thought the day after the Florida primary. The terse song began, "I don't dare start thinking in the morning." Nikki Giovanni inspired works included "The World is Not a Pleasant Place" without "someone to hold and be held by."

"South Side Stories" is a musical saga of generations and the joy, pain, love and death they've experienced. Again, Jenkins' exquisite voice illuminated the tale that wound through the 20th century, a performance of elegance, sensibility and passion.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Cabaret Scenes
January 11, 2008
www.cabaretscenes.org

 

WNYC’s Soundcheck, w/host, John Schaefer, 3/14/05, interview and performance (for NYC premiere of “Twelve Songs”)

 

POSTCARD FROM THE SLOPE by Louise G. Crawford @ onlytheblogknowsbrooklyn.com

He's in our midst. He looks just like everyone else. Drops his kid off at PS 321 and drinks coffee in the morning; he helps out with PTA activities and does the Times' crossword puzzle at the same table every day at Starbucks.

But this man has another identity too. He's a prodigiously talented composer and songwriter. His work will make you swoon, laugh, even cry. Just like I did. Lifted out of the every day, his work delivered me to the worlds of Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and a white, Jewish guy from the Southside of Chicago.

His name is Louis Rosen. And Sunday night at Joe's Pub, Capathia Jenkins, sang, among other things, a song-cycle he created based on the sassy eloquence of Maya Angelou's poetry. Rosen uses a variety of song styles to bring the poet's words to life - blues, jazz, musical theater, classical - with suprising leaps of melody and harmony. His music brings out the poet's voice in a  way that enhances and enthralls.

Vocalist Capathia Jenkins is a discovery. Like Rosen, she deserves to be a star. The songs, which were created expressly for her multi-timbered voice, give life to Angelou's women. And Capathia becomes these characters in an instant - her stance, the way she holds her microphone or moves her hand. In tiny theatrical ways, she embodies these phenomenal women and stirs the room with virtuousic blues in a deep alto-to-high soprano range. Her earthy emotionality belies a sophisticated vocal control.

What a pair. Louis and Capathia: a handsome, skinny guy from Chicago's Southside and a ravishing, voluptuous black woman with a voice that makes you laugh and cry.

The audience at Joe's Pub was in their thrall Sunday night. Louis on the piano singing an autobiographical song about growing up. Capathia endearing herself to the crowd while taking us on a journey through a universe of identities. The room took them in with all the cabaret-attention it could muster. Waitresses served, people ate from plates of delicious food, drinks were a-plenty, but the audience was rapt and they applauded ferociously after every song-poem, honored to be among the few to see what was probably the best show in town.

Monday morning I saw Louis in the Slope but I didn't say hello. Feeling a little awed, a little shy, I watched to see if there was a spring in his step after such a phenomenal night. He kissed his son good bye in the lobby of PS 321 and found his usual table at the local Starbucks. Back to being a regular guy. Someone who looks just like everyone else.

Yours from Brooklyn, 
OTBKB

 

AMERICAN UNIVERSITY PAPER: THE EAGLE

By Tara Abell

Issue date: 3/29/07 Section: The Scene

...The first act [of the concert] was composed of songs taken from the poetry of Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni. Each song cycle highlighted the most widely known works of each poet and certainly shed new light on the meaning and beauty of each. The soft, strong voice of Jenkins combined with Rosen's rhythmic music truly transformed the poetry into something greater than the sum of its parts. 

The audience was not thinking about underlining key words or highlighting phrases in a Lit textbook. Instead, listeners actually realized the deeper messages that were hidden in the poems and better appreciated how each was beautifully, carefully crafted. The songs created a jazzy vibe and were in turn inspiring, empowering and even a little romantic.

The most outstanding number of the evening was "Phenomenal Woman," which is a song adapted from the eponymous Maya Angelou poem. Jenkins sang powerful lyrics that truly touched the audience. It was obvious that as Jenkins sang, "I am a woman, phenomenally. Phenomenal Woman, that's me," she sincerely believed it and made the audience believe it too. ... 

Everyone should look for future performances of Jenkins' and Rosen's work. They are excellent performers who can connect with listeners of all ages, and they're guaranteed to deliver a great show.

 

BLOOMBERG NEWS

Jenkins Makes Old Friends of New Songs at Joe's Pub 

by Jeremy Gerard

Nov. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Eight times a week, Capathia Jenkins belts out a funny, show-stopping number late in Martin Short's Broadway show, "Fames Becomes Me.'' But there's more here. If you want the thrill of discovering an enthralling new talent, spend next Sunday evening at Joe's Pub in Manhattan's East Village.

Jenkins will knock you flat. Her gifts go well beyond gospel-inflected roof-raising. I've never been so seduced by music completely new to me yet as embraceable as any from the classic American songbook.

She is the muse to Chicago composer-lyricist Louis Rosen. The two have already collaborated on a dozen poems by Maya Angelou set to Rosen's music. Now they have recorded his ``South Side Stories,'' a song cycle that betrays influences as diverse as Harold Arlen and Rickie Lee Jones. Yet what is so memorable about this pairing is how unselfconscious and confident both are, Rosen as composer and songsmith, Jenkins his joyous, hand-in- glove interpreter.

For an appetizer, she opens with Rosen's exuberant scoring of Langston Hughes's equally exuberant ``Harlem Night Song'':

"`Come/Let us roam the night together/Singing/I love you.''

They follow with several songs from the Angelou cycle, ranging from humorous (``Preacher, don't send me/When I die/To some big ghetto in the sky'') to ``Poor Girl,'' a torchy ballad in the tradition of ``My Man.''

The ``South Side Stories'' songs are scored in a more pop idiom. Rosen, who accompanies on piano and guitar, has a James Taylor-like talent for setting intimate lyrics over facile, catchy melodies. This cycle includes numbers about the changing social landscape of Chicago's South Side; the first teen-love song I can remember that ends not in tragedy but in enduring friendship; the complicated relationship between parent and child. The most beautiful number is "The Peace That Comes,'' about the death of a father and the ambivalent feelings engendered.

Jenkins, 40, is at home with her audience (which included, on opening night, Short, his show's composer, Marc Shaiman, and the entire cast and crew), speaking briefly and charmingly about each song. In addition to Rosen, 51, her accompanists included David Loud on piano and Dave Phillips on bass. Don't miss this show.