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The Marcus Shelby Orchestra Plays the Douglas Beach House, Half Moon Bay California

Bill Leikam By

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Marcus Shelby
Douglas Beach House
San Francisco
November 15, 2009

Fifteen jazz musicians gathered onstage at the Douglas Beach House (home to the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society) November 15 to perform numbers from Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn as well as original compositions by the orchestra's band leader, Marcus Shelby. The compositions were part of the yet-to-be-completed series of tunes inspired by the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement. Not only did Shelby's orchestra perform as tightly as any well-rehearsed trio, but Shelby also educated the audience, especially during the numbers dedicated to King.

One such tune, entitled "Trouble on the Bus," was for Rosa Parks, the woman who, in 1955, refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama. This composition came in three unified parts, leading off with alto sax men Gabe Eaton and Marcus Stephens playing back and forth, leading toward the inevitable confrontation over the bus seat. Jeff Marrs and Shelby picked up the next movement, which led Marrs to a long solo, followed by the horns surging in and bringing forth the climax.

From there, Shelby spoke about other parts of the civil rights movement and, most important, the story of the murder of 14-year-old Emmet Till. Shelby then took the audience through a tapestry of original numbers: "The Joy Lovers," a happy swing tune; "West Coastings"; and then an orchestral piece titled "The Leopard" that was based on a painting. In this number, pianist Dan Zemelman came through with a smooth yet intense energy.

Set number two opened with the best tune of the concert, entitled "The Grand Queen Yay Yay," a Shelby original dedicated to a blind painter. This piece opened with the trombones and then swung around to Daren Johnson and the trumpets, which seemingly danced back and forth with each other. It was a wild trumpet piece with Shelby's bass, Zemelman's piano and Marr's drums filling it out until the muted horns returned and finished off the robust and powerful tune.

The Marcus Shelby Orchestra plays across a broad variety of jazz composed by many great composers and musicians, such as Ellington, Strayhorn, Charles Mingus and Shelby himself. Not only does the audience get a good sense of these composers, but with Shelby's compositions, one also gets a good dose of history both through his tunes and through the music itself. It was good to see a strong bandleader be sensitive enough to give each and every member of his 15-piece band the spotlight.

As the concert drew to a close, it was clear that the audience had received everything they had come to see and hear from this remarkable band. They gave him an uproarious standing ovation. This is an all-star band, and its performance on this particular evening was certainly a four-star performance. Be sure to check them out when the musicians come around to a venue near you. You will leave with a little more knowledge about the civil rights movement, and you'll feel happy and fulfilled that you took the time to be there.

Photo credit

Marcus Shelby


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