Transitions

Marcus Shelby

MARCUS SHELBY
PLACES SUITE EXPLORING NEGRO LEAGUE BASEBALL
AT THE HEART OF “TRANSITIONS,”
SET FOR JUNE 7 RELEASE BY MSO RECORDS

BASSIST-COMPOSER-BANDLEADER’S LATEST FEATURES FOUR-PART SUITE,
SEVEN STANDARDS PERFORMED BY HIS SIXTEEN-PIECE BIG BAND,
SPECIAL GUESTS MADS TOLLING AND TIFFANY AUSTIN

PERFORMANCES AS RESIDENT ARTISTIC DIRECTOR AT SFJAZZ, 5/23-26

Bassist, composer, and bandleader Marcus Shelby brings together three of his greatest passions—African-American history, baseball, and big-band jazz—on Transitions, the latest work by his 15-piece Marcus Shelby Orchestra, set for a June 7 release on his own MSO Records. While the album offers Shelby’s lush arrangements of classic tunes by Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, and Cole Porter, its centerpiece “Black Ball: The Negro Leagues and the Blues” is an original four-part suite inspired by the history of Negro League Baseball. It also features superb work by two special guests, violinist Mads Tolling and acclaimed vocalist Tiffany Austin.

Shelby’s work to date has established his penchant for deep musical dives into African-American history and culture. Transitions is not a full-length opus like his 2007 oratorio Harriet Tubman or 2011’s Soul of the Movement: Meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but it is unquestionably on the same ambitious path as those two works. It’s also a natural choice of subject matter for San Francisco-based Shelby, a self-described baseball aficionado who (when he’s not on the bandstand) can often be found cheering on his beloved San Francisco Giants.

“I did a whole theatrical project that premiered last September at the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival,” he explains. “It re-created the environment of a Negro League baseball park. This suite was inspired by the research I did for that project. But it’s more about these four cities—Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago, Kansas City—that were very central to the Negro Leagues.”

Those were also central to the development of jazz, and Shelby’s pieces reflect the parts they played in that development. The suite’s opening “Transition 1 (Pittsburgh),” a nod to two powerhouse teams (the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays), also reflects the city’s blues tradition and the hard swing generated by native-son drummers from Art Blakey to Jeff “Tain” Watts. Its finale, “Black Ball Swing (Kansas City),” celebrates the Kansas City Monarchs—"the best known, most respected team of all time in the Negro Leagues,” Shelby says—with both the riff-driven style of the Count Basie Orchestra and the supercharged bebop of Charlie Parker, both Kansas City exports.

Transitions also includes one composition each by Charles Mingus and George Shearing, along with two by Cole Porter and three by the grand master of big band writing, Duke Ellington. It’s “an album that mirrors a live performance,” he says. “It’s like seeing one of our concerts. It felt good to break away from doing programmatic music to playing some straight-up blues and swing and standards.” The Duke’s gorgeous but rarely played “On a Turquoise Cloud” is a feature for guest violinist Tolling, while his “Mood Indigo” and “Solitude,” along with Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland” and the two Porter tunes, are vehicles for Tiffany Austin’s vocals.

Marcus Shelby was born February 2, 1966 in Anchorage, Alaska, moving to Sacramento, California at the age of five. He played the bass as a teenager, but his real passion was for baseball and basketball, earning a college scholarship in the latter. At 22, however, a concert by the Wynton Marsalis Quartet reignited his love of music, and he returned to school at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Valencia, where he studied with Charlie Haden and James Newton.

First gaining attention in Los Angeles as a cofounder (with drummer Willie Jones III) of the hard-bop band Black/Note in the early 1990s, Shelby relocated to San Francisco in 1996. He quickly established himself as an essential creative force on the Bay Area arts scene, leading both the Marcus Shelby Trio and the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra and earning increasingly prestigious commissions from dance companies, theatrical productions, and presenters.

Shelby opened a new chapter with the release of 2006’s Port Chicago (Noir), a major orchestral work inspired by the World War II incident that saw 50 young black seamen convicted in the largest mutiny trial in U.S. naval history. Since then he’s focused his creative energy on a series of meticulously researched, hard-swinging works exploring African American history, like 2007’s Harriet Tubman (Noir) and 2011’s Soul of the Movement: Meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Porto Franco).

Marcus Shelby will perform as Resident Artistic Director at SFJAZZ, 201 Franklin St, San Francisco, Thursday 5/23 through Sunday 5/26. The four-night run will feature the artist in collaborations literary (with Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket), political (with Angela Davis), and Ellingtonian (with Faye Carol, Kenny Washington, and Mads Tolling), along with an evening dedicated to the performance of “Black Ball: The Negro Leagues and the Blues.” •


www.marcusshelby.com
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Soul of the Movement: Meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Marcus Shelby

Soul of the Movement: Meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a 12 part musical suite that honors the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many others who marched and protested for freedom. After 3 years of research, artist residencies, and traveling throughout the south Marcus Shelby composed and orchestrated the music for "Soul of the Movement" for his 15 piece big band orchestra with guest vocalists Faye Carol, Kenny Washington, and Jeannine Anderson and guest instrumentalists Howard Wiley (soprano and tenor sax), Matt Clark (B3 Organ), and Sistah Kee (piano). Soul of the Movement was released in 2011 and has become part of school presentations in and around the San Francisco Bay Area on an annual basis.
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Harriet Tubman

Marcus Shelby

Harriet Tubman is an 11 part musical suite composed by Marcus Shelby that is inspired by the life and work of American hero Harriet Tubman and based on the book "Harriet Tubman: Bound for the Promised Land" by Kate Clifford Larson. Shelby composed the music for his 15 piece big band orchestra featuring vocalists Faye Carol, Kenny Washington, Jeannine Anderson, and Joseph Mace. The musical suite contains 10 original compositions and 1 rearranged spiritual "Go Down Moses" and is inspired by her life born into slavery, her escapes, her work during the Civil War, and her work fighting for Women's Rights.
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Port Chicago

Marcus Shelby

Port Chicago is an original 14 part musical suite composed by Marcus Shelby that is inspired by the Port Chicago black naval soldiers who were charged with mutiny for causing a work stoppage during World War 2. The musical suite evokes the World War 2 era when swing, ballads, and blues music were the soundtrack of American life. For "Port Chicago", Marcus Shelby composed music that captures war time, dance clubs, black women working in factories (ala Rosie the Riveter), work routines loading ammunition unto naval ships, black romance and letters home during war time, and the explosion that destroyed 2 Liberty Ships and took the lives of over 300 men, plus the aftermath. The suite is composed for a 15 piece big band orchestra and was commissioned by the Equal Justice Society in 2004.
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The Lights

Marcus Shelby

The Lights Suite is the very 1st CD recording by the Marcus Shelby Orchestra and is loosely inspired by the play "The Lights" by Howard Korder and directed by Val Hendrickson which was performed live at the ODC theater in 2002. The Lights Suite features 7 original compositions by Marcus Shelby for his 15 piece big band orchestra and includes 1 rearranged standard (Dinah) at the conclusion of the recording.
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The Sophisticate

Marcus Shelby

"The Sophisticate" is the 2nd trio recording by the Marcus Shelby Trio and is a thematic follow up to their 1st recording "Un Faux the Pas!". "The Sophisticate" features the same rhythm section of Matt Clark (piano), Marcus Shelby (bass), and Jaz Sawyer (drums). The music was composed by Marcus Shelby and is based on the short story written by Yimi Tong called "The Sophisticate". The recording was released in 1999 on Noir Records.
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Un Faux Pas!

Marcus Shelby

"Un Faux Pas!" is the 1st trio recording by the Marcus Shelby Trio and features the rhythm section of Matt Clark (piano), Marcus Shelby (bass), and Jaz Sawyer (drums). The music was composed by Marcus Shelby and is based on the short story written by Yimi Tong called "Un Faux Pas!"--a stylish affair inspired by French Wave film and American Film Noir The recording was released in 1998 on Noir Records and is the first of a 2 CD collection that includes "The Sophisticate" released in 1999.
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