Reviews & Profiles
BLOOMBERG NEWS - REVIEW
Nikki Giovanni's Bluesy Poems Soar in Songs
Review by Jeremy Gerard
May 16 (Bloomberg) -- The blissful collaboration of composer Louis Rosen and singer Capathia Jenkins is so intimate it would hardly seem capable of accommodating a third voice. But in the poet Nikki Giovanni, they have found a kindred spirit, and the combination has charm and beauty to spare.
Rosen's new song cycle, based on Giovanni's poems, has just been released on CD (``One Ounce of Truth,'' PS Classics). He and Jenkins are performing many of the pieces this week and next at Joe's Pub in downtown Manhattan.
Rosen, a Chicago-born songwriter and musician, charts an irresistible landscape between pop music and art song; James Taylor and Gabriel Faure are equally likely to resonate through his music. Jenkins, a Broadway veteran, is his perfect muse and foil, bringing her exuberance and voluptuous mezzo to even Rosen's most melancholy ruminations.
Along with Jenkins and Rosen, who plays guitar and sometimes piano, the band includes ``Spring Awakening'' musical director Kimberly Grigsby on piano, Dave Philips on bass, Andrew Sterman on flute and saxophone, Erik Charlston on drums and Rob Moose on violin and electric guitar. They throw themselves into Giovanni's verses about love, lust and all manner of issues.
The songs range from a paean to great sex (``I Wrote a Good Omelet'') to the introspective title verse. They have a musicality that Rosen effortlessly draws out. The music is accessible; it hardly imposes on the words but instead seems to wrap them in an evanescent skin allowing cadence as well as meaning to come through.
The program also includes several numbers from Rosen's previous cycle, ``South Side Stories'' and other works, including the scintillating ``Telephone Song'' and two lilting lullabies. The performers are as good company as you could wish for.
May 16, 2008 00:01 EDT
NEW YORK TIMES - REVIEW
Singing for a Poet Offstage
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: May 14, 2008
The narrator of Nikki Giovanni’s poem “All I Gotta Do” is a sleepless woman repeating to herself in a voice of mounting frustration that all she has to do is sit and wait until an unnamed something (a lover? a political movement?) comes and sweeps her away. But when will that happen?
Both the poem and Louis Rosen’s sturdy musical setting of it for Capathia Jenkins, who sang it at Joe’s Pub on Monday, seesaw between feelings of determination and impatience as this insomniac muses that the time of her deliverance is beyond her control because she is a woman.
“All I Gotta Do,” which has the drive of a secular spiritual, is one of the most striking of the 17 songs Ms. Jenkins performed with Mr. Rosen at the first of their four performances (through May 26) at the pub. Mr. Rosen mostly played guitar and occasionally sang. He was part of a band that included Kimberly Grigsby on piano, Dave Phillips on bass, Andrew Sterman on flute and saxophone, Rob Moose on violin and guitar, and Erik Charlston on drums and percussion.
Monday’s show heralded the release of Ms. Jenkins and Mr. Rosen’s second album, “One Ounce of Truth” (PS Classics), a collection of songs based on Ms. Giovanni’s verses. The music is notable for its modesty and its care not to impede the conversational rhythms of the poetry. You might describe Mr. Rosen’s uncategorizable, continually shifting musical patchwork of blues, folk, jazz and pop as earthy, tuneful art song. He is from the South Side of Chicago, and the polyglot influences show.
Ms. Jenkins, familiar from Broadway (“Caroline, or Change”) is not a vocal showoff. She dramatizes Ms. Giovanni’s poetry only to the degree that the language calls for it. For the most part, the songs are sly, playful observations that take an off-center, positive view of life and love. “I Wrote a Good Omelet (After Loving You)” is a mischievous celebration of nurturing sex.
Even the more cosmic numbers, like the album’s title song, a meditation on the life cycle, refrain from outright declamation. As Ms. Jenkins sang the words “Remember my smile when I’m gone” in a sweet, sunny voice with an undertone of resolve, a poet in touch with her life force smiled through the music.
CABARET SCENES - REVIEW
Capathia Jenkins & Louis Rosen: One Ounce of Truth (PS Classics)
Turning poems into songs is always a delicate balancing act: The words are meant to be complete already, and finding music that complements but doesn’t overwhelm them is difficult. For a textbook example of a near-perfect marriage of poetry and music, try Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen’s latest CD, One Ounce of Truth.
Nikki Giovanni’s poetry fairly sings on its own, so the addition of Louis Rosen’s music to her words might seem like gilding the lily. Happily, the words and music fit together beautifully, and as sung by Capathia Jenkins, the songs become a celebration of every facet of life. Rosen uses a wide range of musical styles to emphasize the many emotions in Giovanni’s words. Bassa nova, folk, jazz and a dash of soul all fit well with the sharply intelligent lyrics (no surprise to find that Giovanni is a professor at Virginia Tech). “The Telephone Song” is a fun study of friendship set to ‘60s pop, while “You Were Gone” is a bluesy expression of loss. “That Day,” a cheerful celebration of sex and sexuality, is matched with violin, trumpet, trombone and acoustic guitar to celebrate the many splendors of love.
As powerful a dramatist as she is a singer, Jenkins conveys each number’s emotion with great care, giving equal attention to the lyrics and the music. Her voice flows easily from gentle to fierce as needed for each song, once again proving her status as a composer’s best friend.
Jena Tesse Fox
EDGE NEW YORK
ONE OUNCE OF TRUTH - REVIEW
by Frank Paiva, May 22, 2008
One Ounce of Truth is the latest collection of songs from musician/arranger Louis Rosen and actress/singer Capathia Jenkins. Like their previous collaborations, the album takes pre-existing poetry by a famous author and sets it to music. The work of writer, teacher, and activist Nikki Giovanni serves as the inspiration for this outing. Her rich, mature style lends itself well to musical translation. The CD is sophisticated and thrilling, a true treat for adults looking for meaningful pop music.
Not having read the press release before my first listen, I had no idea that the text of the album came directly from poetry. You’d have no idea either if you skipped the fine print. The words are so well integrated with the musical style that they sound like they were originally created together. Rosen states in the liner notes that this was his goal, and he’s succeeded brilliantly.
The first time through it’s actually difficult to grasp the full weight of the songs. The music is so enjoyable. It’s only a few cycles later that I realized just how meaningful the words are and how much wisdom and clarity they have. The lyrics are the most important element here, an almost unheard of idea in today’s beat-heavy pop landscape. It’s a welcome change.
Of course the emotional impact of the material would be nothing without Ms. Jenkins, star of such Broadway shows as "Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me," "Caroline, or Change," and "The Civil War." She effortlessly traverses her entire vocal register throughout the album. She’s just as comfortable with airy high notes as she is with soulful low notes.
She displays her remarkable talent in a way that tells the story of these songs, not in an American Idol way that’s just meant to show she can hit the pitches and be fabulous. The interesting vocal interpretation on display here could only have come from long hours of development between singer and arranger in the rehearsal room.
Highlights include sweetly melancholy cuts like "The World..." and "The Moon Shines Down," both of which celebrate the importance of searching for love. The title track is a beautiful lament to accepting the rapidly changing nature of life. "I Wrote a Good Omelet (After Loving You)" shows a more playful side where the singer confuses her words because she’s so ecstatic at finally finding love. Finally, Rosen himself takes the vocal reins on the charming "At the Ball (Convenient Haystacks)".
Jenkins and Rosen have been celebrating the release of their latest album with a series of special concerts at hip New York performance venue Joe’s Pub throughout the month of May. Their final concert is on Memorial Day, so there’s still time to catch this amazing duo in action if you’re in the city. For anyone not able to make it to Manhattan, the CD is a more than welcome substitute.
Sound Advice by Rob Lester - REVIEW
May 22, 2008
CAPATHIA JENKINS & LOUIS ROSEN
ONE OUNCE OF TRUTH: THE NIKKI GIOVANNI SONGS (PS Classics)
In their second album, singer Capathia Jenkins and songwriter Louis Rosen shine again, this time with poet Nikki Giovanni's works set to his music. Mostly warm, open-hearted and life-affirming, the quite varied musical settings set moods and illuminate the emotions, memories and bits of practical life philosophy in the poems. This set is a stronger showcase for Capathia's vocal dexterity, demonstrating more colors in her voice, although these mostly gentle and thoughtful pieces do not allow her powerhouse belt to be employed. More discrete, she subtly shapes the tales and confessions in the material with attractively modulated vocals that personalize the emotions and serve the material.
Capathia does almost all the singing this time, with just one solo for Louis' amiable style, the quirky and low-key "At the Ball (Convenient Haystacks)" and a charming duet for the final track, "Things That Go Together," a sweet list song that makes for a mutual admiration society. He's prominently featured on acoustic guitar throughout the album, is the arranger and conductor, and adds some of the percussion. The band, playing with taste and skill, includes Andrew Sterman on sax and flute, who adds much atmosphere, and the valued pianist Kimberly Grigsby, known for her playing and musical direction on Broadway from such shows as Spring Awakening and one that featured Capathia, Caroline, or Change.
If the idea of poetry set to music makes you hesitate, thinking they might be melodramatic recitatives with arty and abstract musical accompaniment floating around in the background, forget it. These feel more like songs, generally accessible and with the music coming on as a full partner to the words rather than tip-toeing around them out of awed respect. And some of it is relaxed and cozy. For me, the instant standout is "Telephone Song," which is captivating from its instrumental groove-setting start. It paints an evocative picture of innocent homey childhood recollections and friendship, with long talks on the phone: "Cans and strings and backyard trees/ Giggles coming through the wire/ Summer mud pies, lemonade stands/ Hang Up/ No, you hang up ... first." Capathia sings it with recalled affection, as if she has happily stepped into the past and touched it. The purposely mixed-up word play of "I Wrote a Good Omelet (After Loving You)" becomes an effervescently giddy song with music billowing through its love-happy switcheroos of verbs ("I rolled my bed, turned down my hair/ Slightly confused, but I don't care/ Laid out my teeth and gargled my gown"). As a song, it reminds me of the old novelty tune, "I Said My Pajamas (and Put On My Pray'rs)" without trying so hard to be adorable. A heavy selection like "You Were Gone" is done with drama but dignity, keeping the proceedings from getting too bubbly and blithe. Things can get dark and haunting quite suddenly, but the gloom card is not overplayed.
Some of these pieces are more engaging than others, some cameo-like and feeling more like appetizers than fully satisfying meals, but I like a good appetizer. There's usually something to capture interest, whether it be the grace of the melodic line, the sound of a marimba, a cooing or biting vocal sound that brings attention to a moody phrase. Don't come looking for too much high drama. The not-very-inventive song about sex, "That Day," wears out its welcome for me (though the use of a trombone adds to its effect), but more sophisticated pieces on desires and longings work quite well.
The two have been doing a series of concerts at Joe's Pub at Manhattan's Public Theatre to celebrate the release of this album. The final performance is May 26.
ALLMUSIC - REVIEW
by Scott Yanow
Editorial Reviews. Amazon.com
The team of singer Capathia Jenkins and guitarist-composer-arranger Louis Rosen had previously collaborated on a musical project set to Langston Hughes lyrics, following it up with a dozen songs based on poems of Maya Angelou, and the suite South Side Stories. On One Ounce of Truth, Rosen wrote music to fit the poems of Nikki Giovanni which is sung by Capathia Jenkins in her angelic voice. The mature lyrics deal with love, friendship, loss, sex, acceptance and a poem that was originally dedicated to Nina Simone. Usually when poems are set to music, the results are somewhat pompous art songs, with the music being as awkward as the poems themselves. On One Ounce Of Truth, Louis Rosen defies expectations and writes catchy melodies that fit the poems, even turning one poem ("I Want To Sing") into a twelve-bar blues. Since little improvisation takes place, this is more cabaret than jazz although it has the feeling of jazz in spots. Capathia Jenkins has a beautiful voice with a wide range and could probably sing anything she desired. Louis Rosen's arrangements contain variety and are skillful although it is unfortunate that the other musicians are completely unidentified. The music on One Ounce Of Truth, which is difficult to classify, is well worth exploring, particularly by fans of the writings of Nikki Giovanni.
Scott Yanow, All Music Guide
Rating: Four Stars (out of possible 5)
Set to music, Nikki Giovanni's poems fly, dance with life, energy
In most cultures, poetry - linked by its rhythmic elements to music and dance - emerges before prose. In its earliest forms, say, in ancient Greek tales and theater, poetry was always musical speech, sometimes recited to the sound of a lyre. Even before it was written down, it retained a "musical" nature because of its inherently strong rhythmic patterns.
And so it was no surprise when a CD of Nikki Giovanni's poems, "Once Ounce of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs," on the PS Classics label, crossed the transom. It would be only a matter of time and it makes really good sense, I remember thinking after seeing and hearing her March 3 at WineStyles on Town Square, in downtown Vacaville. (The retail wine store, wine bar and tasting room is co-owned by Allison Ragan, Giovanni's cousin, who had helped to arrange the reading while Giovanni visited relatives in the Bay Area.)
After listening to the CD, I could only think that there is hope for new additions to the Great American Songbook. For the overall impression was that the 13 tunes, sung by Broadway actress Capathia Jenkins against the melodies and arrangements of composer and guitarist Louis Rosen, were not only a refreshing insight into Giovanni's word artistry but they were also reminders of why certain songs last over time and others fade away. The reason is that Giovanni explores universal human experiences: love, friendship, lust, loss and mortality, tempered with irony and a sense of play.
But I was especially surprised how Rosen set Giovanni's words to a mix of modern and more traditional jazz, blues, soul and pop that puts the words in a bracingly new light. Sweetening the deal is Jenkins' voice, by turns sultry, sweet and soaring, adding emotional nuances that enhance the intelligence of the poetry and never intrude on its conversational tone.
"All I Gotta Do," one of Giovanni's best-known works, tells the tale of a woman frustrated while waiting for a friend or lover to return: "You got yours and I want mine," sings Jenkins, who most recently starred in the Broadway hit "Caroline, Or Change." But the narrator's satisfaction is deferred because she is a woman, and Jenkins sings, "All I gotta do is sit and wait because I am a woman."
In "You Were Gone," Jenkins dramatizes Giovanni's words ("You were gone ... like next week's paycheck") with a soulful air of defiance as Rosen, a longtime South Side Chicago resident, adds bluesy and jazzy riffs, backed by a seven-piece band.
Other tunes include "The World ...," about the value of love, friendship and art; "Telephone Song," recalling images of mud pies and lemonade stands and childhood happiness; "I Wrote a Good Omelet (After Loving You)," a sly reminiscence about the pleasures of sex; and the title tune, about the narrator's post-mortem wish to be remembered lovingly.
"One Ounce of Truth" is a lush and sensitive musical reading of Giovanni's enduring art. It lingers in the mind and soul long after the CD ends.
• Reporter features writer Richard Bammer has covered arts, entertainment and culture in the North Bay for 25 years. E-mail him at RBammer@TheReporter.com.
WEST SIDE SPIRIT/OUR TOWN
Christopher Moore, JULY 25 – JULY 31, 2008
There's a fantastic time to be had with the sweet combination of Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen, now playing at the Iridium Jazz Club.
She's a blow-'em-away Broadway musical star who turns out to be a sophisticated and subtle musical artist. He's a well-regarded songwriter with a charming, understated stage style. Together, they're simultaneously adorable and smart. They delve bravely into challenging material.
At the moment, most of the material is from "One Ounce of Truth," the name of both their Iridium gig and a new CD. Rosen, the composer uses the poems of Nikki Giovanni as a starting point. This sounds esoteric, even coming from a songwriter who has borrowed from Langston Hughes; but Rosen's creations are moving and melodic. Putting Giovanni to music actually works. Especially with the fine musicians accompanying Jenkins and Rosen.
That's true whether the poem/song is a funny evocation of a woman in crazy-love ("I Wrote a Good Omelete") or a passionate celebration of African-American—and African—music ("The Black Loom"). Rosen takes us on a tour of more personal territory, too, accompanying himself on the piano for a number from an earlier CD, "South Side Stories," which powerfully recalls his deep family connection to the Chicago neighborhood where he grew up. The flip, funny side of that passion for his hometown came when Rosen mentioned several times his affection for a certain Illinois Senator who is also raising his family on the South Side.
If Rosen is laid back, Jenkins is center stage. She deserves to be. She has great range, both in terms of music and expression. It's fun when she belts, but here she's proving herself a fine jazz interpreter, effective in both her enunciation and her phrasing, all without losing her girlish appeal. When an audience member shouts out that she's hot, and she is, Jenkins takes it in. "I'm hot? I like that," she says.
Together, Jenkins and Rosen are both hot—but also cool. They have a warm presence that draws an audience in, but they also have staying power and a willingness to take creative risks. They're rich in talent. They're upbeat, but also deep.
onlytheblogknowsbrooklyn.com - review
THE NIKKI GIOVANNI SONGS: LOUIS and CAPATHIA DO IT AGAIN
By Louise Crawford, May 13, 2008
Louis Rosen's musical settings of poems by the contemporary black poet Nikki Giovanni are a great leap forward in a career already sparkling with high points.
For those who are fans of Rosen's song cycles based on the poetry of Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes—and his own South Side Stories—the Nikki Giovanni songs will be yet another revelation.
Last night at the CD release show for One Ounce of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs (on PS Classics) at Joe's Pub, the audience knew they were witnessing something very special. Indeed, a chance to hear Louis Rosen and Capathia Jenkins is always a treat but the added bonus of a 6-piece band (including Louis on guitar) made this performance something even more interesting and complex.
The new songs swirl through a variety of musical styles and moods, including blues, R&B, funk and the smooth Brazilian vibe of The Moon Shines Down and The World, two ravishing love songs. The Laura Nyro-esque Telephone Song is a joyous and giddy swoon of musical pleasure.
There is darkness in You Were Gone and One Ounce of Truth and humor and a sassy sexiness in a songs like, I Wrote a Good Omelet and That Day. The Black Loom, from a Giovonni poem dedicated to Nina Simone, is a showcase for the funky, soulful side of Capathia.
Not enough can be said about the smarts, musicality, and 2-octave interpretative genius of Capathia Jenkins. She is a treasure to behold, on CD or on the stage of Joe's Pub.
One Ounce of Truth, is another chapter in Rosen's musical exploration of black American poetry. The deceptively causal, often funny and wise verse of Giovanni is a perfect companion to Rosen's multi-timbered musical settings. Here's what Nikki Giovanni had to say about the recording:
"I'm just a girl who writes poems and was lucky enough to find someone who writes music who found someone who sings like an angel so my work once again has this wonderful opportunity to reach out and embrace and tickle and lovingly dance with you. I hope you like it. The moon is still against the night singing loves songs to the stars."
Cleveland Plain Dealer - CD Review
Thursday June 26, 2008, 2:16 PM
"One Ounce of Truth"
Capathia Jenkins, Louis Rosen
Louis Rosen brings jazzy and funky appeal to poems by Nikki Giovanni in his newest collection of songs. The verses sound completely natural in these settings, and especially as sung by Capathia Jenkins and composer-guitarist Rosen. Jenkins, who makes her Cleveland Orchestra debut Sunday, July 13, at Blossom Music Center, wields a clear, vibrant voice that wraps itself around words with sinuous and whimsical charm. We'll no doubt hear a different side of Jenkins at Blossom, where she'll have a chance to reveal her Broadway belt. Grade: A
NEW YORK SUN
by Will Friedlander
ARTS SELECT, JULY 28, 2008 - MUSIC - MELODIC GRAB BAG
The Iridium Jazz Club hosts jazz singer Capathia Jenkins and songwriter, guitarist, Louis Rosen, right, in a performance from the duos newly released album, One Ounce of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs. Their latest sounds are fused from blues, folk and jazz, all the while retaining gentle elements of nostalgia. One song is a tribute to Nina Simone, and another is a lullabye called "Kiss a Frog."
AMAZON.COM GERMANY - Review
People in a Good Mood, 6. September 2009
By Von Ingbert Edenhofer
Capathia Jenkins, Louis Rosen, Nikki Giovanni. Of the creatives important to this recording, I had only come across Capathia Jenkins before as a cast member on the recording of Martin Short's show "Fame Becomes me". She was good there but nothing prepared me for her much more nuanced work here. Louis Rosen set several works by poet Nikki Giovanni, and the three of them are a wonderful fit. Rosen and Giovanni seem to share an overall optimistic worldview, resulting in uplifiting songs, and Jenkins, who can belt up a storm if she needs to, goes for very relaxed song interpretations. This could easily tip over into the realm of easy listening but each contributor is talented enough to give this recording more depth. Giovanni may not be Rilke or Donne but coming up with a phrase like "I Wrote a Good Omelet (after loving you)" is close to a stroke of genius. This is a pleasant recording that makes you hold on to the summer.
BROADWAY.COM - INTERVIEW
By Eugene Lovendusky
Capathia Jenkins & Louis Rosen: One Ounce of Truth
For many Broadway buffs, the idea of pairing poetry and song starts and stops at Cats, The Musical. But composer Louis Rosen and Broadway vocalist Capathia Jenkins prove the possibilities are endless.
Following their collaborative successes of musicalizing the words of Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, they return to PS Classics introducing...
One Ounce of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs, which combines Jenkins' sultry and soaring voice with Rosen's inspired melodies into a fresh and enthralling 13-song mix of jazz, blues, soul, classic pop and American roots music. It's a lush and memorable collection based on the vivid words of Nikki Giovanni, the renowned female African-American writer and poet.
After previewing the album at the Harare International Festival of the Arts in Zimbabwe on April 29 & 30, Jenkins and Rosen celebrate the release of One Ounce of Truth with four concerts at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater in New York on May 12, 18, 19 & 26. For tickets, please call 212-967-7555 or visit www.joespub.com.
Eugene Lovendusky: Good afternoon; thanks for chatting with BroadwayWorld and congratulations on the release of your new album, "One Ounce of Truth: The Songs of Nikki Giovanni" on May 13. To celebrate, you've got some concerts lined-up at Joe's Pub. What kind of sounds and vibe are the audience going to enjoy at those evenings?
Louis Rosen: The music is very jazzy, bluesy and pop, even some folk-influence; and we've just got some of the best musicians in the city playing with us!
Capathia Jenkins: We will have our six-piece band with us, which is new for the people who've seen us before (we've been mostly working as a quartet).
Louis: The music runs a whole gamut; light and joyful to some songs that are really quite emotional. It's a group of songs – each song stands completely on its own; but together, it's a cycle of being in love and the loss of it, the joy, the terror. Also there's a journey from childhood to old-age. It's emotionally pretty-rich. And C.J. [Capathia] just sings the heck out of these songs!
Eugene: Louis, you've made yourself an impressive calling-card as a composer, shaping original music naturally around pre-existing poetry. How did you discover that the works of Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes could fit to a melody?
Louis: I used to work in the theatre and I had the great fortune of gaining a reputation of someone who could write vocal-music to words like Shakespeare, Brecht and Ibsen. I think dealing with those words really taught me how to make existing-words sing as if they were written to be sung with that particular music. That's the idea. If you tell someone you're making songs from poems, they may think you're making something classical or erudite. But as you can hear in "One Ounce of Truth," the style is pure popular song. Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou each wrote with terrific imagery but in the natural rhythms of our American speech. They all grew up listening to jazz, gospel, blues – and it shows in their poetry. The goal is to make it sound like their words and this music were meant to go together.
Eugene: Intriguing! Nikki Giovanni – called the Princess of Black Poetry – might not be the most house-hold name. For those of us less poetically-inclined, can you tell me a little more about her specific voice?
Louis: Nikki made a reputation in the late-1960s as a more outspoken, angrier black voice. Her poetry was very political. I've read her for years, but one of the things that drew me to wanting to make songs was that, over the years, she has mellowed some. There is a terrific generosity of spirit in her work. Instead of the anger of her youth turning into bitterness, she has a more open sense of the world. She's a joy to work with – we've kept her involved every step of the way.
Eugene: She's had a hand in making the album?
Louis: She really understood the process and I think she can see that we love the work. And what we're trying to do is something utterly faithful to her spirit – to bring it alive in a new way. She's excited that we're also going to bring her work to people who don't know it.
Eugene: Capathia, what is it like for you to be shaping your voice around these words and Louis' music?
Capathia: The greatest thing for me about working with Louis is he has a way of writing that, for me as a singer and interpreter, it's the easiest thing in the world because I can literally sing the ink right off the page. His music is seamless in terms of the feeling and emotion of a song. It's fantastic! I feel this record is our best work to-date.
Louis: When I write these songs, it's C.J.'s voice that I'm hearing. There are some songs that I wouldn't have written the way I wrote them, unless I knew she could sing it. There's a song called "I Want To Sing" that spans two octaves. She makes it seem effortless. The more we work together, I know how to make something for her but we also keep challenging each other – and that's fun.
Eugene: That's excellent. Rewind time and tell me how you met!
Capathia: I was in one of the workshops for The Look of Love. My musical director was David Loud. Louis was looking for a female singer for his Langston Hughes project. David Loud recommended me, so I started working with Louis. I loved the music immediately. One day Louis said to me: "I think I'd like to write for you." I thought: "Oh, that's great. But you know, some people say that and you don't hear from them." But he did! He called about two months later and he had started to set the work of Maya Angelou – one of my favorite poets. I went over to hear some of his stuff, and the rest is history.
Eugene: And back to this album, I listened to some of those tracks… and you're right, it's a great array of style. For example, "The World" is so smooth and whole, with a thrumming bass-line. The chorus of "Telephone Song" almost sounds like a 1960s sock-hop. How do you decide what feeling pairs with a poem?
Louis: Primarily, it's intuitive. It's not a great intellectual process. It's my emotional response to the poem and what I want to communicate. When a song-writer works with someone else's words, they become his words. I wouldn't choose something I wanted to set unless it said something I wanted to say. And also, I had no fear about being eclectic. I'm comfortable with and have played a variety of music – and I felt it would be to the advantage to the project to let each song find its own expression. There's some Latin jazz, there's some swampy blues…
Eugene: And "That Day" is just plain sexy!
Louis: [laughs] It's a kind of contemporary riff on an almost 1920s Tinpan Alley song. When she first heard the song, my wife said: "So many songs are talking about other things, but what they really mean to talk about is sex." And this song is talking about sex, but really it's about so much more.
Capathia: [laughs] That's what makes it so much fun!
Louis: The fellow who wrote the liner-notes said it was "Part of the Life Force!" More than anything, it's a sense of intuition and not being afraid to let the intuition lead to where it will not be censored. And to know it will be shaped around me and C.J. and it'll find its wholeness in its variety.
Eugene: Capathia, in the title-song, "One Ounce of Truth," you exude this painfully beautiful yearning around Nikki's words. What's the story behind this song?
Capathia: I feel like it's all about a journey through life – you're born, you're raised, and you smile through your life. You've lived a good life. And when you're gone, you hope people will continue to smile. I've gone back and forth on what's my favorite song on the record [laughs] and whenever I get to that song, it's so joyful but heart-wrenching, it's so well-crafted. It's a singer's dream.
"One Ounce of Truth" will be available in stores and online on May 13, 2008. Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen celebrate the release with four concerts at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater in New York on May 12, 18, 19 & 26. For tickets, please call 212-967-7555 or visit www.joespub.com.
AMSTERDAM NEWS - Profile
Special to theAmNews
Passion poetic love songs floated rapturously through the steamy stillness of the packed room, enthralling the admiring crowd as the acclaimed Broadway vocalist Capathia Jenkins accompanied by the award winning composer/lyricist/performer Louis Rosen on guitar performed some-of the beautiful numbers from their newly released CD One Ounce of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs (PS Classics, 2008).
Sitting attentively on the stage listening to the talented performers interpret her poems in song was the distinguished poet, author, educator and social activist Dr. Nikki Giovanni. Sometimes she smiled; at other times she laughed and tapped her feet lightly to the rhythm of the music Twice or thrice, she blushed shyly as if traveling alongside memory connecting the moment to another time and place outside of the event space at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Center in New York City.
It opened with The Moon Shines Down,” a love poem that Giovanni read exquisitely, following which the sultry songstress Capathia took over, putting her signature on it, with Rosen, moving alongside her, interpreting on acoustic guitar. Some of the other great moments culled from the CD included I Wrote a Good Omelet” with Kimberly Grigsby on piano, and “The Genie in the Jar” which Giovanni wrote for Nina Simone.
"I'm just thrilled," Giovanni said after the exciting in-store performance that was followed by a CD signing. “This is my 40th year in publishing. I published my first book in 1968, and it is an amazing thing for me to be working with another generation. To hear their rhythms—how they interpret your world." The poet’s eyes beamed intently as she continued:” I think it’s a holy experience, actually; that people are digging into your work. In many respects these are not the poems I would traditionally bring out,” she said of the more than 17 poetry collections that she has published
Amongst them is her debut volume, “Black Feeling Black Talk,” “My House,” "Those Who Ride the Night Winds," “Ego Tripping and Other Poems for Young People,” and “The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni.
It was the “Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni that propelled Rosen to bring his vision of Nikki Giovanni's songs to life. The 2005 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in Music Composition winner stated, “I read Nikki's work for years and I had thought off and on for 8 or 9 years about making something from her poems; when Capathia and I started working together; it became a very tangible circumstance, and I started to conceive the songs.” Rosen continued, “What secured it for me was when her selective poems came out in 2003. I was then able to get the whole breadth of her work and could really see where I could go in the writing and choosing of the poems.” What evolved was the 13 track CD which, according to Rosen, “is a portrait of her work."
Commenting on the project, Jenkins who was nominated for a Drama Desk Award and who originated roles on Broadway in “Martin Short Fame Becomes Me,” “Caroline or Change “The Civil War” and “The Look of Love,” shared, “Ms Giovanni words are just beautiful. They illustrate. And with my voice, I want to do the same,” she said, before summing up the entire journey: “This is a joy!
Giovanni, in turn, shared something that she had observed: "It was clear that Louis and Capathia had read and were looking for the music in the poems, so I was thrilled. I say yes to things like that. I always do because I think it is so important?
Giovanni's total confidence in the project became evident when Rosen sent her a test press of "One Ounce of Truth." "I wrote him back and told him how pleased I was to have reviewed it. It finally dawned on him when he read it that I never said what I thought about the songs, and that was because I didn’t listen to it. Giovanni explained her reasons for not listening to the CD by Rosen, whose music theater scores include “Book of the Night,” “A Child’s Garden,” and the forthcoming adaptation of John Steinbeck's "The Pearl."
"I didn’t because 1 didn’t want what I thought he should do to interfere with what he thought he should do. And the only way to not that is to let go. So I didn’t hear it until I received the completed CD; that’s when I first listened to it.’
Giovanni’s generosity with Rosen and Capathia along with her absolute faith in the venture, was on targets “It’s a beautiful CD," Giovanni said about the innovative 13 tracks that set Giovanni’s brilliant work in an eclectic musical terrain where jazz, folk blues and pop flirt openly with metaphors and similes that speak passionately to the experiences of the human soul: love, friendship and legacies.
Giovanni profoundly believes in legacies. She shared, "I've written more about Nina and Aretha than anything else. We want to live in a world that keeps people alive. How come we know Britney Spears but not Nina Simone?
As is customary, the karmic world has responded by placing Capathia Jenkins, Louis Rosen and Nikki Giovanni together. Their journey together on "One Ounce of Truth” ensures the continuation oft the legacy of the great poet, who was recently selected as one of Oprah Winfrey's “Living Legends.”
Be sure to catch Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen at the Iridium Jazz Club on July 29 and August 5, along with their band—-Kimberly Grigsby on piano, Dave Phillips on bass, Andrew Sterman on flutes and saxophones, Erik Charlston on drums and percussion. Nikki Giovanni will also be at the venue for their August date. Please call (212) 582 for reservations. To order the “One Ounce of Truth” CD please visit www.psclassics.com.