Darrell Grant Leads All-Star Jazz Band at Unitarian Universalist General Assembly to Honor History of Desegregation

Story of Civil Rights Icon Ruby Bridges told by Jazz Heavyweights

(Portland, OR) Tracing the historic steps of six-year-old Ruby Bridges to desegregate public schools in New Orleans in 1960, composer Darrell Grant’s “Step by Step: The Ruby Bridges Suite” for jazz ensemble and choir makes its Gulf Coast premiere June 22 at 10 pm at New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center as part of the 2017 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly. Grant, who will appear on piano and keyboard will be joined by music director Reverend Jason Shelton of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville who also wrote the choral arrangements for the piece. Shelton and Grant have assembled an all-star cast of talent for the concert: drummer Brian Blade, saxophonist Rahsaan Barber, bassist Clark Sommers, cellist Cremaine “That Cello Guy” Booker, vocalist Marilyn T. Keller, and guitarist Davy Mooney to be backed by the choirs of First UU of Nashville and All Souls of Washington DC (led by Jen Hayman), totalling more than sixty voices, with Tony "Majic" Jackson narrating.The concert, which takes place at the convention center’s Great Hall, is free and open to the public. The concert is made possible with the support of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, TN, All Souls Unitarian Church of Washington, DC, and First Unitarian Church of Portland, OR. Complete details of the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly can be found here.

In his May 26, 2017 blog post, Grant writes about the bringing “Step by Step” to New Orleans:

“I’ve never been to New Orleans, the Crescent City, the birthplace of jazz. I’ve never been to New Orleans, but I’ll be there in four weeks to perform a piece dedicated to those who marched, prayed, sat-in, and stood up to injustice, who willingly put their bodies on the line, on the bridges, on the streets, in the churches, in the face of violence and brutality, so that I and my descendants could rise.

We are not there yet, we are not done…

I’m going to New Orleans to revisit a painful history and to celebrate the heroes who lived it. I’m going to pay homage to the courage of a six-year-old girl who had the nerve to pray for those who hated her – who proudly walked past a screaming mob into her moment in history and did so with a grace that serves as an example to us all. I’m humbled by the opportunity to follow in her footsteps – to lift my voice for justice and to stand for beloved community.

I have always aspired to make art that reminds us of what we are capable of. Art that shines a light on what is best inside each of us, girds us for the struggle, and inspires in us the heroic gesture – like the ones that defied guns, police dogs, firebombs, firehoses, nightsticks, intimidation, and defeated Jim Crow. I want to support those who proclaim the power of We and acknowledge our desire to connect – across the color bars of black or white, or red or blue. I believe this connection is the fire that can fuel our resistance to the fear, the hateful rhetoric, and the pervasive illusion that our differences are greater than our commonalities.”



The resulting multi-movement piece for eight instrumentalists, vocalist, and narrator is a powerful and poignant ode to social justice. Drawing on gospel and spiritual traditions as well as jazz and chamber music and weaving music and spoken word to illustrate an emotional portrait of a dramatic time in US history.

Some movements, like the tranquil “Summer 1959,” and “The Cheerleaders”—which depicts the vociferous racism that the six-year-old Ruby encountered as she traversed the route to the William Frantz Elementary School—portray specific incidents. Others like “Hold My Hand” written from the perspective of Ruby’ mother and the piece’s triumphant finale “We Rise” capture the emotions behind the story.

Grant worked with the Portland-based director and co-founder of the August Wilson Red Door Project Kevin Jones to develop the part of the Narrator, who provides critical context on the historical and racial climate surrounding Bridge’s story. The musical movements are framed with speeches from historic figures like W.E.B. Dubois and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., poems, newspaper articles, Supreme Court rulings, and the words of Ruby Bridges herself. More at https://www.darrellgrant.com/ruby-bridges-jazz-suite.



Since his 1988 appearance in vocalist Betty Carter's trio, pianist and composer Darrell Grant has built an international reputation performing with jazz luminaries Frank Morgan, Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, Brian Blade, and Esperanza Spalding. He has toured as a bandleader and solo artist in the U.S., Canada, Asia, and Europe.  He has released seven critically-acclaimed albums as a leader, including Black Art--selected as one of 1994’s top ten jazz CDs by the New York Times.

In 2012, Grant was one of 12 composers awarded a Doris Duke Jazz New Works Grant by Chamber Music America. The resulting work "The Territory” premiered at Chamber Music Northwest and has been performed at The DiMenna Center in New York City, and the Portland Jazz Festival. Grant was inducted into the Jazz Society of Oregon Hall of Fame in 2009.  In 2011, he was the first recipient of the Kamelia Massih Outstanding Faculty Prize in the Arts from Portland State University, where he is a Professor of Music and directs the Leroy Vinnegar Jazz Institute.  He has been featured on National Public Radio and is a recipient of a 2015 Individual Artist Grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council. He was named the 2017 Jazz Hero of Portland, Oregon by the Jazz Journalist Association for his work on behalf of the jazz community.  More at www.darrellgrant.com.



The Reverend Jason Shelton is a composer, arranger, conductor, singer, multi-instrumentalist, workshop and retreat leader, and Associate Minister for Music at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, which he has served since 1998. He holds a BA in Classics from Saint Meinrad College – a Catholic seminary in Indiana. From there Jason went on to spend three years as a Franciscan brother in Chicago. Those formative years had a deep impact on Jason’s personal and spiritual understanding, but ultimately proved to be a less-than-perfect vehicle for his continuing journey.

At a friend’s invitation, Jason visited the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville in the spring of 1998. He felt an instant connection there, and he was hired as Director of Music that summer. In his time at First UU, Jason has been exploring how a Unitarian Universalist ministry of music might come to life both in the congregation and the larger community. In the spring of 2003, he completed an M. Div. from Vanderbilt Divinity School and was ordained to the Unitarian Universalist ministry in May of 2004. In 2008 the church called Jason as Associate Minister for Music, a role which calls forth not only his musical gifts but also those of the preacher, teacher and pastoral counselor that have been interwoven into his calling to the ministry all along.

In his ministry, Jason starts with the premise that “what we sing is who we are.” As a composer, conductor, and songleader he is fluent in a wide variety of styles, a quality he feels is important as a musical and spiritual discipline. He believes that we live in a world where our diversity can be celebrated, where the musics of many peoples intertwine and offer new possibilities for the sonic expression of our deepest values and commitments.

He has served on the board of directors for the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network and was the first chair of its professional development initiative. He was also a member of the UUA’s New Hymn Resource Commission which created Singing the Journey, a supplement to its current hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition. Jason’s first major work, Sources: A Unitarian Universalist Cantata, was composed in 2006 and has been performed nearly 20 times around the U.S. He has conducted choirs at numerous district and national gatherings and was the music director for the 2012 Service of the Living Tradition at the UUA General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ. He is also Artistic Director of The Portara Ensemble, a professional choral ensemble based in Nashville, TN.  
More at www.jasonsheltonmusic.com.



Kim Morris, Vespertine Works
71three 854 6one62, kim (at) vespertineworks.com