A Jazz Musician’s ‘Hope,’ Inspired by Poet Langston Hughes

In 1935, poet Langston Hughes penned the powerful appeal, “Let America Be America Again.” The poem cried out for a mislaid dream, edging close at times to despair, but never losing sight of the inherent possibility bound up in the country’s great diversity. “Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—/ Let it be that great strong land of love,” Hughes wrote. 

That hard-willed hope inspired trombonist Ryan Keberle, director of jazz and brass studies at Hunter College’s music department. Keberle drew on the poem when he began recording a studio album aptly titled The Hope I Hold with his indie jazz quintet Cartharsis.  

“I felt compelled to incorporate [the poem] into this new work,” Keberle wrote. “I appreciated the distinctly American duality at the poem’s core: Despite Hughes’ powerful and poignant assessment that the American Dream has been a fallacy for so many of the country’s disenfranchised citizens, the marathon piece also harbors a message of idealism — a hope that that Dream could one day become a reality.”

Ryan Keberle & Catharsis perform “Despite the Dream” (words by Langston Hughes) from The Hope I Hold.

The resulting 10 tracks on The Hope I Hold oscillate between realism and idealism. Standout track “America Will Be” resounds with a frenetic sense of turmoil, while “Peering” shifts in and out of contemplative moods. But “Become the Water” echoes with encouragement, as vocalist Carmen Meza sings, “Find the common/ Shine the light/ Become the water/ Put out the fire,” and Keberle’s trombone routes a path toward a new horizon on closing track “Epilogue/Make America Again.” 

“Perhaps the most important unfolding on The Hope I Hold relates to the album’s theme of optimism in the face of political and cultural corruption,” Keberle said. Though it can feel impossible to hold tight to hope, Catharsis’ latest album shows that it’s still a worthwhile effort. 

This is Keberle’s fifth album with Catharsis. Keberle’s impressive career has also included collaborating with David Bowie, performing with the Saturday Night Live house band, and accompanying Alica Keys, Justin Timberlake, and Wynton Marsalis.

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work

The Hope I Hold
Greenleaf Music, 2019

Work By

Ryan Keberle (Director, Jazz and Brass Studies, Music) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools

Hunter College