By Michelle Kaplan
When you hear Capathia Jenkins’s powerful voice over the music written and played by musician Louis Rosen, it is difficult to be anything but inspired. This duo has been playing together for years, and they have a chemistry that’s easy to see in their performances. The two are fascinating to talk to and I found myself hanging on every word that they said as the interviews went on.
Both Louis and Capathia felt a love for music at a very young age. “From the moment I could talk I’ve been singing…like with the hairbrush in the bathroom in the mirror,” says the performing artist “I love music.” Capathia’s third grade teacher noticed that she was especially talented for her age, and told her mother that she should nurture her gift. From then on, Capathia was singing all the time, training, and performing in church and for her family.
Rosen had a similar love for music when he was very young: his dad loved to listen to music, so he was constantly surrounded by it. The first instrument he learned to play was the drums. “My parents actually supported that, which meant of course my mother would need to barricade herself in the den as I blasted the stereo and played along to my favorite records,” Rosen explains. At sixteen, he taught himself guitar and piano followed soon after. He became very serious about music and wanted to pursue it as a career. He studied music throughout his higher education, including receiving a Master’s degree from NYU.
Although Louis and Capathia spend a lot of time working together, they both have successful careers as solo artists. Capathia has been in Broadway shows such as Caroline, or Change, The Civil War, and Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me (to name a few). She has also performed in off-Broadway shows, regional theatre, and television. Capathia still remembers her first time on a Broadway stage as one of her favorite career highlights. “I can remember it clearly because my first show was The Civil War. The first day we get into the theatre and the cast sits in the house. We were all filing up onto the stage. I turned around and looked up and tears streamed to my eyes. ‘Oh my g-d it’s really happening I’m going to stand on a Broadway stage and sing!’”
Louis has written scores for many plays performed all over the United States, including at The Shakespeare Theaters, Lincoln Center, and more. He has received significant amounts of recognition in his field, including the Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Musical Theater Award, several ASCAP awards, a 2005-2006 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in Music Composition, and more. He mostly wrote scores and worked for theatre, until he realized something changed. “I always considered that work my work in that I put myself into it, but ultimately the goal was to realize someone else’s vision, the vision of a director. It shifted a dozen years ago when I started writing songs, and that lead me to Capathia.”
Capathia and Louis met each other through a mutual friend who is a conductor. Louis recalls, “We met a few times but she never really sang full-out when we’d rehearse. Then we went into the studio and she sang Lullaby for a Black Mother. For me it was one of those momentsmy mouth dropped a littlewow. Since then, the two have been inseparable. They have recorded three albums together, including South Side Stories, One Ounce of Truth, and The Ache of Possibility. They made their debut performance in 2005 at The Public Theatre’s Joe’s Pub. The shows, which showcased songs written with the poetry of Maya Angelou, were sold out. Since then, the duo has toured the United States and even some parts of the rest of the world, including a trip to Zimbabweanother career highlight for Capathia.
Louis Rosen writes all of the songs specifically for Capathia’s voice, although he does sing on several songs. He says, “Capathia has this terrific combination of an extraordinary instrument and technical skill, but all are put into the service of expression. Working with her increases the range of what I can do on a real practical level.” Rosen also writes songs using poetry, including the work of Nikki Giovanni. “One of the reasons I’m sometimes drawn to working with other peoples’ words, is if there’s nothing motivating me to write about, there’s so much to say musically,” Louis explains. “I knew Nikki’s voice would be a match with Capathia’s voice.”
In regards to the song writing process, Capathia says “When we first started working together, he would write stuff and say to me ‘I started sketching these new songs…wanna listen?’ He would play it for me and I would live with it and learn the ink right off the page.” Now, Capathia says the collaboration is deeper. During the creation of their most recent album, The Ache of Possibility, the two would have conversations about what was going on politically in the world. Louis even says that he would sometimes leave MSNBC on mute in the background. If something looked interesting, he would take the sound off mute, and many times, gain some inspiration. Consequentially, a lot of The Ache of Possibility is about the political topics of the time.
Such a big part of being an artist is finding the inspiration to create the art itself. “I am acutely aware of my place in the world and my place in humanity and how small I am in comparison to humanity. Love inspires me, true compassion, the joy of giving back.” Capathia says. She is on the International Board of Directors of The Covenant House to work with children. “I am inspired by young people who are dreaming and look at me like they aspire to be where I’m at.” Jenkins also draws inspiration from her mother, who passed away two years ago, but is remembered every day. “I remember her telling me that I should always be myselfbe true to myself. Not everyone is gonna like me. Don’t waste your time being what people want you to be.”
Rosen finds his inspiration songs from many places, and says he is very rarely in a writer’s block. “There are times when I’m more open and in tune to the world around me and times when I’m less that way…sometimes the motivation comes from observing what’s going on in the world and how it effects you and how you want to respond to it. Something you read, something you hear, a phrase somebody says to you can lodge in your brain and stick and when you are ready it will start to come out.”
Not everyone can write and perform songs for a living. “I think that if you are an aspiring singer you should always be singing,” says Capathia. “I tell young people that all the time because it can be a very sort of discouraging frustrating sort of journey-deciding why or what it is you want to accomplish.” Both Capathia and Louis believe that you should constantly be working on your craft and striving to get better. “There’s a certain assumption that if you learn the technical aspects of music, you will somehow stifle creativity. Nothing could be further from the truth. The more you learn, the more you can make what you learn a part of you, then the more you will have to draw on to express what you want to express,” says Rosen about the importance of music education.
There is definitely an art to song-writing, and not everyone has the skill to do it. So, what makes a good song-writer? Louis believes that people are drawn to song-writers who say something particularly interesting about life. “When we love song writers what we love is the way they see the world, but they’ve developed the craft of song writing which is a lot more demanding than people will often assume because it seems as if anybody can write a song.” They should be about something that many people feel but don’t know quite how to express themselves.
Capathia enjoys both the process of working with Louis and performing in musicals, but they are each different. “I always love performing live. It is this sort of dance with the audience. An audience gets on the train and goes with you. We have a great time collaborating and presenting ourselves in the essence of who we are.
In theatre, I am fulfilled in a different way taking on a character or persona. It’s me but it’s really me being a part of a whole cast.” Capathia’s career is ever evolving, with contributions to many different art forms, such as the stage and live music.
So much is changing in the music industry and Broadway. From all the music on the internet giving the record companies a run for their money, to tons of pop stars appearing on the Broadway stage, there is definitely a new look to the industry. Capathia and Louis definitely have their thoughts on how the industry is changing and what the future will look like. In terms of music, Louis believes that although the record companies are having a tough time, they will still be on top in the end. “I would be surprised if the record companies disappear. They are retrenching and figuring out how to make the most of a new landscape,” he says. “There’s still no substitute for having the bankroll of a larger company willing to put money into a significant support mechanism of advertising or touring. Though the rules might be changing some, they are just changing they aren’t going away.”
Capathia has her own opinions on the current trends on Broadway. “I think that Broadway should have space for shows like American Idiot because I think that those kinds of shows bring a whole new audience to Broadway, and I think that’s an important thing. But what annoys me is that there is not space it seems for the composers who are young who are just getting their feet wet and trying to tell a new story writers who have a contemporary voice and are trying to tell a story that hasn’t been told.” Jenkins hopes that young writers will have the chance to express themselves through their work on the stage.
Capathia and Rosen have big plans for the future. The dynamic duo has already started working on a fourth album. They have even performed some of their new music live at Joe’s Pub. They have a radio interview and live performance on Sound Check WNYC which will air today. Capathia also says she hopes to do more dramatic film work. Rosen wants to keep writing, but he tells us, “I try to have as pleasant a day every day as I can. That’s the biggest goal I have.” Now that sounds like a great outlook on life.
Capathia and Louis have already had very successful and fulfilling careers, but they are no where near finished. Keep an eye out for these two. With their wonderful personalities and extraordinary talent, there is no question that they’ll continue to impress and move us all.
Capathia on who she would like to collaborate with: “I would say Jason Mraz. He’s at the top of my list. He’s a great story teller.”
Louis’ favorite song writers: Bob Dylan, Laura Nyro, Sondheim, Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein
Louis on working with Capathia: “The Capathia people hear and see on stageit’s Capathia. There’s something terrifically warm and genuine. So from that level it’s just fun. We also have a lot of laughs. She’s open and gives herself to it. A lot of what I’ve written probably wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t been working with Capathia.”
Capathia on music: “Music is universal equalizer. When people like what you do and they don’t even speak your language it is an extraordinary feeling.”
Capathia’s favorite Broadway shows: Score-West Side Story- Show she’s been in: Caroline, or Change
Capathia’s feelings on how to handle fear: “The way I get through it is to run towards my fear with my arms open. The only other alternative is to stay home and be in the fetal position.”
Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen
The Ache of Possibility
hot, cool, irresistible and smart!
Louis Rosen is a handsome skinny white guy originally from Chicago’s Southside; Capathia Jenkins is a voluptuous, ravishing African American woman from Brooklyn who “grew up in Church”. She is also an in-demand jazz/pop vocalist, an award winning actress and a Broadway musical veteran. He is also a multi-award winning songwriter, guitarist, and performer, a Guggenheim fellow and noted theatre composer. Together they are an alchemical mix of two extraordinary artists who have come from very
different places to make great music.
Live in concert with Louis on guitar and their state-of-the-art New York back up, they are pushing the musical envelope to the sheer delight of audiences. Rosen’s original songs mix and merge traditional and contemporary jazz and blues, American roots and classic pop, with text-rich lyrics. Jenkins, a singer with a radiant voice, can soar, belt or melt to an intimacy of nuance and mood that goes right to the emotional core of any song.
Jenkins and Rosen have named their concert One Ounce of Truth, the title of their
second album (One Ounce of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs) in acknowledgment of Nikki Giovanni who has been their collaborator, inspiration and friend.
The concert features songs based on the poetry of iconic African American writers Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou. “There’s a terrific use of imagery in these writers, but their poems masterfully utilize the natural rhythms of our American speech,” says Rosen. “They all grew up listening to jazz, gospel and blues, and the sounds and rhythms of that music is in their poetry.
The songs trace out life’s journey insisting on the values of love and friendship, art and memory, the raising of children, and ultimately the acceptance of letting go of it all. “The Moon Shines Down” and “I Wrote A Good Omelet” come at love from different points of view. “You Were Gone,” in dark blues-soaked soul bemoans love lost even as Capathia’s performancesuggests that she’ll live through it. “All I Gotta Do” is fierce stuff of sleepless nights shot through with sexual tension. “The Black Loom” is dazzling, a whirling conjure song about artistry and creating art on the loom inspired by the black experience. It’s a show stopper.
take a note and spin it around spin it around don’t prick your finger
take a note and spin it around
on the Black loom on the Black loom
don’t prick your finger
from “The Black Loom” (Genie in the Jar: for Nina Simone) by Nikki Giovanni © 1996
Jenkins and Rosen evoke a cooler heat in their jazzy, blues-rich renditions of Langston Hughes’ poems. Whether it’s the exuberant “Harlem Night Song,” the tender “Lullaby For a Black Mother,” the ironically joyous “Life is Fine” or the heartbreaking “Song For Billie Holiday,” Jenkins and Rosen both honor Hughes and break new ground in songs that reveal what Hughes found in Harlem’s soul.
Do not speak of sorrow
With dust in her hair,
Or bits of dust in eyes
A chance wind blows there.
The sorrow that I speak of
Is dusted with despair.
from “Song for Billie Holiday” by Langston Hughes © 1949
Capathia’s interpretation of Angelou’s poems, a sassy collection of women who have life experience and edge, is lustrous and worldly wise. The bluesy acknowledgment of a woman being two-timed and the funny, sly menace of a woman putting the rival for her boyfriend’s attention on notice are balanced by “Phenomenal Woman”, a song with the sound and strut of total self confidence. Capathia and Angelou then slam on the breaks in “Alone,” a jazz-blues powerhouse of a song that makes no bones that life is hard.
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
Can make it out here alone.
from “Alone” by Maya Angelou © 1975
“One Ounce of Truth” is a mix of musical styles and moods. Sexy, smart love songs alternate with catchy contemporary pop standards profiling the hope and angst now at play in the American psyche.
Jenkins is in gorgeous voice, jamming with a running bass line as she sings about hope in the post-W era. The timing couldn’t be better; Rosen may be a dreamer but he has his feet on the ground intellectually. The song is not a paean to an untested young President but, rather, a knife-edged psalm.
Yes I know, The ache of possibility is now
One again we plant a seed and speed the plow / Shed our
sorrow / Stake a claim for the soul of tomorrow /
The soul of tomorrow / The soul of tomorrow.
from “The Ache of Possibility”
© 2008 music and lyrics by Louis Rosen, Lullwater Music, ASCAP
In “The Middle Class (Use To Be) Blues”, Louis sings a song pitch perfect to the time, a wonderful comic gripe with a whiff of ’30s honky tonk. )
My rent’s not paid / And my pay’s been docked /
And what my doctor told me / Well, it left me kind of
shocked / He said, I read about your condition
in the news? You’ve got those ‘Used To Be In The Middle-Class Blues”
from “The Middle-Class (Used To Be)Blues”
© 2008 music and lyrics by Louis Rosen, Lullwater Music, ASCAP
Love of Song is a bossa-nova inflected toe-tapper that speaks not only to the ache of possibility between lovers, but to the power of songs itself.
I sing / for you / I sing / for me / I sing/ for love /
Love of song / Love of song
There are songs that will move you / And song that
you move to / And prayer songs / And moon songs /
Love songs / Birth songs / We fill the earth with songs
from “Love of Song”
© music & lyric by Louis Rosen, Lullwater Music, ASCAP
Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen create and perform a concert that is hot, cool, irresistible and smart. It doesn’t get much better.
Capathia Jenkins Google News Alert:
'LOVE, LOSS, AND WHAT I WORE to Premiere Tonight, 9/21
In addition to her work with Louis Rosen, Capathia Jenkins’ concert work includes recent appearances with the Cleveland Orchestra, Utah Symphony Orchestra, Minneapolis Orchestra, Wolf Trap, Michael Feinstein at Carnegie Hall, Alaska Symphony and the 92nd Street Y’s Lyrics and Lyricists series. On Broadway she has thrilled audiences and press alike with her show-stopping performances in Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, the Tony-nominated musical Caroline, or Change; Frank Wildhorn’s The Civil War; and Bacharach and David’s The Look of Love. Her off-Broadway credits include a Drama Desk nomination for the one-woman show, (Mis)understanding Mammy: The Hattie McDaniel Story, and the revival of Godspell. National and European tours include Caroline, or Change, Dreamgirls and Bubblin’ Brown Sugar. She has also appeared in regional productions of Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Children of Eden, and on television in guest starring roles on “The Practice,” “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Third Watch” and “The Sopranos.”
Louis Rosen was awarded a 2005-2006 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in Music Composition. His song suites for the team of Jenkins and Rosen include One Ounce of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs (PS Classics, released May 2008); South Side Stories (music and lyrics; RoseCap Records, released 2006); Twelve Songs on Poems by Maya Angelou; and Dream Suite: Songs in Jazz and Blues, on words by Langston Hughes. He has also composed It Is Still Dark: Songs of Exile for the singer Darius De Haas, on words by Celso Gonzalez-Falla. Louis’ theater compositions include two musical theater pieces: Book of the Night, (music & co-lyrics, Goodman Theatre, Chicago), and A Child’s Garden, (music and co-libretto, Melting Pot Theatre, off-Broadway). He is also the author The South Side: The Racial Transformation of an American Neighborhood, part memoir, part oral narrative, published by Ivan R. Dee. Inc., Chicago, in hardcover and cloth. Other awards include the Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Musical Theater Award; an NEA New American Works grant; the Sloan Foundation’s Grand Galileo Prize; a 2006 Puffin Foundation Award;
a generous grant from the Anna Sosenko Trust; and numerous ASCAP awards.
The team of outstanding jazz/pop and Broadway vocalist Capathia Jenkins and award-winning songwriter/guitarist and arranger Louie Rosen released their second album, One Ounce of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs (PS Classics) in May 2008 to wide and unanimous acclaim, including the all-important New York Times. Capathia, Louis and their septet launched the release with four concerts at The Public Theater’s Joe’s Pub, the success of which led to a three-concert engagement at the famed Iridium Jazz Club in New York City.
One Ounce of Truth is Rosen’s thirteen-song mix of jazz, blues, soul, classic pop and American roots music, with words by the world-renowned American poet, Nikki Giovanni (who was most recently chosen as one of Oprah Winfrey’s “25 Living Legends.”) Rosen and Jenkins co-produced the recording with their long-standing collaborator Scott Lehrer of Second Story Sound.
Jenkins and Rosen launched their unique, ongoing collaboration in New York City in March 2005 at The Public Theatre’s Joe’s Pub with two sold-out evenings of new songs by Rosen written specifically for Ms. Jenkins, the highlights being the highly praised world-premieres of Angelou Songs and Dream Suite: Songs in Jazz and Blues, on words by Langston Hughes, the first two of five album-length song sets that Jenkins and Rosen have premiered over the past four years, all penned by Rosen specifically for their collaboration.
The team soon followed with the November 2006 release of their debut recording, South Side Stories (RoseCap), a twelve-song suite, with Louis writing both music and lyrics. South Side Stories had its world premiere at the Steppenwolf Theater’s “Traffic” Festival of Music and Art, and its New York premiere at the Public Theater’s Joe’s Pub, and on both occasions received high and unanimous praise:
Capathia and Louis have made numerous nightclub and concert appearances over the course of their three years together, with highlights including three engagements at the legendary Manhattan nightclub, Birdland; Manhattan’s Metropolitan Room; concert appearances at the Great Hall of Cooper Union and the 92nd Street Y; performances at the Brooklyn Library’s Dweck Concert Hall (Grand Army Plaza), as well as Brooklyn’s new music venue The Old Stone House; their Chicago concert debut at the renowned Steppenwolf Theater; their Washington, D.C. dual concert debut at the Sixth Street and I Historic Synagogue and Theater J; and most memorably, their two-concert African debut at the Harare International Festival of the Arts in Zimbabwe in May 2008.
Their third album, The Ache of Possibility, is scheduled for release in November 2009 (Di-Tone Records). The release will be launched with a four-show engagement at what has become the team’s New York performing home, Joe’s Pub, on Sunday, November 8, Saturday, November 14, and Saturday and Sunday, November 21 and 22. The twelve tracks include eight new songs with music and lyrics by Louis, and four songs with music by Louis and words by Nikki Giovanni. These are songs of love and politics and choices; songs that capture something of the mood and spirit of the momentThe Ache of Possibility.
For more information, including audio and video clips, please visit www.myspace.com/jenkinsrosen, and the Jenkins/Rosen page at www.capathiajenkins.com.