PRESS for PHENOMENAL WOMAN: THE MAYA ANGELOU SONGS and SONGS WITHOUT WORDS
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Capathia Jenkins & Louis Rosen: Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs (Di-Tone)
Review of the vocalist and pianist's third album in a song-cycle trilogy setting words of African-American poets to new music
UPDATED APRIL 25, 2019
The quandary facing 21st-century jazz singers is where to find fresh material. Actress and singer Capathia Jenkins isn’t a jazz vocalist, but she’s provided an invaluable gift to singers looking for songs that are ripe for interpretation and reimagination. Working with longtime creative partner Louis Rosen, a Guggenheim-honored composer and arranger with an extensive list of Broadway credits, Jenkins delivers a song cycle based on Maya Angelou poems that’s like a Christmas present wrapped in velvet.
Arranged for a flexible sextet with four multi-instrumentalists, Rosen’s settings of Angelou’s text [have] the kind of wit, irony, humor, and drama that has always proved irresistible to jazz artists. From her caress of the album’s opening line “The highway’s full of big cars going nowhere fast” on the beseeching “Come Be My Baby,” Jenkins is in full control, her melting-butter tone imbuing Rosen’s welcoming melodies with all the roiling humanity of Angelou’s verse. There’s not a misstep on the album, and the highpoints are manifold, including Jenkins’ funky call-and-response with the horns on “Preacher Don’t.” The sticky refrain and gospel organ accents on “I Hate to Lose Something” make it sound like a lost soul hit from 1966. The power ballad “Poor Girl, Just Like Me” brims with ache and pain, while the blistering blues “Out Here Alone” could fit neatly in Catherine Russell’s repertoire.
There’s no swinging going on, but these songs are smart and stylish outfits that could wear well off the rack despite their bespoke origins. Indeed, this is a partnership with some legs. Phenomenal Woman is the third entry in Jenkins and Rosen’s Black Loom Trilogy song cycle, which also includes 2016’s Dream Suite: Songs in Jazz and Blues on Poems by Langston Hughes and 2008’s One Ounce of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs.
Capathia Jenkins & Louis Rosen:
Phenomenal Woman – The Maya Angelou Songs
By Raul da Gama
Although the prodigiously-gifted Maya Angelou has always qualified to be the Phenomenal Woman of Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen’s featured disc, she remained virtually unrecognised despite her myriad achievements, until she became only the second poet after Robert Frost to recite a poem during a Presidential inauguration – Mr Frost at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961 and Miss Angelou at Bill Clinton’s in 1993. Truth be told Miss Angelou had been prominent as a singer, actress, dancer, a poet and writer, and an activist who marched with Dr Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement. But it was her recitation of “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Clinton’s inauguration that put her front and centre internationally. Of course that was after the (national) success of her autobiography – the first of seven – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) and her association with the media superstar and longtime friend Oprah Winfrey.
Perhaps the greatest reflection of Miss Angelou’s tumultuous life has been played out in her poetry and in her songs – published in several collections and – on record – with Ashford and Simpson on Been Found (Hopsack & Silk Records, 1996), also one of seven discs of her songs and verse. That, of course does not include numerous appearances on film and television, and scores of speaking engagements over the years. But while her voice is missing on Phenomenal Woman she lives and breathes through the voice of the inimitable Capathia Jenkins, who like Miss Angelou is also an actor on and off Broadway, film and television. On this disc Miss Jenkins puts the power and sultry beauty of her soprano to being the work of Miss Angelou to life through the music of composer and conductor Louis Rosen. The album completes for Mr Rosen, a trilogy of work honouring Black American poets Nikki Giovanni through One Ounce of Truth (PS Classics, 2008) and Langston Hughes with Dream Suite (Di-tone Records, 2016); both of which also featured Miss Jenkins.
Miss Angelou’s songs draw from life experiences which were both traumatic and soaring with hope and freedom. To this extent they draw on The Blues – not in (musical) form but certainly in spirit – in that her lyrics bob and weave from hopelessness and despair into the electrifying explosions of hope and the triumph of human endeavour. They are also stories told from a woman’s perspective and their emotional centres come from a place of deep vulnerability and enormous strength. Miss Jenkins captures all of these characteristics with naked honesty in the pristine majesty of her voice; in the manner of how she picks parts of a phrase in which to place accents that dramatise the pangs of hurt which are sometimes followed by an expression of triumph as she holds and elongates the syllables at the end of a word. There are many magical examples of this in “Think of About Myself” and “Some Blues I’ve Had”, and most especially in the chorus line of “Out Here Alone”. Through it all Miss Jenkins’ instrument is gorgeous; lustrous, precise, feather-light yet sinuous.
As ever, Miss Jenkins and Louis Rosen make a devastating combination – just as they did on the other records in this trilogy. Once again nervous systems go haywire when confronted not only with a committed performance such as this, but also because of the intuitively empathetic manner with which Mr Rosen has approached Miss Angelou’s work. Imagine the impact then when careful composition meets equally careful arrangements for brass, reeds, winds and a rhythm section. Mr Rosen is also a first call and inspirational artistic director. This – plus what seems to be an extraordinary feel for Miss Angelou’s poetry of emotion – enables Mr Rosen to inspire imaginative performances from the ensemble. That so much scours the soul here is due partly to the shared vision of Mr Rosen and also that of these remarkable players, who dig deep into the idiomatic music melding composition with improvisation in equal measure. This is true not only of The Maya Angelou Songs but perhaps more so of the Songs Without Words with which Mr Rosen has conjured in the most magical sense, the spirit of Miss Angelou.
This overall package falls just a tad short of perfection only because the booklet does not contain Miss Angelou’s lyrics. Even the immaculate quality of this recording by Scott Lehrer would still do with a booklet in which printed lyrics are available for the listener to follow. This is, after all the work of a poet and songwriter, and that too, one of the stature of Maya Angelou. In terms of artistic content brought to the table by Miss Jenkins’ flawless delivery, as well as Mr Rosen immaculate music and the performance by the ensemble. All of this makes this a monumental venture, as much to die for as Maya Angelou’s own recordings, especially the unforgettable one with Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson.
Track list – 1: Prelude: Song Without Words, No. 1 (A Day Next Week); 2: Come Be My Baby; 3: But They Went Home; 4: Preacher Don’t; 5: Interlude I: Song Without Words, No. 2 (Dream Dust); 6: Think About Myself; 7: Some Blues I’ve Had; 8: Turned to Blue; 9: Interlude II: Song Without Words, No. 3 (Trust Silence); 10: I Hate to Lose Something; 11: Poor Girl, Just Like Me; 12: Out Here Alone; 13: Interlude III: Song Without Words, No. 4 (Together); 14: For the Caged Bird Sings; 15: Phenomenal Woman: Song for CJ
Personnel – Capathia Jenkins: vocals; Louis Rosen: music, arrangements and conducting; Maya Angelou: lyrics; Kimberly Grigsby: piano and electric organ; C.J. Camerieri: trumpet and French horn; Hideaki Aomori: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet and bass clarinet (2 – 4, 6 – 8, 10 – 12, 14, 15); Andrew Sterman: alto saxophone, clarinet and flute (1, 5, 9, 13); Susan Rotholz: flute (14) and additional flute (9); Erik Charlston: vibraphone; Dave Phillips: contrabass and electric bass; Gary Seligson: drums
Released – 2018
Label – Di-tone Records (DT240)
Runtime – 46:09
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Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs – Extraordinary!
Posted on October 27, 2018 by Alix Cohen in Playing Around
By rights, and I’m a committed fan of Birdland, this indelible cross pollination of classical/opera/jazz/blues/gospel should be at Carnegie Hall – which is not to say you won’t find yourself chair dancing. Composer Louis Rosen’s symbiotic relationship with poet Maya Angelou, muse/vocalist Capathia Jenkins, and his superb band is so organic, so exacting in craft, it’s difficult to imagine one without the other.
Twelve years ago Rosen (composer/songwriter/performer/teacher) heard Capathia Jenkins and felt he’d found the last component needed to fully realize what became The Black Loom Trilogy, scoring the work of Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Maya Angelou. Enmeshed in a black, Chicago neighborhood through his childhood, the artist always felt affinity with and uncanny understanding of his neighbors’ roots and challenges.
Unlike composers whose enthusiasm overrides capacity, Rosen’s music never feels like fitting a square peg in a round hole, as if poems are wrangled into submission. Some of these songs are so melodious (while maintaining ferocity), it seems as if words were originally lyrics. Excavating life experience, the artist adds painterly imagination, musical backbone, and arresting texture to Angelou’s raw emotion.
Capathia Jenkins is unique. I could note shades of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Helen Humes, Aretha Franklin …but the lady’s style and talent are very much her own. Jenkins seems to becomea song rather than perform it. Cascading through octaves with seamless control and discretion, she erupts and retreats plumbing meaning. Exuberance is infectious, anger palpable, pathos visceral.
An epilogue to the trilogy and woven into the Angelou suite are a Prelude and four Interludes. Immensely evocative musical pieces, these seem ripe for choreography. We open with “A Day Next Week,” conjuring lamplight shadows, wet streets- underbelly; tense anticipation. The clarinet gets under one’s skin.
A honey-cured “Come Be My Baby” finds Jenkins’ irresistibly seductive. In “But They Went Home,” she’s darkly resigned; admired, tasted, abandoned, yet not defeated. With “Preacher Don’t,” we’re galvanized by rhythm. Trumpet underlines: Preacher, don’t send me/when I die/to some big ghetto/in the sky…I’d call a place/pure paradise/where families are loyal/and strangers are nice,/where the music is jazz/and the season is fall./Promise me that/ or nothing at all. The congregation is clearly jivin’ while lyrics dive deep.
Interlude I “Dream Dust” floats in like a drug haze. Ravishing trumpet hands off to sax which nods to vibraphone. Languid and shimmering, musical wails rise from fog. Steps are careful. “Think About Myself”: When I think about myself,/ I almost laugh myself to death, /My life has been one great big joke, A dance that’s walked /A song that’s spoke…swells with pride and fury. Jenkins vibrates.
"Some Blues I’ve Had” begins a capella. This is a voice in which you want to wrap yourself – to comfort or be comforted, one wonders. Then, whomp! hard, rhythmic beat surrounds us with a pulsing neighborhood – dirty, noisy, poor, roiled. The singer (character) moves through it, past it – inside her head? A door or window abruptly closes. Sanctuary. Music is elemental and charred, vocal tenacious.
Rosen and Jenkins recall the journey they’ve been on (thus far). They agree that timing was inadvertently auspicious. “We both aged into the work.”
"Turned to Blue” determinedly faces down a demon – better one known and addressed. Interlude II “Trust Silence” bends without edges expressing solitude, not loneliness. Muted horn is our protagonist. Teased by flute and vibraphone, awareness expands owning a feeling of possibility.
"I Hate to Lose Something” sashays in churning, roadhouse burlesque. Drums punctuate. Horn swings its hips. “I hate to lose something,”/then she bent her head,/“even a dime, I wish I was dead…”Now if I felt that way ‘bout a watch & a toy,/What you think I feel `bout my lover-boy?... Jenkins moooves with warning grit. Her territory, her piece of earthy delight.
Pissed off and mourning sisterhood, “Poor Girl, Just Like Me” sympathizes with her lover’s other girl. Surges and digressions are perfectly employed to make the song a scene. We believe every word. Bass-centric “Out Here Alone” is a true blues: The race of man is suffering/And I can hear the moan,/‘Cause nobody,/ But nobody/Can make it out here alone… Jenkins sings widening her eyes, extending both arms, opening palms, entreating. A declaration of elusive truth.
Jenkins calls “Together” (Interlude III) “my jam.” In fact, eyes closed, fingers snapping, she rocks and bounces throughout –as does much of the grooving audience. Instruments seem a pumped-up gang intent on getting into mischief. Having read Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, at 14, she then picked it up again recently. “The thing she does so beautifully is to use poetry to describe trauma.” Rosen wields his medium similarly, inhabiting, not wallowing; often providing music in pithy counterpoint to gravity.
“For the Caged Bird Sings” musically loops and sails with a free bird, while his fellow … Can seldom see through his bars of rage/His wings are clipped and his feet are tied/So he opens his throat to sing….much like Angelou herself and representing others. The lovely song is rife with yearning.
"Phenomenal Woman-Song for C.J.” (Note the title addition) is sassy, cool, savvy, sure, and all wo-man. Jenkins works it with every fiber of her formidable being. Though a powerful anthem, finesse never exits. The performer has a lustrous light note with more guts than most in the business.
Tonight’s encore “The Black Loom” from One Ounce of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs, is sheer voodoo; seething, tribal, hot. Horns cry. The inclination is to call out as if at a revival meeting. We rise as one, nourished and knocked out.
Musicianship is flat out terrific.
Phenomenal Woman is the last component of Black Loom Trilogy. Though given the rights to perform his Angelou songs, it was not until last year that the author’s estate signed off on performance. A CD has also been released. It’s masterful.Photos by Steve Friedman
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Capathia Jenkins/Louis Rosen
Phenomenal Woman – The Maya Angelou Songs
Louis Rosen, a singer-guitarist, author, and lyricist for the theater and stage, is also a notable composer. He learned directly from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. Among his most significant recordings are his Dream Suite (14 songs that utilize the poems of Langston Hughes) and One Ounce Of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs. Those two sets plus Phenomenal Woman form the Black Loom Trilogy, full-length sets that feature the poetry of major African-American poets put to music.
Capathia Jenkins acts on Broadway and occasionally on television, has sung with many symphony orchestras, and is a powerful vocalist. She has now been part of five of Rosen’s recordings including each CD in the Black Loom Trilogy
Maya Angelou (1928-2014) had a long, colorful and very productive life including writing seven autobiographies, performing in Porgy and Bess, working as a journalist in Egypt and Ghana, dancing professionally, producing plays and movies, writing screenplays, being a civil rights worker and a public speaker and, most importantly, developing into one of America’s top poets. She also loved jazz.
In 2005 Louis Rosen set 11 of Maya Angelou’s works to music (titling the production “Phenomenal Woman”) and they were premiered by Capathia Jenkins. Recently, he adapted the music for a small combo and wrote some instrumentals (the four-part “Song Without Words”) which serve as an introduction and preludes during the set.
Capathia Jenkins is outstanding throughout this recording, really digging into Angelou’s poetry She puts plenty of feeling into the lyrics and, while not a jazz singer, she gives one the impression that she could be one (or sing opera) if that were her desire. She must rank as one of the most soulful singers on Broadway.
Rosen’s “Songs Without Words” works quite well during the set, giving the musicians opportunities to be featured briefly with clarinetist Andrew Sterman and vibraphonist Erik Charlston making strong impressions. His settings for the poems range from the big band feel of “Preacher Don’t” to the ballad “But They Went Home” and the dramatic “Poor Girl, Just Like Me.”
Phenomenal Woman (which is available from www.louisrosen.com) deserves to be listened to in one setting. It is a superior tribute both to Maya Angelou’s poetry and the voice of Capathia Jenkins.
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Capathia Jenkins & Louis Rosen
The Maya Angelou Songs and Songs Without Words
Maya Angelou is revered as one of the greatest and most influential writers in America. Her ability to spin tapestries depicting life in this country, as both an African American woman and as a person fighting for their right to live free, is evident in her best known works such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Her books and poetry profoundly shaped American literature as we know it today. When Angelou died on May 28, 2014, President Barack Obama described her as “one of the brightest lights of our time.” Now, with Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs and Songs Without Words, Broadway star Capathia Jenkins and composer Louis Rosen have come together to bring the words of Maya Angelou back to life through music.
Phenomenal Woman is a beautifully done project and in many ways can be considered an amalgamation of both classical music and jazz. Composed as a song cycle, there are no clear improvisatory sections, but Rosen takes advantage of jazz instrumentation and at times, grooves, to give the entire cycle a much looser feel. This is certainly true of the four instrumental interludes, or Songs Without Words, that divide the sections. Throughout the album it is also clear that Rosen approached the composition of each tune with a specific intent, creating very unique textures through the use of somewhat nontraditional instruments—at least within the idiom of a jazz sextet—such as the French horn and clarinet.
The album opens with “Prelude: Song Without Words, No. 1 (A Day Next Week),” which begins with a haunting clarinet and piano duet leading into the first song, “Come Be My Baby.” This is an absolutely gorgeous track, with Jenkins’ warm and present tone complimented by the interesting color of sound from the vibraphone.
Jenkins was the perfect choice for this project. Her experience on Broadway is evident in her attention to detail when presenting, as well as interpreting, the lyrics and messages in the texts. Each word comes across so clear and crisp, which couldn’t be more important on an album presenting the poetry of someone as legendary as Maya Angelou. With other stand out tracks such as “I Hate to Lose Something,” “Out Here Alone,” and “For the Caged Bird Sings,” Phenomenal Woman is a beautiful homage to the legendary Maya Angelou.
Reviewed by Jared Griffin
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Countdown To Christmas: The Gift of Music Can Heal Your Soul
Every year people panic to find the perfect gift. We at T2C have been collecting idea’s all year long to bring you the perfect gift guide at all price levels. When you’re at the end of your rope trying to find the perfect Christmas present this year, come to this guide for some great suggestions.
Capathia Jenkins & Louis Rosen “PHENOMENAL WOMAN: The Maya Angelou Songs” is first on my list. In a strange sense this music and angels, saved my life. After attending the release party at Birdland, I was struck and run over by a cab. If I had not been on a musical high from this concert, I do not know if I would have made it. They say music can save the soul, well music can also keep us on an energetic frequency where we can survive anything.
Capathia Jenkins could sing the phone book and make me thrill, but with these haunting and succulent melodies, this song cycle brings a freshly approach to these iconic lyrics.
You can get this at CD Baby for $16.95
Several friends on my list are receiving this CD from me, because this music stirs my soul and I want to share that gift.
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Review by SUZANNA BOWLING
Capathia Jenkins & Louis Rosen “PHENOMENAL WOMAN: The Maya Angelou Songs” is Phenomenal
It’s taken me a while to write up the review of Capathia Jenkins & Louis Rosen “PHENOMENAL WOMAN: The Maya Angelou Songs.” In a strange sense this music and angels, saved my life. After attending the release party at Birdland, I was struck and run over by a cab. If I had not been on a musical high from this concert, I do not know if I would have made it. They say music can save the soul, well music can also keep us on an energetic frequency where we can survive anything.
"PHENOMENAL WOMAN: The Maya Angelou Songs” (Di-tone Records), came to fruition in 2005 when Jenkins and Rosen were granted rights by Maya Angelou to perform the 11-song cycle. The rights were expanded in 2017 to include recording and publishing. At that time Rosen began arranging the tunes for a jazz sextet. The duo then went into the studio with their co-producer, Scott Lehrer. As well as the Maya Angelou Songs, there are four instrumental interludes penned by Rosen, called Songs Without Words. This is the fifth album collaboration for Jenkins and Rosen. The recording of Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs marks the completion of the recording of Louis’ Black Loom Trilogy, three song cycles composed for Jenkins on the poems of three major African-American writers, including Dream Suite: Songs in Jazz and Blues on Poems by Langston Hughes and One Ounce of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs. The duo’s other two albums include South Side Stories and The Ache Of Possibility with four songs again on poetry by Ms. Giovanni.
The album opens with “Prelude: Song Without Words, No. 1 (A Day Next Week),” which begins with a haunting clarinet and piano duet leading into the first song, “Come Be My Baby.” Jenkins vocal range can embellish every note with just the right amount of warmth and tenderness. The use of the vibraphone added a delightful nuance. Rosen writes such naked emotion, that it is musical nirvana. Rosen’s music continually shifts from folk, into a melodic jazz, savoring an earthy pop sound. Though these songs border on art songs, they stay grounded in the birth of the blues.
In “But They Went Home” the longing of a woman who longs for a man soars with passion and sorrow at never choosing her own man.
“Preacher Don’t”, has a New Orleans bite to it, with some lush jazz instrumentation, while “Think About Myself”, has a 60’s pop feel with a lilting beat and some hip grooves.
“Some Blues I’ve Had” brought out the haunting feel of seeing a hanging on every tree. With Jenkin’s clear and crisp voice lingering on the melodic structure it was if we could feel this unnatural dis-ease. “Turned to Blue,” had an Antonio Carlos Jobim feel.
I absolutely loved “I Hate to Lose Something”, where now it is the women, who doesn’t want to lose her man and won’t. The song went into “Poor Girl, Just Like Me”, a inner monologue women have when they take a man from another women, knowing she will lose him to the next.
“Out Here Alone” brings the blues to a head. With Angelou’s most iconic poem “For the Caged Bird Sings,” touching our souls, Jenkin’s crisp clear voice is at its best. This woman could sing the phone book and thrill me, but with these haunting and succulent melodies, this song cycle brings a freshly approach to these iconic lyrics.
The last song “Phenomenal Woman” is the pièce de résistance that I expect really clever cabaret artists to pick up and claim.
Backed by pianist Kimberly Grigsby; CJ Camerieri on trumpet and French horn; Hideaki Aomori on alto & tenor saxophones, flute and clarinet; Andy Blanco on vibraphone; Dave Phillips on acoustic and electric bass; and Gary Seligson on drums, this is a CD that will stir your being into paradise. I know it did mine and saved me from going there literally.
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Lustrous Songs of Romance and Guilt
LOUIS ROSEN AND CAPATHIA JENKINS at Steppenwolf's Traffic Series
by Hedy Weiss
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.
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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.
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WNYC’s Soundcheck, w/host, John Schaefer, interview and performance (for NYC premiere of “Twelve Songs”)
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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,
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AMERICAN UNIVERSITY PAPER: THE EAGLE
By Tara Abell
...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.
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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.