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Dream Suite: Songs in Jazz and Blues 

on poems by Langston Hughes




DREAM SUITE: SONGS IN JAZZ & BLUES Is An Exceptional Evening at Birdland

June 30, 2016

8:44 AM 

Though somewhat familiar with and already an admirer of actor/vocalists Capathia Jenkins and Alton Fitzgerald White, I was, until tonight, unaware of the apparently prolific musician, songwriter, librettist, and educator Louis Rosen. Rosen's Dream Suite, which occupied the second part of this June 27 show at Birdland, unearths the music of poems by American poet, social activist, novelist, and playwright Langston Hughes(1902 -1967).

To say the composer set these to music doesn't describe the result. Rosen has respectfully taken the work of one of the earliest practitioners of jazz poetry and created symbiosis so organic, it's difficult to believe the two artists didn't work together; songs that reflect comprehension so visceral, Rosen slips a knot of race and history to reach the universal.

Dream Suite, also a newly minted CD, is comprised of 14 songs derived from 21 poems spanning from the 1920's through the 1950's. They're all brief, a few almost Haiku. Abrupt endings fade like vocal ombré, as if stepping back into shadow, two punctuated by Jenkins' deep sighs. Like those in Porgy and Bess, the songs arrive full blooded and black, hybrid American opera--here without libretto.

Musical roots lay in gospel, R & B, boogie-woogie, and blues. Some describe "Harlem" (a hood by any other name). Sentiments, however, transcend that limitation, clearly part of what the composer admires about the poet. (Dream Suite is one section of an ambitious three-part project including the poems of Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou.)

I admit being surprised at my reaction. Not usually a fan of the wandering lyric/elusive melody--Michael John LaChiusa's work for example--I found myself hypnotized.

Eight bars into the opening duet, one basks in the commitment of two, galvanizing, muscular voices. Latin music pulses and soars. Jenkins changes octaves by disappearing sound here and making it appear there. We never hear the route. Music seems to physically fill her. The intense Fitzgerald radiates pride and ardor. His vibrato is palpable. Both showcase impeccable control.

"Lullaby For a Black Mother" is protective, tender. Jenkins is a wellspring of feeling. One snuggles into her vocal. "Song for Billie Holiday" begins voluptuously a capella, like a muted, wrung out horn. "Blues at Dawn" rides in on snapped fingers: I don't start thinkin' in the morning . . . I don't dare remember in the morning . . . there's fitfulness to this one, but nothing the woman in the poem hasn't felt many times. She's careworn, but strong and womanly. Jenkins imbues the lyric with as much juice as gravitas. Even open-throated, melody is fine grained.

At the piano, musical director/musician Kimberly Grigsby, a sylph in bare feet, is playing with the soul of experience she can't possibly have had. Grigsby strokes, demands, sashays, implores, disquiets, and buoys. She's formidably talented.

"Life is Fine" . . . fine as wine . . . emerges a cool, zoot-suited jazz riff. If he moved across the stage, Fitzgerald would parade. The performer barely gestures. A hand moves only when compelled. When he goes up an octave, it tantalizes. "Juke Box Love Song," languidly conjures heat rising from the streets, an open hydrant. The singer wants to dance with his sweet brown Harlem girl. Separately they sway. We see the couple get caught in love like uncombed hair. "Exits" embraces dark thinking like a friend--The Devil shuffling off to Hell.

Duets couldn't be better matched. "Dimout in Harlem" undulates and echoes. Shadows overlap. "Dream Suite" Good evenin' daddy, I know you've heard/The Boogie-woogie rumble of a dream deferred . . . is stylish, savvy, smooooth. "Gold and Brown" observes as a golden girl and college boy connect. It seductively sets the scene but leaves the tale to us. Listening to Jenkins and Fitzgerald meld voices, each an arresting presence, is simply exhilarating.

The first part of this evening introduced Louis Rosen as singer/songwriter. A fine acoustic guitarist, he presented compositions evidently so recent, paint was still wet. The literate, sincere, folksy "Dust to Dust Blues" . . . I seek out the holiness here in the wilderness . . . seemed like something with which Pete Seeger would've had affinity. "When the Window is Open" better grab your paintbrush (marvelous line) is tunefully good advice.

I imagined "I Don't Know Anything" intoned by the caterpillar of Alice in Wonderland. It's smoky and suggestive, inviting interpretation. The disquieting view is one from atop a sizeable mushroom. I'll be happy- go-lucky for awhile/in my irrepressibly middle class, bohemian style . . . Rosen sings bemused in "My Third Act," a wry look at the vicissitudes of getting on with it. "Lost in Love" is endearingly self-effacing. The artist has a gentle, weathered voice and easy style. He's a graceful advocate of understatement.

I feel genuinely lucky to have been present tonight.



Inform · Inspire · Entertain · Empower

"Dream Suite"

08/07/2016 01:20 pm ET

Jeremy Gerard 

ART SONG IS A HARD SELL these days (any days, I suppose) but the gifted composer Louis Rosen keeps at it, setting the work of American poets to finely-crafted melodies that are by turns soulful and rapturous. Previously he has adapted writers as disparate as Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou and E.A. Robinson (the fantastic album Time Was); his latest CD, Dream Suite: Songs In Jazz and Blues, uses the poetry of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes to equally exuberant effect. His interpreters are Capathia Jenkins, his gorgeous-voiced longtime muse along with the equally accomplished Alton Fitzgerald White and, on piano, Joe Thalken. 

A heartfelt achievement, brilliantly, holistically attuned to the source material, Dream Suite is a tonic for the times, crossing many boundaries of art and spirit. One listen to “Life Is Fine” and you’ll be convinced. I would add that the album is a separate achievement in itself, one of the best-produced CD’s of art song I’ve ever heard. Buy it at louisrosen.com/louis_store.


Louis Rosen: Dream Suite-Songs in Jazz and Blues on Poems by

Langston Hughes

By Raul da Gama -

Feb 2, 2017

Every month ought to be Black History Month until the re-education of society – especially society in Eurocentric civilisations – is complete. Some socialists sneer at the thought, calling it reverse racism, but how else do you explain the fact that strange fruit still hangs from trees? It’s figurative, of course. Nevertheless, remember Trayvon Martin and all the others that have follow as the hands and the guns of the police and nice, ordinary people bring sudden and brutal in-justice at the drop of a hat? So, yes, every month ought to be Black History Month. In fact, everyday ought to be Black History Day. After all it was during the Miocene Epoch – between 5 and 20 million years ago – when Africa became the cradle of all humanity; when those that remained there stayed proudly black while others who migrated slowly turned brown, red, yellow and white. Listen: the facts of history – by which I mean real facts – are not are not going to change just because it’s still okay for the ignorant among us say so. What a good time to listen to Langston Hughes, as interpreted by Louis Rosen for instance.


This effort by Louis Rosen effort to bring the poetry of Langston Hughes back to life highlights something new to be found in Hughes work: a lyricism that lends itself to Lieder and, in the melismatic curves of Capathia Jenkins and Alton Fitzgerald White, a case for Hughes’ words to be food for modern arias as well. The thesis is a very tall proposition: to recreate, if you will, operatic scores from Songs in Jazz and Blues on the poems by Langston Hughes. The poet once hinted of the possibility when he wrote the poem “Cultural Exchange” (“Ask Your Mama – Twelve Moods For Jazz”, 1961). The poem seems to propose an imaginary subversion of the state of affairs in America, especially when it comes to the roles ascribed to black and white in a slavery-based society.


“In the Quarter of the Negroes
Where the doorknob lets in Lieder
More than German ever bore,
Her yesterday past grandpa–
Not of her own doing–
In a pot of collard greens
Is gently stewing…
“In the pot behind the paper doors
on the old iron stove what’s cooking?
What’s smelling, Leontyne?
Lieder, lovely Lieder
And a leaf of collard green.
Lovely Lieder, Leontyne.
“You know, right at Christmas
They asked me if my blackness,
Would it rub off?
I said, Ask your mama…”

The poem is twelve stanzas long and is not part of the repertoire. I wish it were because in many respects it sets the tone for all of Langston Hughes’ work, which forms the backdrop for Black History Month year after year after year. It was not the intention of Louis Rosen to present this disc as a one to be played during February of each year, but one cannot help being reminded of the socio-political canvas that acts as a backdrop to Langston Hughes’ poetry. But there are more visceral works that Louis Rosen explores on this disc. “Lullaby For A Black Mother” and “Song For Billie Holliday” is another. Both poems are set to exquisite music by Rosen. Moreover, Jenkins and Fitzgerald White bring them to life in the most unforgettable manner. In these recreations of Hughes’ work, as in every other one on the disc, Rosen provides us with his intent: to create a recording that would produce enough sense of theatre for home listening. In doing so, he spent an enormous amount of time with Jenkins, Fitzgerald White and the pianist Joseph Thalken: there’s hardly a word, metaphor, line or verse, sung or played ,that doesn’t feel as though it’s been carefully removed, cleaned, polished and replaced. The results are bracing, with a vibrancy and visceral buzz that is often undeniably exciting. Capathia Jenkins’ sometimes smoky, but always sinuous contralto is refined, convincing and aristocratic. Alton Fitzgerald White is no less a distinguished voice and his bluesy accomplishments are exquisitely highlighted on “Harlem Night Song”, “Dream Suite” and most especially on “Gold and Brown”.

The fact that the work of Langston Hughes is still alive – and that of the great women poets Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks and Maya Angelou – at a time when the changing aural topography of Black poetry is reflected in the growth of Rap and Hip Hop, to complement its original idiom, Blues and Jazz – is rather curious. It does not mean that the estate of Hughes is being benefitted by this phenomenon, but it is still good news. It means that despite dwelling in the ghettoized underbelly of Western society, Black History, is thriving. And with it so is the work of the other men and women of Native Black Culture. So Langston Hughes’ work lives in its recorded form not only in the performances he left behind for HarperCollins to publish (Essential Hughes Caedmon, 1962, 1964), and even before that in the iconic recordings of Charles Mingus (A Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry {Bethlehem, 1957} and Weary Blues {MGM E, 1958 and Verve, 1966}). There was also For Langston (Arthur Circle Music, 2013), a glorious recording by the brilliant guitarist Ken Hatfield and his Sextet with indescribably beautiful vocals by Hilary Gardner. Dream Suite-Songs in Jazz and Blues on Poems by Langston Hughes by guitarists and composer, Louis Rosen sits well in this celebrated company, thanks in no small measure to performances straight from the heart by Capathia Jenkins, Alton Fitzgerald White and Joseph Thalken.

Track List: Harlem Night Song (feat. Alton Fitzgerald White, Capathia Jenkins & Joseph Thalken); Lullaby: For a Black Mother (feat. Capathia Jenkins & Joseph Thalken); Life Is Fine (feat. Alton Fitzgerald White & Joseph Thalken); Song for Billie Holiday (feat. Capathia Jenkins & Joseph Thalken); Exits (feat. Alton Fitzgerald White & Joseph Thalken); Love Song for Lucinda (feat. Alton Fitzgerald White, Capathia Jenkins & Joseph Thalken); Hurt (feat. Capathia Jenkins & Joseph Thalken); Juke Box Love Song (feat. Alton Fitzgerald White & Joseph Thalken); Dimout in Harlem (feat. Alton Fitzgerald White, Capathia Jenkins & Joseph Thalken); Soledad: A Cuban Portrait (feat. Alton Fitzgerald White & Joseph Thalken); Blues at Dawn (feat. Capathia Jenkins & Joseph Thalken); Monotony (feat. Alton Fitzgerald White & Joseph Thalken); Dream Suite (feat. Alton Fitzgerald White, Capathia Jenkins & Joseph Thalken); Gold and Brown (feat. Alton Fitzgerald White, Capathia Jenkins & Joseph Thalken).

Personnel: Alton Fitzgerald White and Capathia Jenkins: vocals; Joseph Thalken: piano.

Label: Di-tone Records
Release date: June 2016
Running time: 33:01
Website: http://www.louisrosen.com/
Buy Louis Rosen’s music: CD BABY or http://www.louisrosen.com/louis_store/ 






Louis Rosen
Dream Suite

(Di-Tone Records)

Review by Scott Yanow

Langston Hughes (1902-67) was a notable African-American poet and novelist who always loved jazz. He recorded an album in 1959 of his poetry with music by Charles Mingus and wrote lyrics for one of Randy Weston’s projects. Composer Louis Rosen chose Langston Hughes for his first subject in his Black Loom Trilogy. Dream Suite has singers Alton Fitzgerald White and Capathia Jenkins accompanied by pianist Joseph Thalken performing Hughes’ words and Rosen’s music.

Among the poems that Rosen set to music are “Harlem Night Song,” “Song For Billie Holiday,” “Juke Box Love Song,” “Blues At Dawn” and “Dream Suite.” Since White and Jenkins are Broadway vocalists rather than jazz singers, they do not improvise and they stick closely to Langston Hughes’ words. They both have powerful voices with Jenkins also displaying the influence of opera in places. Rosen’s music is often a bit jazz-oriented and it fits the poetry quite well. While I would have loved to have heard his music and the poetry performed by more jazz-oriented singers, the results shed light on some of Langston Hughes’ more enduring works. This intriguing CD is available from www.louisrosen.com .


Cadence Magazine of PAPATAMUS
January 2017 issue
Review by Robert D. Rusch

Poet Langston Hughes has been celebrated and had an association with jazz since the 1950’s notably with Mingus and Red Allen. Now LOUIS ROSEN has put music to Hughes’ words and issued DREAM SUITE [Di-tone Records dt-229]. This is theatre music as opposed to cabaret or jazz and it reminds me of the work of Harvey Schmidt (The Fantasticks). Capathia Jenkins and Alton White provide the voices and do a fine job of it and Joseph Thalken provides the piano. Listening to the sung text one can easily envision a play to support it. Not jazz and not a dream deferred but a dream realized. Very nice.


Jazz Weekly

HOW SUITE IT IS…Ted Nash Big  Band: Presidential Suite, Louis Rosen: Dream Suite

by George W. Harris • November 24, 2016 

Just like suits, suites come in different sizes and shapes. Here are a couple that are intriguing tributes in divergent ways.

Ted Nash plays alto and soprano sax while arranging the music and conducting the big band while includes Lincoln Center artists such as Joe Temperley/bs, Wynton Marsalis/tp, Victor Goines/reeds and Sherman Irby/reeds on this tribute to inspiring world leaders. There are two discs, one that is all music, and one that has spoken readings of speeches from the likes of Kennedy, Churchill, Mandella, Reagan and others. The other disc is the music sans spoken word, and both work well. Marsalis delivers a rich solo on the bopping “American Promise” and Temperley is rich on the calm “Deliverance.” The moods range from  panoramic to even reggae, with lots of hip atmospheres keeping the toes tapping. Inspiring in word and sound.

Louis Rosen  puts together a tribute to the poetry of Langston Hughes. It’s a Spartan production, with the voices of either Alton Fitzgerald White or Capathia Jenkins supported by pianist Joseph Thalken teaming up. The voices are at times semi-operatic and others like a testifying church service, with some bluesy piano on “Exits” and a Broadway Gospel delivery of “Hurt.” Thalken strides with a  bounce on “Life Is Fine” and gentle as a lamb during “Dimout in Harlem.” Sincere and from the heart.



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.



Capathia Jenkins & Louis Rosen


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



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




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.   



CD REVIEW By F. Norman Vickers

September 13, 2016

Jazz Society of Pensacola


DREAM SUITE: Songs in Jazz and Blues

on poems by Langston Hughes

Distributed by Di-tone Records

This is an “outside the box” recording in that it is not the standard jazz CD. It features poetry by Langston Hughes set to music by composer Louis Rosen.  Vocalists are Alton Fitzgerald White and Capatha Jenkins.  Likely the average jazz fan will be unfamiliar with any of the principals here.

In reading about the artists in the liner notes, accompanying literature for the reviewer and on Louis Rosen’s website,  I  learn that all have impressive backgrounds in musical theatre.  And the music reflects that genre rather than the usual jazz styling.

On first listen, it was difficult to understand all the words.  However, as suggested in the liner notes, I went to Mr. Rosen’s website www.louisrosen.com and printed the poetic lyrics.  It made all the difference in being able to understand appreciate not only the poetry but the music itself.  Isn’t that the way with both opera and musical theatre?  It helps to better understand the “story.”

The liner notes indicate that the recording was made is 2002 and the premier performance was at the Great Hall of Cooper Union in New York City in 2006.

The adventurous listener may wish to sample some of the songs by accessing Mr. Rosen’s website.

A sampling of the fourteen songs on this recording include:  Harlem Night Song, Song for Billie Holiday, Hurt, Blues at Dawn and Dream Suite.