Marcus Shelby Orchestra at SFJAZZ, by Ria Burman
Marcus Shelby Orchestra (photo: Ria Burman)

Flashback to 1960, and Duke Ellington Orchestra records Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker thanks in part to sweet pianist Billy Strayhorn’s enthusiasm for the project.

Flash forward to last Thursday, and the Marcus Shelby Orchestra are full-throttle & knee-deep in jazz-wowing the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ with Ellington/Stryhorn’s version of The Nutcracker for the first half of the night.

Opening up the second half of the show, Marcus Shelby invites Tiffany Austin and Kenny Washington to join in a set of jazzed-up Christmas songs, to which they sing-scat-dazzle harmoniously. Add to the already stellar mix of musicians, 16-year-old dream-drummer Genius Welsey, displaying finesse throughout the night, while enjoying a sweet solo in one of the best renditions of “Little Drummer Boy” ever witnessed. The night led by Marcus Shelby exploded joyous upon the auditorium, ending with everybody on their feet, singing along to “Jingle Bells.”