Adam Shulman, Marcus Shelby, and Genius Wesley performing Harriet Tubman and the Blues (from a Stanford Live Web page)
A little over a week ago Stanford Live announced the release of a new film for streaming. This one was entitled The Marcus Shelby Trio: Harriet Tubman and the Blues. Bassist Shelby performed with pianist Adam Shulman and drummer Genius Wesley in a program of excerpts from his evening-length suite Harriet Tubman, which he had written for his Marcus Shelby Orchestra. Where my own listening was concerned, this turned out to be a case where my procrastination was a bit advantageous, since some of that time was spent watching Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet film. Lemmons had her own ideas about music, recruiting Terence Blanchard to provide a score; but I have to confess that strongest musical impression came from appropriating Nina Simone singing her own interpretation of “Sinnerman.”
Structurally, Shelby’s Stanford Live offering consisted of interleaving Tubman quotations, all delivered by Aleta Hayes, with a combination of arrangements of traditional music and original selections, mostly his own, along with Wesley’s own solo in a tune called simply “Drums.” Lemmons’ film provided an excellent context for the quotations; and that context, in turn, helped inform how the music acted as a response to the words. The program opened with Shulman giving a solo piano account of “Harriet Tubman,” which, ironically, is not one of the eleven tracks on the Marcus Shelby Orchestra album but definitely served as an overture for what would follow. (The album tracks that were included were “Ashanti Stomp,” “North to Delaware,” “Go Down Moses,” and “Black Suffrage Blues.”)
The performance itself ran for about 45 minutes, with each selection finding its own duration appropriate to its specific reflection on the Tubman quotation that preceded it. Shelby’s arrangement of “Go Down Moses” was probably the most familiar offering from the album, introduced after a medley that included “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Wade in the Water,” and “Amazing Grace.” There was also much to be fathomed in listening to Wesley’s imaginative drum solo.
This was the second video of Shelby’s trio. The first was the seasonal offering Holiday Swing, which went out of circulation this past January. The Tubman video itself has been uploaded to the Films & Screenings Web page on the Stanford Live Web site. Unfortunately, only Stanford students can view the offerings on this Web page at no charge. All others can only gain access by becoming a Stanford Live member at the level of $100 or more. That membership will provide not only complimentary access but also twelve months of benefits.