Angela and Joshua talk about an imaginative and powerful storyteller, Laura Karpman, who has been an advocate and ally for inclusion and equality her entire career. Her Grammy- and Emmy-winning music scores span film, television, theater, interactive media and live performance.
Angela Brown (00:14):
Hey, y’all I’m Angela.
Joshua Thompson (00:16):
And I’m Joshua Thompson.
And welcome back to Melanated Moments in Classical Music.
Angela Brown (00:25):
You know, Joshua, today I want to talk about a composer who has lit the music scene on fire. You can hear her music in film, television, movie scores, gaming, and oddly enough, at the beginning of this podcast.
Joshua Thompson (00:42):
I know, right. Oddly enough or coincidentally enough, I know you’ve been so excited to dig into all that she has to offer for quite some time. But also I know that you’ve had an opportunity to be showcased on her Grammy award-winning project, Ask Your Mama.
Angela Brown (01:01):
Yes, Joshua. That was so exciting to do that project with her. And I can’t wait to tell our listeners all about the composer, Laura Karpman. Laura Karpman is described, check this out Joshua, as a “bold incandescent talent, that creates powerful imaginative scores that push the boundaries of storytelling. Her award-winning music, spanning film, television theater, interactive media, and live performance reflects an audaciously creative, prodigious, fresh spirit.
Joshua Thompson (01:41):
I’m feeling so fresh and so clean myself right about now.
Angela Brown (01:44):
Yeah. So fresh and so clean, clean! Yes, baby. That’s why I love you.
Joshua Thompson (01:51):
I love you too, boo, but let’s continue learning more about Laura.
Angela Brown (01:55):
Yes. Karpman is well known for her Grammy award-winning album, Ask Your Mama. I have to put a little neck roll on that every time I say that title, Ask Yo Mama, okay! It’s a multimedia opera based on the iconic cycle of poems by Langston Hughes, Karpman collaborated with The Roots soprano, Jessye Norman, performer, De’Adre Aziza, and jazz vocalist, Nnenna Freelon, and a tremendous cast of other performers. And I had the pleasure of being one of them that actually recorded the album. But out of all those Grammy award-winning jazz singers and opera singers and Roots players, chile, I didn’t get to meet one of them. Okay. We all did our thing remotely.
Joshua Thompson (02:52):
Are you serious?
Angela Brown (02:52):
Yeah. It was, it was a trip how it, how it was done because Laura actually flew me in and I got a chance to be in her LA home that’s by the, by the ocean and in a little Hamlet town. And I was put up in a cute little bed and breakfast and oh, it was so much fun. And I just walked down to her house and we did it in her home studio. And she called this a passion project, which is code for, uh, I paid for it.
Joshua Thompson (03:19):
Angela Brown (03:22):
Yes, baby. But her passion paid off in big dividends. What you hear on this album is nothing short of genius. Now, one of the tracks that I’m prominently featured on is called “Blues in Stereo.”
Joshua Thompson (03:38):
Angela Brown (03:39):
Why don’t we take a listen to them?
Music Plays (03:41):
[Laura Karpman, “Blues in Stereo”]
Joshua Thompson (08:42):
I absolutely loved, loved, loved that. Oh, how fun. Angela, when did you, when did you record this? Do you remember?
Angela Brown (08:51):
You know, it had to be like… I’m bad with dates, Joshua. But we had a fabulous time doing it! And then, like I said, I didn’t get a chance to meet the other people on the project, but she will let me hear little snippets and she would put us all together. So everybody’s on a different track and sounds like we’re singing in chorus with one another. And so we’re all over the project. And I remember when, here in Indianapolis, I went to the jazz kitchen to see Nnenna Freelon sing, and I had a chance to go up to her and say, “Girl, we on a project together!” We had never met, okay! But I know you are who you are now, honey.
Joshua Thompson (09:29):
Angela Brown (09:32):
And she was a joy to meet. And this was just a lot of fun. So treat yourself to listening or getting this whole project because it’s one of those things, when you sit down on a Saturday afternoon or evening and you have your little, you know, drink, a snack and just have a moment and be immersed in the world that is Laura Karpman. It’s fabulous.
Joshua Thompson (09:56):
I was gonna say, and she makes it easy for you to do. I mean, just from the opening line of that. And by the end of it, everything is swirling and going on. There’s no way that you can be anything but completely gripped and like riveted and so sucked into it. Man, it’s just fun.
Angela Brown (10:12):
Exactly. And one of the fun things, Joshua, that I learned while I was learning this piece is that Langston Hughes who pinned Ask Your Mama actually did this at the Newport jazz festival. And he was writing the poetry while he was there. Okay, baby. And then he wrote little things in the margins next to the poem to suggest the kind of music or the kind of feel, because he was writing it as he was listening to jazz music. So it’s really fun just to dig in and enjoy.
Joshua Thompson (10:47):
Angela Brown (10:47):
And if her schedule hadn’t been so busy, Laura’s schedule, hadn’t been so busy and we had a chance to do an interview with her, one of the questions I would have asked her was why she loves working with Black subjects and with Black musicians. But as I was doing my research, I think I found the answer and the answer is inclusion.
Joshua Thompson (11:14):
Angela Brown (11:15):
Uh huh, uh huh, because Laura has a partner.
Joshua Thompson (11:18):
Angela Brown (11:19):
And they have a son and you know, she’s always been a big advocate for equal rights and equal access for all. And so Laura Karpman is a fierce champion for inclusion in Hollywood. And after founding the Alliance for Women Film Composers, Karpman became the first American woman composer inducted in the music branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences. Okay.
Joshua Thompson (11:48):
Angela Brown (11:48):
Exactly. And subsequently she was elected to be the first female governor of the music branch. Now, during her short time as governor, Karpman has made indelible strides, advocating for Academy membership for dozens of underrepresented composers and songwriters, as well as spearheading the Academy Women’s Initiative. Her leadership in creating opportunity for women, for underserved, um, uh, composers, and the like, it’s unparalleled. Now this takes me to her involvement in creating compositions for the smash hit cable television series, Lovecraft Country. Baby, have you seen this yet?
Joshua Thompson (12:41):
I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard all about it. Half of my Facebook friends are like Oh, it must be Thursday, ’cause you know, there’s spoilers for all of it. It’s captivating the country quite literally. Right?
Angela Brown (12:54):
Exactly. Especially during this time of COVID when we all are sitting at home, uh, uh, really looking and absorbing an inordinate amount of, uh, things on television. Now it’s a horror story. So, um, I’m not, I’m not a fan of the story because I’m scared. Okay, I’m too sensitive. But the music from this is extraordinary.
Joshua Thompson (13:21):
Angela Brown (13:21):
You know, she, along with recording producer, multi-instrumentalist, song-writer and member of the multi-platinum winning group, Tony! Toni! Toné!, Raphael Saadiq have joined forces to create some of the music for the series. Isn’t that cool?
Joshua Thompson (13:39):
It is really cool.
Angela Brown (13:42):
And now it’s a story that is set, it’s a horror story, that is set in the fifties in the segregate south.
Joshua Thompson (13:49):
Yeah. I’m just trying to imagine what part of this makes it even more horrific, the fact that you were in the fifties, in the segregated south, or the fact that it’s a horror genre. I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s for you all to decide, I don’t know.
Angela Brown (14:00):
Okay, baby, one of the episodes deals with the Tulsa race riots of 1921. Talk about a horror story.
Joshua Thompson (14:09):
Angela Brown (14:11):
The next piece you will hear, of the same name, was sung by soprano Janai Brugger, and has also been nominated for a Grammy. I’m excited to hear this ’cause we got a chance to work together, uh, on the Ask Your Mama project. So she’s also on that. So listen to this girl’s fantastic voice.
Music Plays (14:34):
[Laura Karpman, “Tulsa, 1921: Catch The Fire (feat. Janai Brugger)”]
Angela Brown (18:53):
It just makes you want to hold your breath.
Joshua Thompson (18:55):
You, you almost can’t help it right.
Angela Brown (18:58):
Right, with her beaut- with Janai’s beautiful singing of it, but just how you can hear at the very beginning, it sounds very scary. And then it’s this ethereal, eerie kind of feel that happens when she begins to sing. And then it just kind of relaxes into this ethereal, ghostly…
Joshua Thompson (19:21):
I was about to say, there is definitely a haunting that’s going on here. I have not watched the entire series. Uh, this episode being one of the most iconic ones of the series thus far, um… It’s, it’s heavy to watch. And Laura Karpman has done a wonderful job of using this music to convey the heaviness, the serious nature. I mean the, the way the scene is starting is Tulsa is on fire. These people are running for their lives and… It’s just a touching piece in that sense, the historical significance. And then there’s just the musical, just that eeriness and beauty, that combination, uh, I get very emotional every time I listen to it. And that’s, that’s how, you know, it’s a good composition. It’s supposed to do that. Right?
Angela Brown (20:17):
Definitely. Well, Joshua, thank you so much for taking this musical trip with me as we discovered the music of Laura Karpman. Well until next time, I’m Angela Brown.
Joshua Thompson (20:31):
And I’m Joshua Thompson.
And this has been Melanated Moments in Classical Music.
Joshua Thompson (20:41):
Season Two of Melanated Moments in Classical Music was made possible by the Indianapolis Foundation, a CICF affiliate. We thank them for their generous support.
Angela Brown (20:52):
Melanated Moments in Classical Music is proud to partner with the Coalition for African-Americans in the Performing Arts and Morning Brown Incorporated.
Joshua Thompson (21:03):
Melanated Moments in Classical Music is a production of Classical Music Indy. Our producer is Ezra Bakker Trupiano. Our theme music was composed Laura Karpman.
Theme Music (21:17):
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