by: Marilyn Bechtel
July 8 2010
SAN FRANCISCO - For some years now, bassist, composer, band leader
and educator Marcus Shelby has been bringing to musical life some of
the most dramatic and significant episodes in American freedom and
civil rights struggles.
He and the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra previewed parts of his latest
project, a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1960s Civil
Rights Movement, at the Fillmore Jazz Festival July 3. The work,
which features both original compositions and arrangements of freedom
songs, spirituals, blues and jazz from the Civil Rights era, has just
been recorded; the CD is not yet available.
The sampling presented at the festival, which included "Bobo,"
dedicated to the memory of young lynching victim Emmett Till;
"Trouble on the Bus," dedicated to the 1960s Freedom Riders; and
Shelby's arrangement of Charles Mingus' "Fables of Faubus," made
clear the release of the CD will be eagerly awaited.
Performances by leading Bay Area jazz vocalist Faye Carol, including
the spiritual, "Amen," and her rendition of Billie Holiday's "God
Bless the Child," were a highlight of the afternoon.
Among Shelby's earlier historical works is the instrumental suite,
Port Chicago, which dramatizes in music the horrific World War II
munitions explosion at the northern California naval base that killed
over 320 mostly African American sailors and injured 400 more.
The work stoppage that followed in protest over the racism and
perilous working conditions, the ensuing court martial and unjust
convictions, and the long campaign to exonerate the sailors, are
vividly portrayed by Shelby and the MSJO.
Another example is the oratorio, Harriet Tubman, which recounts
Tubman's heroic actions before, during and after the Civil War,
against a background of family love and devotion in the face of huge
obstacles. The work also pays tribute to the outstanding role of
African American Union soldiers in the war. Here, the MSJO
instrumentalists are joined by a fine quartet of vocalists, headed by
Faye Carol as Harriet Tubman.
The Fillmore Jazz Festival, now in its 26th year, is the area's
largest free jazz festival. It celebrates a once-predominantly
African American neighborhood that was a Mecca for jazz musicians,
and is now an important venue showcasing the Bay Area's vibrant jazz scene.
This year nearly 30 groups performed on the three principal stages,
not to mention informal performances in smaller settings and on the street.
Up to 100,000 people were expected to throng the festival's
eight-block area, enjoying an array of foods and crafts along with the music.
Shelby, who emphasizes that he is an acoustic bass player, leads the
Marcus Shelby Trio as well as the MSJO. His educational endeavors
include workshops on the intersection of music, politics and history.
He has taught at San Francisco State University, the Stanford Jazz
Workshop, the Berkeley Young Musicians Program and San Francisco's
Rooftop Alternative School, among others.
For more information, including about the forthcoming CD of Shelby's
tribute to Dr. King, see www.marcusshelby.com.